Review: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Vertigo

Mad Mountain Man
Supporter
Joined
Jun 29, 2010
Messages
7,308
Location
Scottish Highlands
small-angry-planet-becky-chambers.jpg


Young Rosemary is running away from a nasty family secret and joins the crew of a wormhole construction spaceship. An individually dysfunctional crew who, of course, gel together into a formidable team. They have been given a dangerous job that’s going to bring them lots of much needed funds but first they have to get to the angry planet and it’s a long way….

This is a difficult one to review; if all you are after is a fun, light, character driven bit of space opera this fits the bill. If you want realistic characters, realistic science and even the barest semblance of a plot then forget it, this book fails on each of those counts.

The writing is fluid and easy to read, the focus very much on the characters which is fine, though I would rather have a plot as well, but sadly these characters are all clichéd caricatures; the long suffering captain, the grumpy almost autistic scientist that everyone hates, the ditzy engineer who’s a game playing, drug taking, hard drinking hippy who happens to be pretty much the best engineer in the galaxy, the computer engineer falling in love with the ship’s AI, the lizard pilot who’s oh so sensitive, the cook/doctor who’s what Star Trek’s Phlox would have been if he was an oversized caterpillar and then the main character who is just coming of age, lacking in self-confidence and has a nasty secret she’s hiding. I mean this is a pulp fantasy quest cast put in a spaceship. Now, in fairness, I can live with such two dimensional characters for a light, fun space opera and I did enjoy the characters for all their predictability and corniness but I really, really like my books to have a plot as well.

So what’s the problem here? Well the final climax of the book was pretty well flagged early on, which is fine, and the rest of the book is essentially how they get to that denouement, which is also fine. But everything that happens in between, the various adventures and events, had absolutely no relevance to the final climax; none whatsoever, except possibly highlighting the need for them to maybe consider carrying some weapons, at least for defensive purposes. But that’s it, otherwise each event/adventure along the way stood entirely on its own contributing nothing to the plot that therefore didn’t really exist. They were enjoyable vignettes but no more. For me, I like a much more substantial plot maybe with a few twists along the way; there was nothing of that sort.

My final complaint was the science. Now I thoroughly enjoy hard science fiction, but I don’t require all my science fiction to be hard SF, in fact most of it is definitely not. What I do require though is that the speculative science is plausible, and for the most part the Long Way achieves this, and that the ‘real’ science be correct; there are many instances of such real science in the book being just plain wrong. And this I find doubly frustrating when Chambers’ bio describes her as the “progeny of an astrobiology educator, an aerospace engineer, and an Apollo-era rocket scientist” (isn’t that one too many?) and her acknowledgements acknowledge her “Mom” as her science consultant; surely that leaves little excuse for physics that is just wrong.

So a good fun space opera that could have been so much more. Maybe that’s what really annoyed me most; that this book had the potential to be really great but sadly that wasn’t realised. It was fun enough and the writing good enough that I will probably still buy the inevitable sequels.

3/5 stars
 
Last edited:

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2008
Messages
4,384
Thanks for the review. I've been quite interested in reading this, mainly to see where "light" SF is at presently. Most of the reviews I've seen either say "At last, X is represented in an SF novel!" or "Where's the plot?". It seems to have got a lot of critical acclaim. I take it you wouldn't see it that way?
 

Vertigo

Mad Mountain Man
Supporter
Joined
Jun 29, 2010
Messages
7,308
Location
Scottish Highlands
Thanks for the review. I've been quite interested in reading this, mainly to see where "light" SF is at presently. Most of the reviews I've seen either say "At last, X is represented in an SF novel!" or "Where's the plot?". It seems to have got a lot of critical acclaim. I take it you wouldn't see it that way?
It was fun but not that much fun. I did see some comments about it having gay relationships in it but that wasn't that noticeable. There are interspecies relationships* but I'm afraid I find that to be such an improbable thing as to really push my levels of disbelief suspension. Also I have real problems with people who come up with unlikely forms of alien communications. There is one alien bunch in the book who are seriously advanced who only communicate by colour changes in their facial skin/scales. They have no auditory communications and are in fact deaf. Now I find a communications system that requires the two people to not only be in sight of each other but actually facing each other to be able to communicate to be so inefficient as make it highly unlikely evolution wise, at least in a creature of high tech that would need to do a lot of communicating. And again I'm really not sure what chance such a creature would have against other predators as it evolves, seeing as how they have no hearing (and apparently no other compensating senses). I mean the predator would just have to amble up behind them without even worrying about being quiet.

I am a little surprised at the level of critical acclaim it has received. I do not think it deserves it either for its SF ideas or is literary content. But then I mostly seem to find myself surprised by so called critical acclaim!

* note that, thank goodness, this does not include any very explicit sex, though there is a little.
 

Jo Zebedee

Aliens vs Belfast.
Supporter
Joined
Oct 5, 2011
Messages
16,678
Location
blah - flags. So many flags.
It was a book I thought I would love but struggled with. I found it a little episodic and wondered if that was because it had been written to a crowdfunding model which might have impacted on the sense of a complete story arc? There was a lot in it I enjoyed, but not as much as I'd expected to as a whole.
 

Vertigo

Mad Mountain Man
Supporter
Joined
Jun 29, 2010
Messages
7,308
Location
Scottish Highlands
It was a book I thought I would love but struggled with. I found it a little episodic and wondered if that was because it had been written to a crowdfunding model which might have impacted on the sense of a complete story arc? There was a lot in it I enjoyed, but not as much as I'd expected to as a whole.
Yeah that pretty much fits with my experience. I didn't struggle to finish it, I found it quite easy and fast reading, but I did have lots of "Oh come on, you've got to be kidding me" moments.
 

Similar threads


Top