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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

The Long Way to a SMall Angry Planet


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Book Review

Rosemary needs to get away from her past. So she changes her name and joins a deep-space crew. Of course, there are bad things in deep space too.

Plot Summary

Rosemary’s past connections have saddled her with problems that are, frankly, no fault of her own. Her father is something of an interplanetary criminal, for one thing, so there’s that.

So, rather than suffer through the slings and arrows of her past and present, Rosemary decides to see if she can put all of that behind her. Maybe she can find some kind of incognito, semi-normal, totally boring life. At least, that’s her hope.

Her first step is to spend all her money and do something criminal herself. She changes her name, bribes a government official, and illegally purchases a new ID wrist patch—a thumbnail-sized piece of tech embedded within her right wrist.

And now she is officially Rosemary Harper, a nobody with clerical skills. And those skills happen to be just what she needs to land a crew position on an aging, patched-together ship called the Wayfarer.

When she steps out of her transport pod and into the Wayfarer, however, she’s taken aback by so many things that push in on her all at once. Firstly, she notes that the ship itself has definitely seen better days. And then there’s the eight-person crew of humans and aliens she’s joining. This mishmash collection includes exotic-looking individuals she’s never seen the likes of, such as the reptilian pilot, Sissix, and Dr. Chef, the ship’s cook and chief medical agent who looks something like a cross between an otter and a gecko.

On top of that, Rosemary soon learns that life aboard the Wayfarer is anything but boring and normal. The crew works well, albeit in its chaotic and somewhat crazy way. But the very nature of tunneling wormhole-like connections through space (which is exactly what the Wayfarer does) is an edge-of-your-seat and edge-of-barfing kind of pursuit.

Risking your life is sort of part of the equation, too. In the deep reaches of space, you face all sorts of warring dangers and unexpected mishaps that you never see listed in an employment ad.

Rosemary will have to find her role, learn to rely on an assortment of oddballs, and figure out how to survive. But if she’s lucky, she just might find that while running away from a hated family name, she’s found the comfort, love and trust of a new family.

And in that case, who needs boring?

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

Though not faith-focused, author Becky Chambers does present us with a wide universe of characters and alien species that each come with their own cultural senses of morality and right and wrong. Rosemary, a human, has to come to grips with the fact that she must politely try to understand the mores of totally foreign species.

For instance, when she first meets Sissix, a female Aandrisk serving as the ship’s pilot, she has to correct her thinking:

“Her mind raced, scrambling to remember what she could of Aandrisk culture. Complicated family structures. Virtually no concept of personal space. Physically affectionate. Promiscuous. She mentally slapped herself for that. It was a stereotype, one that every Human knew whether they wanted to or not, and it smacked of ethnocentrism.”

In the above instance and others, Chambers pushes the idea that even in our own “single planet” universe, there are cultures, family structures, ethics and moral choices that should be understood and tolerated, even if not always totally accepted, on our part.

Authority Roles

Aboard the Wayfarer, the crew members all have their own strengths and weaknesses. And a few, such as Corbin, a human botanist, ride right on the edge of being obnoxious to those around them.

However, as a crew we see them guarding each other’s backs against outside threats. They struggle to communicate well and accept each other’s convictions. They repeatedly step up to risk harm in another’s stead. And by and large, they help exemplify the tug, pull, forgiveness and trusted love of family.

Some other species in the galaxy are far less trustworthy. The Toremi Ka are a warring species that anger easily and lash out in deadly ways more often than they take time to listen and understand. In a sense, they represent the worst aspects of humanity. The story makes them the perfect example of what not to be. (Though, frankly, there are other intergalactic species that are untrustworthy and singularly focused in their own ways.)

The Galactic Commons (the GC) is a United Nations-type organization that attempts to promote a common sense of cooperation and recognized rules throughout the galaxy and beyond.

Profanity & Violence

Crude language is a part of some characters’ speech patterns. That includes uses of f- and s-words, along with words such as “d–mit,” “h—” “b–ch” and “b–tard.”

The crew members sometimes drink alcoholic beverages and take what may be a narcotic drug when trying to relax. Rosemary comes back from her first night off ship with the crew with a hangover. And other crew members complain from time to time about their overindulgence and its aftereffects.

Fairly soon after Rosemary joins the crew, they take a contract deep into dangerous space, and the ship is attacked and boarded by a group of pirates. The ship is immobilized. Crewmembers are battered around and hit with rifle stocks. Ashby, the captain, has his jaw broken and is knocked unconscious. Rosemary, who happens to speak the alien pirates’ language, is able to diffuse the situation and keep the crew alive.

The ship is attacked later as well. In this case they were just beginning to “punch” into a wormhole. Their ship’s systems are badly damaged and they must all fight valiantly to make a way back to safety. One of the casualties is the ship’s AI, a very human-like construct that everyone saw as a beloved member of the crew.

In another instance, someone’s ship comes out of space dock with explosives hidden behind its deck walls. One of the Wayfarer’s crew members happens to come on board and then discovers this sabotage. She volunteers to risk her life to diffuse the threat and save the ship’s crew.

In the Wayfarer crew’s interactions with the Galactic Commons and the Toremi Ka, there is a constant sense of danger that could quickly break into the open. We hear of aliens bearing weapons that Rosemary’s father sold them illegally.

The Wayfarer’s navigator, Ohan, is a Sianat Pair, an alien species infected with a virus that gives them a second persona. (They’re also addressed with a “they, them” pronoun.) But this virus eventually kills them in very painful ways. As the story unfolds, we see Ohan going through the painful and debilitating throes of that viral death cycle. Ohan is also injected with a toxin that throws him into a completely different sort of physical and emotional suffering.

Sexual Content

There are three romantic couples in this story.

Captain Ashby and a member of a beautiful alien species called an Aeluon. However, in their case, a relationship between human and Aeluon is forbidden in Aeluon society, so the two must meet in secret when they cross each other’s path. Their kissing and caressing sexual interaction is described but the narration cuts away before intercourse.

We read of kissing and caressing between another couple as well. The female Aandrisk, Sissix, and Rosemary begin a relationship. But in their case, the book focuses much more on the ready intimacy (hugs and head-on-the-shoulder moments) that Aandrisks give to all they are close to. And the species is known to connect sexually with others in a very casual, uncommitted way. But Rosemary finds herself attracted to Sissix and asks to take it further.

We also hear that female Aandrisks lay eggs, but the eggs are hatched by another group in their society and raised by a third. So, Sissix’s sexual/relational lines are blurred at best.

The third love affair in the mix is between a Wayfarer ship tech, Jenks, and Lovey, the ship’s AI. This relationship developed over years, and their interaction actually made Lovey more human and self-aware in that span. There’s nothing physical between them, obviously, because Lovey is essentially part of the ship. But they discuss the possibility of transferring her consciousness into a robotic body.

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Additional Comments

This award-winning science fiction book started as a kickstarter project and is the first in a series. It has received a great deal of praise for its sci-fi styling and its unique take on a character-driven storyline.

Readers should note, though, that this book also presents several romantic and sexual relationships, including a lightly addressed LGBTQ relationship (same sex, broadly different species), an interspecies male-female relationship and a human/AI relationship. Those elements and repeated use of harsh language are this book’s largest stumbling blocks for younger readers.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Bob Hoose