The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Becky Chambers

Book cover

Wow, I loved this book! My favorite sf since finishing the Broken Earth trilogy–although it is quite different in style. I feel like it’s a crime that this wasn’t even nominated for the Hugo in 2014 when it was published–possibly because it was originally self-published? I certainly enjoyed it far more than “Ancillary Justice,” the much-hyped 2014 winner. I hope the third book in Chambers’ series wins this year, since it doesn’t have to go up against a Broken Earth book!

Anyway, here is a partial list of things LWTSAP reminded me of:
-“Star Trek if it was written by someone who understood relationships”
-“Firefly without the Joss Whedon-y dialog”
-“Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy if it wasn’t a comedy book”
-“Left Hand of Darkness if it took itself less seriously”

I’m shocked that this hasn’t yet been turned into a Netflix series because I think it would be perfect. The structure of the book is basically an episodic road trip (through space, natch). It has a bunch of great characters–when I finished the book, I felt sad that I wouldn’t get to hang out with them anymore. (Sissix and Dr. Chef are right up there in the list of my favorite characters ever.) It also includes a ton of sentient nonhuman species that are quite different from humans (much more so than Klingons or Vulcans), which would be awesome to do in CGI. So, Netflix, if you’re listening, that’s my pitch.

I’m also impressed at how, despite being a fundamentally pretty light-hearted book, LWTSAP brings out a lot of interesting philosophical issues. The core of the book for me was the exploration of relationships and understanding across very different sentient species–in much the same way that “Left Hand of Darkness” achieves in a more serious tone. This is most extensively explored between humans and Aandrisks–how we can bridge differences in norms of affection, relationships, and family. I also think Chambers makes a brilliant choice, that I’m surprised I haven’t seen more in sci-fi, of portraying a galactic community of sentient species in which humans are a minor bit player. This allows some good opportunities to explore human pride, exceptionalism, and chauvinism. There’s also some extensive exploration of ideas around war, pacifism, and self-annihilation–particularly in the human history of the Exodus fleet and the late-revealed story of the Grum.

Although I know they don’t cover the same cast of characters, I’m still excited to read the sequel books!

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars