Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Series: Wayfarers: #1

Ashby eyed the readouts on his control screen. “I swear, our engines have never been running this smooth.”

Sissix spoke without looking up from her navigation controls. “That’s what happens when you take two easily-bored techs on a long haul.”

“Hmm. Maybe we should do this more often.”

That made Sissix’s head turn. She gave him a look that could melt the hull. “Let’s not.”

That’s a great book. It’s a slice of life story, set on small starship travelling the galaxy chock full of some of the most fascinating and delightful characters I’ve read in a scifi novel in a long time. There’s not particularly a huge over-arching plot. Instead, our intrepid band of oddballs is off on a long mission (it’s a Long Way after all) to the edge (center?) of ‘known’ space. Really, we’re just on a trip with them, through all the ups and downs, the drama and relationships. It’s exactly the sort of story I didn’t even know I was looking for. Well worth a read.

Characterwise, they’re just all so delightful.

There’s the human half of the crew: Rosemary–newcomer who mostly acts as audience surrogate. Kizzy–super positive chatterbox of a tech who’s always enjoyable to read about. Jenks–the other tech with a small body and big heart. Corbin–grumpy old man who likes to be alone. Ashby–the captain, honestly fades into the background most of the time, but he really does try to do what’s best for his crew.

Then the more ‘unusual’ bunch: Lovey–the ship’s AI, totally enough to win the ‘are AIs people’ argument on their own. Sissix–feathered dinosaur-like pilot from a species that’s really into personal contact and has some very interesting, complicated, polyamorous families. Dr. Chef–the ship’s doctor… and chef. You just just feel how much they loves both jobs and the crew. Ohan–a Sianat Pair (use the plural pronouns) who mostly keeps to themselves up until their own big reveals in the latter parts of the book.

Two things that I loved about the whole bunch:

  • We get points of view from each of the characters. I never had a problem telling who’s point of view I was in and it was fascinating seeing how each approached different situations.

  • The aliens in the book feel entirely ‘alien’ and weird, while at the same time, making you realize that no matter how alien they are, they’re still people. There’s a wonderful discussion about this as well, where they talk about how the first thought is always to compare new aliens to animals from your own experience, but as you get to know them, you realize that they’re so much more than that.

Plotwise, as I mentioned, the plot mostly revolves around the literal ‘Long Trip to a Small, Angry Planet’. The trip is around the first ~85% of the book. That certainly doesn’t mean that nothing happens, after all there is plenty of character interaction, stops on weird and wonderful planets, and even a few big action scenes thrown in there. It’s all about the family you find along the way.

Kizzy exhaled and looked at the spice jar. She rubbed her thumb over the label. “When I was five, I asked my dads if I could have a brother. Our colony wasn’t doing so great then. Not that it’s great now. But it was rough when I was little. The council was trying to avoid a crash, and they’d stopped handing out family expansion permissions to folks that already had kids. My dads explained that if weren’t careful about how many people we added to the colony, we might not have enough food. Totally reasonable, but five year olds don’t give a shit about stuff like that. If you’ve never been hungry before, not like starving hungry, the possibility of running out of food doesn’t compute. The only thing I understood was that I couldn’t have a brother, which seemed super crazy unfair. They got me a puppy, though. That was cool. I got older, the colony got stronger, and by that time, I wasn’t bugging them for a brother anymore, and I guess they didn’t really want to go through the whole diapers and teething thing again. I was a happy kid, and I couldn’t ask for better parents. But I was still jealous of the kids who had siblings. I grew up, and then you came along.” She looked up at him, and smiled. “And for the first time ever, I didn’t want a brother anymore, because I finally had one. And there’s nothing better than brothers. Friends are great, but they come and go. Lovers are fun, but kind of stupid, too. They say stupid things to each other and they ignore all their friends because they’re too busy staring, and they get jealous, and they have fights over dumb shit like who did the dishes last or why they can’t fold their fucking socks, and maybe the sex gets bad, or maybe they stop finding each other interesting, and then somebody bangs someone else, and everyone cries, and they see each other years later, and that person you once shared everything with is a total stranger you don’t even want to be around because it’s awkward. But brothers. Brothers never go away. That’s for life. And I know married folks are supposed to be for life, too, but they’re not always. Brothers you can’t get rid of. They get who you are, and what you like, and they don’t care who you sleep with or what mistakes you make, because brothers aren’t mixed up in that part of your life. They see you at your worst, and they don’t care. And even when you fight, it doesn’t matter so much, because they still have to say hi to you on your birthday, and by then, everybody’s forgotten about it, and you have cake together.” She nodded. “So as much as I love my present, and as nice as it is to get a thank you, I don’t need either of ‘em. Nothing’s too much to ask when it comes to brothers.” She shot him a look. “Stars and buckets, Jenks, if you start crying, I will too, and I will never be able to stop.”

Worldbuildingwise, I love the background detail. Both the tech (you can punch holes in space, but it’s dangerous; or you can set up more permanent tunnels between points; AIs, body mods, and all of it) and the various cultures and history we get through the story. Dr. Chef’s species’ history. Ohan’s. Sissix’s species’ family practices and the idea that children are not people–not until they grow into themselves. The idea that humanity joined galactic civilization almost as an accident after screwing up Earth–and that’s not the only time something like that has happened. It’s all so fascinating.

How can this be? How is it that life, so diverse on the surface, has followed the same patterns throughout the galaxy — not just in the current era, but over and over again. We see this pattern in the ruins of the Arkanic civilization at Shessha, or the ancient fossil beds on the now-barren world of Okik. This is a question that scientific communities have wrestled with for centuries, and it seems unlikely that an answer will present itself in the near future. There are many theories — asteroids carrying amino acids, supernovae blowing organic material out into neighboring systems. And yes, there is the fanciful story of a hyper-advanced sapient race “seeding” the galaxy with genetic material. I admit that the “Galactic Gardener” hypothesis has fueled the plots of some of my favorite science fiction sims, but scientifically speaking, it is nothing more than wishful thinking. You cannot have a theory without evidence, and there is absolutely none that supports this idea (no matter what the conspiracy theorists lurking on Linking feeds would have you believe)

A very good book.

On last comment, this particular bit I really enjoyed:

“It’s a really old practice, goes back to pre-Collapse computer networks. We’re talking old tech here. People would choose names for themselves that they only used within a network. Sometimes that name became so much a part of who they were that even their friends out in the real world started using it. For some folks, those names became their whole identity. Their true identity, even. Now, modders, modders don’t care about anything as much as individual freedom. They say that nobody can define you but you. So when Bear gave himself a new arm, he didn’t do it because he didn’t like the body he was born in, but because he felt that new arm fit him better. Tweaking your body, it’s all about trying to make your physical self fit with who you are inside. Not that you have to tweak to get that feeling. Like me, I like to decorate myself, but my body already fits with who I am. But some modders, they’ll keep changing themselves their entire lives. And it doesn’t always work out. Sometimes they seriously mess themselves up. But that’s the risk you take in trying to be more than the little box you’re born into. Change is always dangerous.” He tapped her arm. “You’re Rosemary Harper. You chose that name because the old one didn’t fit anymore. So you had to break a few laws to do it. Big fucking deal. Life isn’t fair, and laws usually aren’t, either. You did what you had to do. I get that.”

I love it.