‘The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet’ – Wayfarers #1 – by Becky Chambers

To my own mild puzzlement, I have to say that I had fun spending time with the Wayfarer crew and that I want to visit with them again soon.

Why the puzzlement?

Well, this isn’t usually my kind of Science Fiction.

If I had to give this book a tagline, I’d go with Nice People In Space or A Long Way To Discovering The Value Of Diversity And The Power Of Making A Crew Into Your Chosen Family.

My expectations of Space Opera were set by Banks, Corey, Leckie, Powell and Reynolds. I expected big themes, dark plots, violent conflicts, advanced weaponry and ruthless people brokering power. I quickly saw that this book was aiming for something quite different, I just didn’t know what.

At first, I thought it was a riff on Star Trek TNG, stripped of its thinly-disguised military structure and freed from the need to solve the universe’s problems.

When I finally put aside my ‘this is like…‘ mindset and took the book on its own terms, I started to have fun, albeit very wholesome ‘Goodnight, John Boy‘ Waltons’ Mountains fun, redecorated with peace stickers and rainbow flags.

If this book had not been so well done, if the cultures had not been so well-imagined, if the characters were not so engaging, If I hadn’t ended up holding my breath waiting to find out the fate of the ship’s AI, I would have been gently mocking this book. Instead, I’m mocking myself for having cynicism ingrained in my imagination like machine oil in the skin of a mechanic’s hands.

Yes, I can see that there’s strong messaging here about diversity and choice and pacifism and tolerance that ought to be setting off my propaganda alarms like the storyline on a Christian channel show about raising a family with the grace of God, but the thing is that it works so well that I got all wrapped up in it.

I liked the crew. I liked being shown the different backgrounds that they came from and the different ways that they saw the world. I liked that those differences weren’t sanded down into a smooth, ‘We’re all Starfleet, whatever our species‘ monoculture, but were bolted together, much like the Wayfarer itself, into something with a unique, improbable, not particularly pretty, that worked because it played to everyone’s strengths. I liked that none of the crew carried or used weapons. Ever. Even when boarded by pirates or border patrols or surrounded by warships. They just weren’t that kind of people. They made wormhole tunnels that allowed people to travel safely and quickly outside normal space. They were passionate about food and drink and tech toys and each other. They were alien to each other (four different organic species and one AI) and they were family to each other. And that was the point.

So, here I am going: ‘A long book in which not much happened (at least on a galactic scale) except me getting to know a crew real well and enjoy the credible optimism and shared strength that they gifted to one another.

I ought to be going ‘Walton’s in space? No thanks!’ Instead. I’m going, ‘What was the name of the second book in the series?‘ (It’s ‘A Closed And Common Orbit’ in case you were wondering)

All of which is a tribute to Becky Chambers’ storytelling and to Patricia Rodriguez’s excellent narration. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample

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