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Literature / The Long Way to A Small, Angry Planet

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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.

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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.k.a. Lovelace, the Wayfarer's former AI, now in an android body. A second sequel, titled Record of a Spaceborn Few, was released in 2018 and follows Ashby's sister Tessa and other inhabitants of the Exodus Fleet.


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

  • Actual Pacifist: Exodans, like Ashby, who embraced nonviolence when they left Earth in order to better survive.
  • Alien Arts Are Appreciated: Appearances aside, the different alien races are more similar in many ways than some human cultures. Tastes in art and food and entertainment are almost universally adjacent.
  • Aliens Speaking English: Subverted - the language that everyone speaks is called Klip, which A Closed and Common Orbit reveals to be another language entirely when Jane/Pepper starts learning it.
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  • Androids Are People, Too: Sidra is definitely a person, but has problems with being an android. Most of her conflict revolves around trying to adapt to being a ship's AI in an android body, which from her perspective is horribly limiting and unnatural. Played straight with her friends who try help her, to her increasing dismay. Eventually she transfers her consciousness to a fixed mainframe inside a shop, using her old android body and several other remote units to give her the multiple perspectives and larger memory she's designed for.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Some of the "science" offered up in the books makes it hard to guess if Chambers thinks the ideas would actually work, or she's being a Trolling Creator.
    • The Wayfarer's drive is, somehow, powered by algae. Biomass in any form is unlikely to provide the required joules to power something that can punch through spacetime.
    • Likewise in A Closed and Common Orbit, Sidra's android body is recharged by its own motion. If this was a supplement to electrical charging, like regenerative brakes, it would make sense. If it's the only method, then it's a form of Perpetual Motion.
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    • In Spaceborn Few the Exodus Fleet ships are likewise powered by movement of the crew inside them. Again, this is extremely unlikely to provide the required power for a massive Generation Ship.
  • Bizarre Alien Sexes: The Aeluon have four genders - female, male, shon (who switch back and forth between male and female), and those who are neither.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: The Toremi. Not only are they obsessed with patterns and changes in patterns, but they all try to think things in the exact same way, with disagreements ending with them tearing each other apart.
  • Bothering by the Book: Rosemary saves the crew's ass at least twice by being a superior bookkeeper and Rules Lawyer.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The cure to the Whisper, which Corbin uses on Ohan after the failed punch.
  • 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."
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The fate of anyone who gets targeted by gene-cutters, which essentially mutilate their target from the inside-out. Grum doctors learned pretty quickly that it was easier to Mercy Kill the victims than try to save them.
  • 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.
  • Death of Personality: Of the Blank Slate variety - after the Wayfarer escapes from the sabotaged wormhole, they are forced to hard reset Lovelace because she's too far gone to save as is. Unfortunately, this also wipes out her accumulated databases, essentially resetting her to factory standards.
  • Designer Baby: Pepper is a member of genetically-engineered children meant to serve as slave labor.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The Toremi kill each other over disagreements - Pei mentions that a few literally tore each other apart over an argument about whether Harmagians were sentient, and representatives who don't agree with the higher-ups vanishing.
  • Doesn't Like Guns: Ashby, because of his Exodan background, refuses to have guns on the Wayfarer, even after the ship gets boarded by Akarak scavengers.
  • Drill Tank: IN SPACE!! The Wayfarer has a space/time bore mounted on its belly to dig wormholes.
  • 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.
  • Exposed Extraterrestrials: Aandrisks have no nudity taboo, but wear clothes while off-world to accommodate other species. When Rosemary, Ashby, and Sissix visit Hashkath, one of the first things Sissix does is take off her pants and throw them back into the shuttle.
  • Fair Weather Friend: When Rosemary explains why she changed identities, she says that after her father was exposed, nobody wanted anything to do with her, even though she'd never been a part of his schemes at all.
  • 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. Kizzy also mentions "daffy", a type of illegal hallucinogen, when she tries to describe what it's like being inside a tunnel-in-progress, as well as "sophro", a legal version.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • The Quelin despise clones, no thanks to a brutal interplanetary war involving cloning and eugenics, and openly refer to Corbin as an abomination. If their representative is anything to go by, they don't think too highly of humans, either.
    • Some of the Toremi hate the other GC species, mainly because they don't follow the same beliefs as the Toremi - namely that everyone must think the exact same way, with dissenters getting torn apart.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: It exists in this universe, but has been banned due to the problems vastly outweighing the gains.
  • The Federation: The Galactic Commons, a galaxy-spanning union of sentient species. Humans have only recently become members.
  • Fumbling the Gauntlet: When Ashby is trying to negotiate with the Arakian scavengers, he wipes some sweat away from his face. Unfortunately for him, in the Harmagian language (which the Arakian language is based off of), that gesture essentially means that one would rather rub shit in their eyes than talk to them. This earns him a rifle butt to the face.
  • Has Two Daddies: Kizzy has two fathers whom she adores, and vice-versa.
  • Heel Realization: Dr. Chef realized how badly things had gone for the Grum and their war after two things - finding out that his side had come up with the gene cutters that the enemy was using, and having to Mercy Kill his last daughter.
  • Hope Spot: Jenks and Kizzy have performed the hard reset, which will either bring back Lovey as she is or reset her back to factory standards. Ten minutes pass, Jenks starts her back up... and Lovey has been reset to Lovelace.
  • 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.)
  • I Will Find You: Pepper has been searching for Owl for a decade, and the last third of the book is dedicated to recovering her from a museum.
  • Immediate Sequel: Closed and Common Orbit, which begins with Lovelace and Pepper leaving the Wayfarer and returning to Port Coriol.
  • 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.
  • Loophole Abuse: When Corbin is put under arrest for being a clone by the Quelin, Rosemary finds out that they can rescue him if they have someone stand in as his legal guardian while he goes through the application process for non-GC species. However, said guardian has to come from a species that doesn't ban cloning - meaning it'll have to be Sissix, who loathes Corbin (and the feeling is mutual.)
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Pepper, whose name comes from a discovered love of food seasonings following her escape from her homeworld.
    • Dr. Chef, who serves as both medic and cook for the Wayfarer's crew.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Almost always explicitly true, with an in-fiction article even dedicated to various official theories about why all known sentient species can share air and sustenance with each other. There are some species-based allergic reactions though.
  • 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.
  • No Such Thing as Alien Pop Culture: Averted
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • Ohan is usually pretty calm and laid back, with Rosemary comparing him to a stoned college student. This makes it all the more striking when the Wayfarer stops off at a colony of Sianat Heretics (Sianat who have refused the Whisper, or who have been cured of it), and Ohan gets pissed off, believing that the Heretics will contaminate the crew with 'lies'.
    • When Pepper shows up at the Wayfarer following the failed punch, she is genuinely surprised to learn that Kizzy is now using the fixbots that she'd earlier derided as 'boring'.
  • Police Brutality: While in Quelin custody, the enforcers respond to Corbin's protests by ramming him in the chest with their armored heads hard enough to break ribs.
  • Polyamory: Favoured by the Aandrisks. Aeluons also take an arrangement similar to this while breeding, with a female or shon-female spending the two or three periods of her fertile life living with a group of parent-trained Aeuluons, and having sex with the group's males and shon-males multiple times in a day. These are short term arrangements, and romantic relationships may be more monogamous.
  • 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.
  • Robosexual: Jenks's relationship with Lovelace, the ship's AI.
  • 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.
  • Science Is Bad: The belief of the more hardcore Gaiists, like the Survivalists, is that since technology is what caused the Collapse to begin with, humans should go back to the way things were before. Way, way before. Jenks' mom used to be a Survivalist, up until she gave birth to him and her fellow cultists started discussing whether they should kill him because of his dwarfism.
  • Secret Keeper: Tak towards Sidra/Lovelace after xyr inkbots causes her kit body to malfunction.
  • Secret Relationship: Ashby and Pei have to deal with their relationship this way, because they both know that Pei would end up in serious trouble if anyone found out. After the failed punch, Pei decides that she doesn't care who finds out anymore.
  • 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. When Small, Angry Planet begins, they are currently going through the later stages, called the Wane, which only Dr. Chef and Ashby know about. Then scavengers try to kidnap him in order to sell him, and Dr. Chef is forced to blow the 'secretly' part out of the water.
  • Shed the Family Name: Rosemary changed her last name from Harris to Harper after the fallout from her father's arrest as part of her plan to get away from it.
  • Shout-Out: The Wayfarers job of tunneling wormholes amounts to piercing the heavens with its drill.
  • 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.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: During the inquiry with the GC, Ashby reads them the riot act for trying to pursue the alliance with the Toremi, telling them just how bad it would be to have a species that considers death a reasonable punishment for disagreement living with others who don't share that belief.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Mothers in A Closed and Common Orbit, who have no qualms about hurting their charges for stepping out of line, or killing them for daring to discover the truth about the outside world.
  • You Are Number 6: Clones like Pepper are identified by a first name and a number, with Pepper's original name being Jane 23.
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