The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet (2000)
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (2000)
4.31 of 5 Votes: 3
1500453307 (ISBN13: 9781500453305)
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A refreshing, joyous book that skips neatly around convention, and – with the flick of a page – sucks you utterly into its world, so much so that you become reluctant to leave the Wayfarer and its crew. Warm, welcoming and brimming with atmosphere, this is a lively and assured debut that isn't afraid to put character before plot, and is a hundred times better for it. The grand mysteries of the cosmos and the messy, complex workings of the heart (regardless of species) are woven together and treated with an even hand. In fact, the theme of equality runs through the book like a fuel line. Chambers never takes the easy way out by using genre tropes as a short cut or a crutch. The setting is vivid and wonderfully realised, yes, but it also provides a platform to explore realities that are all too often set aside in favour of sensation. The presence of alien species obviously offers a great deal of opportunity to explore the idea of difference; but rather than merrily splicing individuals into easy dichotomies, Chambers doesn't shy away from presenting characters who are themselves preoccupied with trying to navigate the murky depths of understanding, tolerance and acceptance. Multiple POVs in fairly short sections work hard to cover a lot of ground in this respect, although occasionally I felt myself longing for more time with certain characters, beyond what was absolutely necessary for the story (with the outwardly dislikable Corbin, for example). On rare occasions, the attribution of POV felt a little strained, but it's a testimony to Chambers skill that the story is – almost always – able to encompass the viewpoints of a whole cast of characters with ease. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed spending time in the world that Chambers has created, with characters who I want to call up, and meet down the pub. Let's hope that this isn't the end for the crew of the Wayfarer. I'll certainly be waiting on board, ready for more adventure... This book made me wonder why there is not more (or, coming to think of it, any) sex on Star Trek. The motley crew of the ‘Wayfarer’ spend a good chunk of this charming novel either planning to get into the sack with each other, busy with the proverbial deed or wondering what the rest of their crew mates think about their respective partners and/or the possibility of hitching up.Behind the general ribaldry is a very serious question: how would an enlightened galactic community deal with the issue of inter-species relations? Would it be seen as just another evolutionary dead end, even where such conjugation is even possible, or would it be perceived as an abomination?What if the two different species in question just want to give each other pleasure or comfort in the long dark between the stars? And what issues of personal and cultural morality does this then raise?Another interesting issue for me is why Becky Chambers does not identify herself as a LGBT genre writer (she thanks her partner, Berglaug, in the last paragraph of her Acknowledgements; they live in Reykjavik, Iceland of all places). Or am I confusing the political with the cultural?(And there you thought that Science Fiction is just simple fun).All this, of course, is in the interests of galactic and inter-species harmony. If you enjoy the grittier incarnations of Star Trek such as Deep Space Nine, and have fond memories of Firefly and Babylon 5, then this book is right up your alley. The ‘Wayfarer’ is a wormhole tunneller that trudges around the galaxy opening up space lanes. Tellingly towards the end, Dr. Chef (he has two roles) remarks: “The people we remember are the ones who decided how our maps should be drawn. Nobody remembers who built the roads.”This then is one particular voyage of the ‘Wayfarer’ and its intrepid crew, and some of their many adventures together. There is nothing particularly original here. However, Chambers infuses her Galactic Commons with such vibrant detail, and her diverse characters are so lovingly fleshed out, warts and all, that the reader cannot but help fall in love.Granted, the fringes of this multi-species community are the most interesting, which is where perversion, criminality and all sorts of deviancy flourishes in the dark ... But if there is one thing that Science Fiction is particularly good at, and which Chambers champions here with a strident clarion call, is loving the marginal and venerating the underdog.What is refreshing is how effectively Chambers comments on heavyweight issues such as xenophobia, sexism and nationalism, without waving a big flag saying ‘I Am the Author, And this Is My Message’. For example, there is an incredibly funny bit at the beginning explaining why Corbin, described as “a gifted algaeist and a complete asshole”, is big, pink and hairless. Chambers deftly makes her point about racial integration, without it coming across as heavy-handed or preachy.This is a difficult balance to maintain in a story as lightweight as this, but the secret to the novel’s success is how much the reader comes to invest emotionally in the characters.So you will definitely have a big loopy grin on your face by the end of this. A thoughtful grin, but loopy nonetheless.
Good science fiction is rare these days. This is a great book, I hope she is going to write more.
A very good debut novel; solid space opera. Well worth a read...
Pleasant but a bit rambly, plot-wise.
Great book!
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