3.5 stars. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is character-driven sci-fi that tries very hard to be pleasing, and mostly succeeds, but feels both a bit derivative and saccharine-sweet. Becky Chambers’ misfit crew of the Wayfarer is tasked with building a shipping lane to a planet of contentious aliens, and the story follows their year-long trip to complete their task.
What I appreciated most about this book is Chambers’ obvious imagination and care for her world. The universe is rich with aliens of various physical descriptions, cultures, and personalities. Their interactions provide the depth to the story, as well as its most uplifting and redemptive moments. Ultimately, this is a story about relationships and the stumbling, well-intentioned yet sometimes hurtful ways we seek to overcome differences and make connections.
I fear that reading this book without comparison to Firefly is next to impossible; there is too much in this book that toes the line between homage and derivation, and the story and characters are paler in every instance. Dialog lacks the snap of Joss Whedon’s touch, and characters don’t have the same life to them.
My main complaint is that the story is not terribly compelling, and the characters feel disconnected from it. The central story–the long trip to build the wormhole–is barely mentioned through large swaths of the book, and the characters seem to have no impetus to be involved other than that they were hired to do it. There is little conflict between characters–naively sweet but not anything that kept me turning pages.
This book also has a bit of a message-y tone (let’s check all the diversity checkboxes!), but fortunately it’s never preachy about it.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is a decent read with an interesting cast of human and alien characters set in an intriguing world. I enjoyed it, yet wish there was a little more storytelling to go with the rich world-building.