Title: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Series: Wayfarers, #1
Author: Becky Chambers
Narrator: Rachel Dulude
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication date: July 29, 2014
Print length: 432 pages
Audio length: 14 hours, 23 minutes
Genre: Science fiction
Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.
Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.
Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.
The Wayfarers series has been on my to-read pile for far too long, so I’m thrilled that (a) I finally read book #1, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, and (b) I loved it!
Rosemary Harper is our entry point to the world of this book, although once introduced, she’s just one of many characters whom we follow. The cast here is the crew of the Wayfarer, a tunneling ship that hires out its services to bore tunnels — wormholes — to link far-flung points in space. It’s dangerous, complicated work, but absolutely necessary in an expansive universe in which humans are a minority species without a planet to call home.
Centuries earlier, humans left Earth due to planetary failure — some colonizing Mars, but others, known as Exodans, setting off on generation ships to permanently wander. Eventually, humans were allowed to join the Galactic Commons, the governing body that unites in alliance (sometimes uneasily) the various species who work together to keep the peace and provide structure to the greater world of sapient beings.
The plot of The Long Way takes place on and around the Wayfarer ship, as Rosemary (and we readers) become acquainted with the crew, their personalities, roles, conflicts, and desires, and prepare for the biggest job they’ve ever had. There are romances, secrets, and dangers, but the people are all wonderful (except for one jerky algaeist, but even he gets slightly more tolerable eventually).
The storytelling is very episodic. While there’s an overarching plotline concerning the big, dangerous job the Wayfarer takes on and its aftermath, this is more of a background element for much of the book. Instead, from chapter to chapter, we spend time with the different crew members in different scenarios, learning about each of their backgrounds and what brought them to the Wayfarer, as well as placing them in settings and seeing them go through different experiences.
Because of this episodic approach, there isn’t a lot of building tension throughout the book. Somehow, though, that’s okay. From time to time, there are a few big action sequences or big emotional encounters or high-stakes threats, but the main focus of the book is on the characters themselves and their relationships. The tone overall is, believe it or not for a space adventure, rather cozy… and I liked this approach! We really get to know the characters, so when there are moments of high drama, we understand the stakes and the why and how of different people’s reactions.
I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Rachel Dulude, and thought it was wonderful. I’ve had experiences of struggling with science fiction audiobooks in the past, where I’ve found it challenging to absorb the tech and details of a complicated sci-fi setting and its world-building. Here, though — perhaps because of the focus on the characters themselves — it simply flows. The narrator gives distinct voices to the characters, even the non-human ones, so there’s never any confusion about who is speaking or what they’re feeling. The narration is crisp and dynamic, and I enjoyed it so much that I’ll probably choose audiobooks when I’m ready to continue the series.
Overall, I really and truly enjoyed The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. It wasn’t what I expected, but I loved what it was! I’m eager to continue with the series — just waiting for book #2 to come in at the library.
Sometimes when I read a book that I’ve been meaning to get to for a long time, the end result is a let-down. Fortunately, The Long Way surprised me in lovely ways and was worth the anticipation. Highly recommended.