Summertime reading catch-up: Becky Chambers’ ‘A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet’

Imagine Firefly. Imagine Firefly but written by a woman. Imagine Firefly but written by a woman with staunch feminist views. Imagine Firefly but written by a woman with staunch feminist views who writes about aliens and queer characters across the spectrum, about found families and polyamorous cultures, about platonic love, and war, and what the food might be like in space.

Becky Chambers’ A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is the book all you nerds have been waiting for. It’s everything you loved about Firefly, Stargate, Babylon 5, and Farscape. It’s camp, and laughter, and real people, and the real treasures in the friends you make along the way.

Rosemary Harper boards the ship Wayfarer as their new-hire clerk, hoping that no one on board will pry too much about exactly what (and who) it is she is running away from. Staffing the Wayfarer is an AI who goes by Lovey, a pacifist captain, a flirtatious reptilian pilot, a sick navigator, a pair of techies using their smarts to get out of hairy situations, a curmudgeon of an algae expert, and a cook/doctor who is called Dr. Chef. They are a motley crew, leaning on and trusting each other as they sign up to travel to former-enemy territory and punch wormholes through the fabric of space to create highways for the people of the Galactic Confederation.

Overall, this is a feel-good story. It’s about people wanting and trying to be good. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes they are sarcastic assholes who manage to be nice despite themselves. The book’s back cover sells it as “girl with secrets boards a ship who has taken on a dangerous mission punching holes in space while traveling to dangerous territory.” Which, sure, that happens. But really this book is about the characters and who they are to themselves and each other, and the journey itself takes a back seat to the character exploration. It’s a road trip book. The characters go on a trip and we learn about their complexities and watch as their relationships grow. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll want to stay up at night reading it because the characters are so enjoyable to be with.

Chambers tackles world building like no other. The differences she packs into the multitude of alien cultures is astounding. But it never feels like you’re reading a textbook. We get introduced to beliefs in motherhood, livelihood, faith, board games, culinary preferences. And the sheer diversity of aesthetics she embraces! Some female aliens don’t even have breasts and omg you still know which gender they are and they are still found attractive. Who knew?

And on top of all that, the book is laugh-out-loud funny. I listened to the audiobook while walking my dog, and I got many a strange look from cackling aloud. I couldn’t help it.

Just two favorite exchanges:

“Ninety percent of all problems are caused by people being assholes.”
“What causes the other ten percent?”
“Natural disasters.”

“What do your crazy speciesists do?”
“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.”