Before I finished my last read, I started poking around in The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, trying to pick my next read, when I noticed the page “A special note from Becky Chambers” all the way in the back. I assumed it would be an acknowledgement page or maybe a teaser for an upcoming book or even just a note to her fans, but instead, Chambers included a note to encourage aspiring writers not to give up.
The timing couldn’t have been better. I’ve been pretty down on my own writing for quite a while now, and a few weeks ago, I came closer to quitting altogether than I have in several years. I decided to give it one more push and started getting up early every day to write before work, and a few days in, I read that note from Chambers and I knew (a) I was DEFINITELY reading this book next and (b) that bit of inspiration was exactly what I needed to face a 5am alarm.
I was worried I couldn’t be objective about the book after that, even if I didn’t like it, but not to worry: it’s great.
The story follows the crew of the Wayfarer, a tunneling ship that creates wormholes. The diverse crew includes a woman from a lizard-like species (but do not call her a lizard), a doctor/chef with six arm-legs, a sentient AI named Lovey who communicates between the ship’s systems and crew and is in a not-so-secret relationship with one of the crew. The newest addition is Rosemary, hired as a clerk to file forms and communicate with the Galactic Council, but she’s running from a secret past that may or may not put her job in jeopardy if anyone finds out the truth.
They’re heading for their biggest job yet, creating a tunnel between GC territory and the galaxy’s core to allow easier harvesting and transport of ambi, a powerful fuel harvested from the event horizon of black holes. The catch: they have to tunnel through a war zone. It’s a dangerous mission but one that will pay more than most of their other jobs combined, one that will allow them to upgrade the ship and compete for even bigger jobs.
Aside from a few tense moments, there’s not a lot of high drama. Instead, Chambers builds world upon world upon world filled with different species across a whole spectrum of physical forms and cultures. Accordingly, there’s a lot of exposition, the kind of thing I usually hate, but somehow, it works. The crew of the ship have genuine affection for each other, and much of the exposition comes as newcomer Rosemary gets to know them. There’s a gentle sentimentality here that drew me in and made me root for the characters, even that one unlikable guy who becomes sympathetic when we learn about what he’s been through. In lesser hands, this book could have been a boring schlockfest, but Chambers is good enough and smart enough to make it work. This is one of my favorite reads of the year, and I can’t wait to find out where she’ll take me next.