I’d like to intro this piece with a caveat — I started writing this review before I finished reading the novel. I was so moved by an experience about halfway through (mentioned later), that I felt the need to start putting down my thoughts even before reaching the conclusion.
The first thing you’ll notice in reading Becky Chambers’s debut novel is the similarities to Firefly. And that’s not a bad thing, even when you consider my lack of interest in that TV series. (I just never clicked with it.) Like that TV series, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet follows the crew of a small starship, the Wayfarer, as it travels the galaxy, working as subcontractors building a network of wormholes from star system to star system. That crew is a mix of aliens and humans, each with a unique and compelling story.
While the plot is fairly linear, with minor interruptions along the way, it would be disingenuous to call this book simple — it’s clearly setting the stage for follow-on works, and it manages to feel complete by the ending. This book’s strongest point is its characters, their stories, and their relationships and interactions with one another.
The chapter-long conversation between Dr. Chef and Rosemary might be the most emotionally-moving chapter in any science fiction novel ever. There’s insights here for combat vets, people who come from damaged homes, and anyone who has ever struggled with self-identity in a complex world. I finished the chapter while on the bus to work and I sat there trying not to cry for the tragedy of a fictional, alien character, and for the truths presented through the course of the conversation. This one chapter has spawned so many ideas that demand their own blog posts, stories, and conversations that I know I’ll be re-reading it (and the rest of the book) frequently.
Stunning, stunning first work by the author. I can’t wait for follow-ups.