Have you heard of Marmite? This salty, yeasty sandwich spread is famous in the UK. It’s a source of national division, nearly on a par with Brexit: People either love it or hate it.
The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet is a Marmite book. Some readers say it’s the best thing ever, others want to spit it out.
I found this story, like Marmite, to be flavoursome and delicious. I’d be happy to spend the day reading it while eating spoonfuls of my favourite, sticky condiment straight from the jar.
Twitter told me that this is Becky Chambers’ first novel. If it hadn’t, I’d never have guessed. Small Angry Planet reads as though it was written by an experienced author.
Slow-paced and character-driven, this is a story that’s about a journey, not the destination.
It begins with Rosemary Harper, who is fleeing the colony of Mars (and a dodgy past) to take a job as a clerk. She’ll be working on The Wayfarer, a deep-space ship that makes wormholes for use as interstellar roads.
It’s A Big Universe
The author does an amazing job of describing a multi-species crew. They all have their own customs and social norms. Expect lots of views on sexuality, childrearing, violence, the right-to-die, AI-sentience and cloning.
Yes, there are moments of actions but the focus is on ethics and diversity.
Friendly pilot, Sissix, is a reptilian-type species. Dr Chef, the food-loving medic, has multiple ‘handfeet’ and a complicated respiratory system. Some species change gender as they age, others switch family groupings.
If I have one complaint, it’s that the newsfeeds and reports between chapters sometimes interrupt the story’s flow. Still, I can see why the author included them. They’re an easy way to add handy information and make a change from the third person narrative that jumps between crew members.
Do you like more action in your sci-fi? Don’t despair! I have two words for you: Space Pirates. You’ll have to read the book to learn more!
Something I loved in Small Angry Planet is the way Becky Chambers portrays humans. So often in sci-fi we’re powerful, big-shots. Well, that’s not true here.
Divided among ourselves, we’re barely accepted by the more important species who make up the ruling Galactic Commons.
The wealthy fled resource-stripped Earth to build colonies, leaving the hungry and poverty-stricken to take to the skies years later (thankfully bugs are a great source of protein).
Interspecies dynamics aren’t all sweetness and light, either. One of the funniest sections in the book involves two crewmates discussing their human colleagues’ shortcomings (apparently species with good olfactory systems see us as, well…. stinky).
Different beliefs (and scents!) aside, Ashby, The Wayfarer’s pacifist human Captain, keeps the peace and builds bridges between the characters onboard his ship. Small Angry Planet is a story about families you make yourself, acceptance and belonging.
Verdict: To me, this is science fiction at its finest. Becky Chambers has imagined a space-faring future and used it to explore diversity and tolerance. The characters, personalities and multiple planets make it an enjoyable read. I’ll be getting hold of the next book in this series a.s.a.p!