When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn't expecting much. The ship, which has seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.
But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptilian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful - exactly what Rosemary wants.
Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They'll earn enough money to live comfortably for years... if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful.
But Rosemary isn't the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.
The book cover below includes alt-text.
This is book 1 of the Wayfarers series, and it holds a special place in my heart. I've heard about Becky Chambers and her work from many different people. The time has finally come to see what it's about for myself. But let's start from the beginning.
I think that character development is one of the most impressive things about the book. It's done so masterfully and beautifully that it carries the story forward even when not much happens. I believe that Becky Chambers has mastered the craft of living in other people's skins (including aliens and AI), seeing the world from their unique perspectives, with challenges and quirks and all the things that require a depth of understanding unavailable to most people. The level of detail and intimacy with which she's created the crew of the Wayfarer is unmatched. It's a huge inspiration to me.
I often say that the characters felt real when I read a good book. It's one of the most important things for me as a reader. With the Wayfarer crew, I feel like I know these people. Like they are my family. Like I understand them, their annoying habits, endearing quirks, ways of thinking. I can predict what they'll do, and I know why they do it, even if I'm angry with them or disagree. I can usually achieve this level of connection after reading a series. Here, it was done in one book.
Not all the crew members got the same amount of attention, but all of them were well-developed. I won't talk about them — you'll meet them yourself if you pick up the book. The crew consists of humans, aliens and an AI.
The plot is straightforward. It's not packed with action, in fact, not much happens. I believe the crew gets into two dangerous situations on their way to a big and perilous task. The task itself gets them into a lot of trouble, it's heartbreaking and intense, but that happens at the end of the book. Most of the time, we spend with the characters doing their jobs or visiting their families, stopping to get supplies or getting to know each other. Normally, I'd probably get bored with a book like that. But the characters themselves are so interesting and the relationships between them are so exciting, bizarre, unusual, satisfying, etc. that it provided all the drama and tension I needed.
The world-building reminded me of an open-world game. It's exciting, diverse, strange, interesting. Just interacting with the world, even if you are merely doing a low-stakes side-quest is a pleasure. Here, you'll meet different aliens and get to know their unique cultures, you'll live on a spaceship with a sentient AI, visit several planets and look at humans through the eyes of the aliens (or smell them through their noses :D). There is some political stuff happening in the background, and there is enough to understand what's going on, but it's not at the forefront of the story. The crew aren't anyone special. They're not heroes who make things happen and are always in the center of events. They make space tunnels. That allows for a more relaxed, in-depth exploration of various cultures. Seeing the more "mundane" side of the world, but because the world itself is so bizarre and alluring, the "mundane" is fascinating, and it makes you fall in love.
For the first two chapters, I was pretty bored. Then, I started getting more and more into the story, and soon I couldn't put the book down. I read it within a few days and I didn't want it to end. I laughed and I cried. I felt so many emotions. It was cozy like a warm blanket. It was wholesome and deep. It showed me perspectives I hadn't considered. It touched on an interesting subject of sentient AI rights, and the ways people would treat such entities. It was about friendship and found family, fascinating places and learning to truly, really accept those who are so different from us that they're impossible to comprehend.
In the end, I fell in love with the world that was just as real as the one behind my window. I loved the characters, and I felt a deep sense of satisfaction and gratitude after reading the book. I was sad that it ended, and I was happy that it was the beginning of a series.
It's slow-paced but delicious. Reading it feels like savoring a great desert with a unique, unusual taste and intriguing textures to discover. I bought and started reading the next book in the series the moment I finished it.
Some people call it a space opera, but I don't know. I think it's something else, maybe a genre of its own. I feel that space operas always deal with a grand scale of things, with the highest stakes possible. This was different. Maybe I can call it a cozy space opera.
You might enjoy The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet if you don't mind slow pace without much action, love great, in-depth character development and unique world-building, are interested in profound connections and emotions and want to feel good and cozy while reading the book.
You can get The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet at Kobo, Apple, Barnes&Noble, Amazon and other bookstores.
Becky Chambers is a science fiction author based in Northern California, best known for her Hugo Award-winning Wayfarers series. Her varied works have also been nominated for the Nebula Award, the Locus Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Women's Prize for Fiction, among others. Her latest book is the upcoming novella A Prayer for the Crown-Shy (July 2022), the second of her Monk and Robot series.
Becky has a background in performing arts, and grew up in a family heavily involved in space science. She spends her free time playing video games, tabletop RPGs, and looking through her telescope. Having hopped around the world a bit, she’s now back in her home state, where she lives with her wife. She hopes to see Earth from orbit one day.
Check out her website or Facebook. I didn't find any other social media :(
Featured image by Gerhard Bögner.