The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet: Wayfarers 1 Paperback – 31 Dec 2015
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A joyous, optimistic space opera... Although it isn't shy about tackling Big Questions, PLANET is a heart-warming debut novel that will restore your faith in science fiction (specifically) and humanity (in general). (Tor.com)
One of the most enjoyable, brilliantly realised spacey SF novels I've read in ages. (James Smythe, author of The Echo)
One of the most delightful novels science-fiction that I've read in recent years. (Citior SF)
The Long Way is, very simply, an extremely good book, a seemingly effortless demonstration of how progressive and enjoyable science fiction can be. (Pornokitsch)
A huge amount of space-opera-y fun, with some interestingly nuanced perspectives on gender woven into the whole. (Adam Roberts, author of Jack Glass)
The beloved debut novel 'that will restore your faith in science fiction (specifically) and humanity (in general).' (Tor.com)See all Product description
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Both that summary, and even moreso the book cover blurb, make this sound as if it is a book about Rosemary and her past, and that thrilling adventures will ensue. In fact, it is a book with an ensemble cast, and an episodic travelogue style, as the ship moves through a variety of encounters that help uncover different aspects and secrets of both the crew members, and their various species. Stakes are high, but on the individual rather than the galactic level.
And it’s just delightful. The various alien species are alien enough to be interestingly different, without being incomprehensible. The different species are not monolithic: there are different characters within each. Humans are more fleshed out than the other species: there are three specific subgroups, of old-Earthers, Mars colonists, and the ship-born. But this is actually a plot point: the rest of the GC think humans are under-civilised because of this. The small events we see do have consequence, if sometimes only for one or two characters, and help gradually paint a rich picture of this future galaxy. There is tension and conflict and loss and revelation, but relatively little violence. The characters are simply adult and competent, rather than overly-dramatic, cartoonish, or hyper-competent. It feels real.
I once summarised M.A. Foster;s "Waves" to a friend as “nothing happens, but it’s very exciting!”. This one is maybe: “nothing happens, but it’s wonderful!” I went straight out and bought the next book.
However, the book is well recommended so I persevered, and it proved worthwhile. Despite the awkward beginning, the writing in general was smooth and the plot absorbing. The writer has obviously put a lot of thought into the background - politics, technologies and the various alien races - and used that to set up a story with a lot of depth and some interesting twists.
A strong theme begins to emerge from behind the story quite early on. There is a strong anti-bigotry, anti-prejudice message woven into it throughout. I'm all in favour of that, it's something I fully support, though I wonder if it could have been more effective if made less obvious.
I was also a little concerned that the alien characters were mostly there to support the anti-bigotry topic. There is an inherent problem with writing about aliens in any depth - how do you make them realistically alien and still comprehensible to human readers? (And how would be understand a truly alien race, when we often don't get other human cultures?) It is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do in SF writing, and although Chambers works very hard at it (the background to each alien species is developed in remarkable and fascinating detail) the characters did sometimes seem a little too human in their attitudes and thinking.
But perhaps I'm over-thinking this. In truth, in spite of my quibbles, I thoroughly enjoyed the story as a whole, the technological ideas were clever and the characters (human or alien) engaging. And it does make some good points as well. It would probably have benefited from some tougher editing, but it's a very good first novel.
I also have my long haired cat a bath tonight (necessary) and realized she looks like what sianat pairs look like in my head!