Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

If nothing else Becky Chambers' debut novel provides an inspiring story for the aspiring writer. Faced with the choice between keeping a roof over her head or finishing her book, she started a Kickstarter to fund her writing and was able to do both, going on to initially self-publish The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet in 2014 before it was picked up by Hodder in 2015. Since then, she's been able to work as a technical writer, meaning that the second book in the series is out in about two months. Triumph over adversity indeed.

Of course, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet has a lot more to it than an interesting and inspiring backstory. There's a lot to recommend it. It's a space opera which focuses strongly on the varied personalities aboard the Wayfarer and their interactions on a long-term deep space trip. The Wayfarer is a tunnel ship, effectively drilling wormholes for swift travel throughout the galaxy. Rosemary Harper joins the crew, running from her own past, just as the ship is given a year-long mission into what could be hostile territory.

It isn't a novel of the unknown. If you like novels charting something new, where the science and exploration aspects dominate the plot, this isn't the book you're looking for. Emphasis is squarely on the crew of the Wayfarer, their pasts, their presents, their hopes and their dreams. The bond between the crew is thoroughly examined.

I've seen articles strongly criticising The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet for being nauseatingly liberal. Different species and races rub along quite nicely in a confined space, with respect for each other and each other's beliefs in a way they wouldn't in real life, according to these criticisms. These are criticisms I reject. What is science fiction if it feels it cannot show us a glimpse of society where everyone does have that respect? For decades Star Trek held the progressive torch of science fiction, promoting a future utopia of co-operation and showing that respect could take relations - both personal and diplomatic - a long way. It was idealistic, it's true, but that's not to say it couldn't happen. And sometimes in the world we need to be reminded that different cultures can and do co-operate. There's enough war and discord in the world to want to escape from it.

This is The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet's great triumph. It is escapist, whilst presenting a vision of the world that uplifts and affirms positivity. It succeeds in pulling the emotional heartstrings whilst also providing hope. In many ways, it emulates Star Trek at its best.

That said, I could still point out problems with it. I found the lack of focus in the plot to be slightly disconcerting. Although the driving narrative is there, it's broken up into episodic chapters which break the flow slightly. At times the characters are a little too positive and forget to be living, breathing beings. But these are complaints which can be overlooked.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is well worth reading and is a rare treat. In a field which in recent years has had a negative outlook, it is a positive delight.

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