Becky Chambers’ debut novel took a slightly bumpy, Kickstarter-ed road to publication, and we’re very glad that it’s here with us now. This is a hugely entertaining sci-fi that quickly draws you in and it’s over far too quickly.
Rosemary is a young woman with a secret, one that she hopes she can keep on board The Wayfarer, where she’s found a job with a fake ID (but real skills). She’ll soon realise that there’s not a lot of room for secrets on board with this chaotic but loveable bunch, all of whom are pushed to breaking point when the Captain takes on a job that’s far better paid than any they’ve ever had, with the inevitable terrible risks that come with that.
Chambers’ world building feels effortless, and she creates a future in which humans are just a small part of a universe packed with diverse species with their own needs, manners, quirks and histories. The Wayfarer’s pilot, Sissix, is a statuesque reptilian female whose species is prone to displays of affection that would make most people very uncomfortable, the ship’s doctor/chef (sensibly named Doctor Chef) is a multiple-limbed creature who’s too tricky to explain in this short space, and the onboard AI (called Lovey) has a personality of her own and is in love with engineer Jenks, who definitely feels the same way.
The mission itself is secondary to Chambers’ exploration of this world and the people in it. As the crew bounces from planet to moon on their long journey, there’s a great sense of scale that’s bolstered by wonderfully written characters. While there’s plenty of science to wrap your head around (Chambers’ parents have a very real and serious background in astrology, aerospace and rocket science), this book is very much concerned with the people living in its universe.
The time spent with the crew is an absolute pleasure and makes the book so easy get lost in. Anyone who’s a bit apprehensive about Hard SF will have those fears dispelled by the amiable atmosphere and brisk pace. It obviously looks to Joss Whedon’s Firefly; a comparison that comes up most often at the start before we really get to know these characters, although eternally optimistic and impulsive engineer Kizzy recalls Kaylee too clearly at times.
That’s a minor concern though. It’s a joy to read sci-fi this big-hearted and progressive, as Chambers explores the connections, both sexual and emotional, between the different species. From the family structure of Sissix’s people to the hateful humans who believe that Earth was made for them and no one else, it’s refreshing to see familiar social issues addressed with such wit and heart in this context. Finally, The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet is just so much fun to read, and we can’t wait to see what Chambers does next.