The long way to a small, angry planet (Becky Chambers, 2014)

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The long way to a small, angry planet, by Becky Chambers (2014).

Score: irregular.

Kids, this is why you get your manuscript proofread by a professional. The long way to a small, angry planet was originally self-published and later distributed by Hodder & Stoughton, who didn’t bother to comb over it like any editor would have with a manuscript. Angry planet slaps you in the face from page one with cringeworthy literary style: incorrect punctuation, anacolutha, unsuitable or incorrect vocabulary, a narrator with an inconsistent style, and awkward metaphors all happen in the novel.

The long way to a small, angry planet tells the story of the multispecies crew of the Wayfarer, a tunneling vessel whose job is to make new wormholes to connect different places of the galaxy. Rosemary, who has a terrible and secret past, is the newly arrived clerk; Kizzy and Jenks are the techs, Ashby is the captain. Corbin is a cretin who is in charge of the ship’s fuel; Sissix is the pilot, an Aandrisk: a sentient, lizard-like species. Dr. Chef, as suggested by his name, is both the medic and the cook aboard and is a member of the almost extinct species Grum. Finally, Ohan the Sianat pair, which means he and a brain-eating parasite, make tunneling possible and Lovey the AI makes sure everything on board runs smoothly.

The characters are hard to become familiar with because they don’t have that many special features or serve a narrative purpose. Corbin is set apart early in the novel for being obnoxious, but the rest of characters are far too similar to each other. Kizzy is insufferable. Ashby has no personality. The only thing that makes Jenks different is that he’s… short. Angry planet is not so much a space opera as a bunch of tidbits about these characters. The novel reads a lot like fanfiction and I’ve been trying to figure out why; I think it’s because it focuses mostly on the everyday lives, personal relationships and backstories of the characters. Chambers has lots of fun putting the characters in quirky situations and figuring out how they react: it’s like Angry planet is fanfiction exploring the characters for another space opera where things actually go down.

This being said, there is one thing at which Angry planet sweeps the floor with other novels: worldbuilding. This is some platinum-tier space opera worldbuilding. Every sentient species, especially the Aandrisks and the Grum, have really interesting histories and backstories. The attention to cultural interactions is very refreshing and a trend I expect to keep seeing in Twenty-First Century science-fiction authors. Minute details like the shapes of chairs, handles and bottles. The development of different cultural values and ethics, linked to biological realities. Dr. Chef’s backstory made me choke up a little. The moral dilemma posed by Ohan is extremely interesting; it’s a shame it’s resolved so bluntly.

All in all, the style made me want to cry but the worldbuilding made me stay. Tread carefully.

 

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