Literature / The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet

The first novel written by Becky Chambers, The Long Way to A Small, Angry Planet was published in 2015. The book follows the crew of the Wayfarer, a ship employed in building "tunnels" through space to connect distant reaches of the Galactic Commons. The book opens with the new addition of Rosemary, a somewhat sheltered Human clerk, to the multi-species crew including: lizard-like pilot Sissix; Dr. Chef who is one of the last of his race and the ship's doctor and chef; Ohan, the Navigator whose species is infected in childhood with a virus that lets them understand time and space but slowly kills them; Lovelace the AI, human captain Ashby, engineers Kizzy and Jenks, and the obnoxious misanthropic algae-specialist Corbin. As Rosemary is acclimating to her new home on the Wayfarer, Ashby accepts a once in a lifetime opportunity to build a tunnel to the Galactic Core, impenetrable until now due to control by a violent and largely incomprehensible race who is only now reaching out to contact the GC.

It now has a sequel, titled A Closed and Common Orbit, which follows the story of Pepper, a Designer Baby who escaped from slavery, and Sidra, a former ship's AI now in an android body.

The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet contains examples of:

  • Artistic License Physics: The Wayfarer's drive is, somehow, powered by algae. No explanation as to how this works is really offered.
  • Bothering by the Book: Rosemary saves the crew's ass at least twice by being a superior bookkeeper and Rules Lawyer.
  • Cloning Blues:
    • Corbin turns out to be one, much to his surprise. Unfortunately that means he effectively has few civil rights and isn't even considered a citizen of the GC.
    • There's also Pepper, who was one clone out of thousands that were used as slaves.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Kizzy is a competent ship's tech and modder, but she has a very unique outlook on life.
    • The author describes her as "the last person you would ever want in charge of a spaceship."
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Rosemary's father, who sold gene targeting weapons to both sides of a civil war, even though he was already fabulously rich through a legitimate business.
  • Dying Race: The Grum.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Pepper, who spent almost a decade hiding in the remains of a disabled ship, painstakingly learning how to fix it to escape, with only Owl, the ship's AI, and the characters in a children's VR game for company. And she starts this ordeal when she's ten.
  • Earth That Was: Earth suffered through "The Collapse" which was apparently an environmental disaster that made the ecosystem uninhabitable by humans. Humanity evacuated in Generation Ships or settled on Mars. By the start of the story, the GC has helped restore the environment so that parts are inhabitable again, making it Earth That Used to Be Better.
  • Family of Choice: While Aandrisk family structures are already fairly complicated and, in some cases, voluntary, it doesn't detract from the revelation that Sissix chose the (otherwise non-Aandrisk) crew of the Wayfarer as her feather family.
  • Fantastic Drug: "Smash" which is vaguely analogous to marijuana, being a plant which is technically illegal and provides a mild high.
  • The Federation: The Galactic Commons, a galaxy-spanning union of sentient species. Humans have only recently become members.
  • Has Two Daddies: Kizzy has two fathers whom she adores, and vice-versa
  • Humans Are Smelly: Sissix and Dr Chef, who both have more powerful senses of smell than humans, have a rather giggly conversation in which they agree on this; Dr Chef admits he's been secretly adding powerful anti-odour powders to the soap dispensers. (The human crew never noticed.)
  • Interspecies Romance: Rosemary and Sissix, and Ashby and Pei.
  • Jerkass: Corbin.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: When the Wayfarer finds itself docked to a ship sabotaged with time bombs, Corbin points out that they should undock immediately and just let it blow, since the owner's insurance would cover it.
  • No Sense of Personal Space: The Aandrisk have this reputation, since their normal mode of showing personal affection in public would count as foreplay in many other cultures.
  • Polyamory: Favoured by the Aandrisks.
  • Punny Name: Port Coriol, a play on "corporeal". Changes to a Meaningful Name in the second book, which tells the story of two artificial humans, one a clone, the other an AI, living at the port who make new lives for themselves.
  • The Reptilians: The Aandrisk look like giant bipedal lizards with multicolored feathers on their heads. Sissix jokingly tells Rosemary that they have no proof her species isn't descended from dinosaurs. Calling them 'lizards', however, is considered racist.
  • Robinsonade: Pepper's story in A Closed and Common Orbit amounts to this. Cut off from human contact for nearly a decade, living in a disabled starship in the middle of continent wide junkyard, and reduced to eating wild mutated dogs for food.
  • Secretly Dying: The Wayfayer's navigator, Ohan, has a virus called the Whisper, which grants them the ability to easily visualise multidimensional space, but which also significantly cuts down their lifespan.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Several characters in both books smoke "redreed" and it's only negative effect is that it's described as mildly irritating to some aliens.
  • Title Drop: the narration describes Hedra Ka as "A small, angry planet, surrounded by the warships of people who wanted to control it."
  • The Unpronounceable: Dr. Chef's real name, due largely to his native language utilising all of his independent sets of vocal chords simultaneously.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?:
    • AI's for ships are common, but despite being sentient they're considered property, not people. Much of the plot of A Closed and Common Orbit concerns two AI's, one illegally downloaded into a humanoid body, and another who raises Pepper for nine years only to be confiscated by the government for being unsafe.
    • Also clones, who aren't considered citizens of the GC.