Becky Chambers, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet


You have to read this book.  This book belongs to that rare sub-genre of no particular name which contains those few novels which make you remember why you became a bookseller in the first place.

It’s also a Ronseal book .i.e. it does exactly what it says on the cover.  It takes Rosemary Harper – and the crew of the Wayfarer – a very long time to get anywhere at all but as with all the best journeys, it’s not about the destination.  It’s not even about the stops along the way which could have easily fit into a number of recent TV sci-fi series such as Firefly or Battlestar Galactica.

As with all the best sci-fi, the feel of the world the characters inhabit isn’t smooth like something from The Jetsons but rough like salvaged junk.  If you travel on a ship that’s going any distance, you’ll need engineers who know how it works because it will, in the way of all machinery, break down.  Good repairs aren’t neat repairs and the repairs of repairs don’t have to look pretty just so long as they work.  The same philosophy is applied to good characters.

So many writers write what they know that a book that isn’t about middle-class problems is immediately going to stand out on the bookshelves.  It’s surely not difficult to accept that science-fiction will always have the edge over so-called ‘non-genre’ or literary fiction written with the apparent sole purpose of winning literary prizes because in imagining strange and unfamiliar settings, the writers have to focus on the characters to be able to present something that readers can relate to and this is the strength of Becky Chambers’ novel – and indeed any great novel of the past few years such as Ann Leckie‘s ‘Ancillary Justice’ or Emmi Itäranta’s ‘Memory of Water’ (which, though I didn’t write a review of it at the time, was definitely my favourite read last year).