Thursday, 10 May 2018

Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There seem to be two camps regarding this book.

Camp 1 likes it because of the warmth and kindness of the characters.

Camp 2 finds the characters wishy-washy and the plot lacking in tension.

I found myself in Camp 1, and (given the complaints I've seen from Camp 2), was surprised at how much external and internal challenge the characters faced. It's true that the tension wasn't generally sustained over a long period; people either resolved their issues or set them aside as unsolvable and moved on, like adults do. But there were definite threats; I was expecting something along the lines of Nathan Lowell's Share stories, where brewing decent coffee or finding something profitable to make some side money with are major plot points, and the stakes seldom get much higher than that (at least early on; later, a tragic death comes out of nowhere, which put me off the series). No; the crew's survival and their wellbeing are threatened several times, convincingly, and they have to work together to overcome their problems.

I appreciated that at one point two people who dislike each other have to work together, and while they still dislike each other afterwards, there's more of a connection.

Was it a touch slow-moving? At times. It does tend to linger on things that are atmospheric and create a mood, but don't do a lot to advance the plot, although they often do deepen the characterization. I can also see how one reviewer I know found the manic Kizzy more annoying than cute. It's a book not without its flaws, but if you go into it with the somewhat counter-genre expectation of it being more of a warm, human story than an action movie, as I did, it has its definite strengths as well.

One oddity: the phrase "some time" (a certain amount of time) is consistently, and incorrectly, styled as "sometime" (an indefinite point in time); there's also "anytime" when it should be "any time". Also, there are question marks and exclamation marks combined in the same sentence. Otherwise, the editing is good.

The worldbuilding is largely the standard space opera stuff, including a diverse set of alien races that are still mostly bipedal (and, despite various numbers of digits, have apparently adopted the decimal system as a standard). I was dubious about a couple of the astronomical details, but there was nothing fatal to my suspension of disbelief. The galaxy, we come to understand, contains people who are corrupt, greedy, cruel, deluded, violent... but the main characters are not those things. They've overcome, or are currently living with, significant issues, and these have made them, on the whole, kind, accepting, and gentle beings. Even this isn't universal; the fussy engineer, though he has a character development arc, ends up still fussy, prickly, and poor at social interaction, though we do learn why.

I came in with the vague impression that this might be a happy-happy feelgood book in which nothing happened and everything was handed to the characters with no real struggle. That isn't the case, though it's somewhat closer to being the case than in more standard action-oriented space operas.

I certainly enjoyed it enough to read the sequel, which I found even better.

View all my reviews

1 comment:

bfree2read said...

The first book The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is good but agree that the second book, A Closed and Common Orbit, is even better. Looking forward to third book's release (Record of a Spaceborn Few).