I picked up a copy of this in Booka around Valentine’s Day. After some fairly intense books at the beginning of August, I wanted something a little more light-hearted but still incredibly well-written, and that is precisely what The Long Way provides.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet follows the crew of a tunnelling ship in the way, way future. Humans have made it out into the galaxy, and there are plenty of planets and species to discover. We join Rosemary Harper as she arrives as the new clerk on the Wayfarer. Rosemary’s first day gives us a tour and nicely introduces the multi-species crew, and the narrative centres mostly on her and Ashby, the Wayfarer’s captain.
This crew accepts the job of a lifetime – a long-haul journey to create a tunnel to a newly allied area of space. Completing that job provides the overall structure for the book, and within that the adventures of the crew. It reads a little more like a series of connected vignettes – this is not about pace or suspense, and I adored that. This is a book to read for the sheer pleasure of the journey, and for the fantastic characters.
I adored the relationships that Chambers has created. I’d heard this compared to Firefly, and it’s a fair connection to make, but the social picture is richer here for the inclusion of other species – this is not a space full of drifting humans, but a galaxy that was connected before we joined in, and a place where our kind are not politically powerful. Chambers uses her narrative wonderfully to tease out and identify the strange and lovely things about being human, and to gently give the reader a different perspective on some things we take for granted. The social and political atmospheres are brilliantly created.
I also loved the pace of this story – it has plenty of urgency and enough questions and what’s coming to keep you reading, but equally it reads in some ways as a series of interconnected stories, each episode within their journey having its own beginning and conclusion as they move from place to place. The story is entirely cohesive though.
What impresses me is how broad I think the appeal of this book must be, evidenced by the array of awards it has been listed for from the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction to the British Fantasy Awards. Chambers keeps a remarkable balance between an interesting plot which is fun to follow, fascinating characters with flaws, frustrations and adorable quirks, and a well created universe with enough detail to seem real but not so much as to get boring. This is absolutely one for fantasy and sci-fi fans, but even if like me you don’t read a lot of novels set in space, this is a nice glimpse into the genre while having a long list of other things to recommend it.
I think the only reason I would discourage anyone from giving this book a try would be if they are strongly not a fan of sci-fi and fantasy – I absolutely loved it. It is a perfect escapist read without being in any way fluff – it is a well-written, beautiful and inspiring story.