Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the starchart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there.
But all voyages leave their mark, and even the most ordinary of people have stories worth telling. A young Martian woman, hoping the vastness of space will put some distance between herself and the life she‘s left behind. An alien pilot, navigating life without her own kind. A pacifist captain, awaiting the return of a loved one at war.
Set against a backdrop of curious cultures and distant worlds, this episodic tale weaves together the adventures of nine eclectic characters, each on a journey of their own.
After some consideration, I’ve rounded up instead of down, because dammit, this book just deserves it. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is what I refer to as a ‘comfort sci-fi’ – it’s full of heart, a joy to read, and delightfully subversive to boot. (For me, it is to sci-fi what The Night Circus was to fantasy, and that’s the highest praise I can give.) There are just so many aspects to love about this one.
We cannot blame ourselves for the wars our parents start. Sometimes the very best thing we can do is walk away.
Firstly, it’s diverse without making a big deal of it. From varying races and species, genders and biological sex (there is one type of species that changes their sex throughout their lifetime), sexuality, appearances, family structures… I could go on and on, but it’s all so organically and matter-of-factly incorporated into the narrative.
I also enjoyed the spectrum of relationships depicted on the spaceship: from romantic partners to casual lovers to loyal companions to people who put up with each other because they have to…. and every kind of friendship in between.
“Come on, put on your trousers. I want to meet the woman who gets to take them off.”
This book is far more character-driven more than plot-driven, but it doesn’t suffer for it. Essentially, our motley cast have to get from point A to point B while dealing with the various obstacles – both literal and figurative – that end up in their way.
I’m also really impressed with the author’s depiction of ‘deep culture’ of the different species we encounter – as in not just the ‘surface culture’ of dress, food, language, etc – but delving into the mannerisms, belief systems, attitudes and overall ways of life.
That’s such an incredibly organic bias, the idea that your squishy physical existence is some sort of pinnacle that all programs aspire to.
On that note, I think the culture of Sissix, the ship’s reptilian pilot is my favourite, specifically, because of the emphasised ideals that:
-just because you’re fertile doesn’t mean you’re ready for motherhood. Motherhood is more than just passing on your DNA. And the so-called necessity of a DNA connection between parents and child is really utter nonsense.
-the same person is not necessarily the person who is right for you for your whole entire lifetime. Family structures change. Also, there may be more than one person who is right for you at a certain time. Polyamory for the win!
“What do your crazy speciests do?” Kizzy asked.
Sissix shrugged. “Live on gated farms and have private orgies.”
“How is that any different than what the rest of you do?”
“We don’t have gates and anybody can come to our orgies.”
It was interesting to read about the everyday give-and-take amongst the characters, so that they could all get along whilst living for an extended period of time in a very tiny piece of metal hurtling through space. Although there is a core group of 7 characters onboard, I was intrigued by all the people they met along the way, and their backstories. This is a credit to the way they were all depicted.
The author is also talented at disseminating information without overloading. The things we need to know comes across in a way that isn’t just pages of info-dump, and we learn as we see through eyes of Rosemary, the newbie and main narrator.
The novel is full of dry humour, unexpected heartbreak, and profound commentary on humanity – or not to be speciest here, but existence as a whole, as well as the nature of violence and war. Highly recommended, even if you’re not usually a sci-fi reader.
And I bet most of them – not all, but most – who made it through the war spent a long time after trying to understand what they’d done. Wondering how they could ever have done it in the first place. Wondering when killing became so comfortable.