#RRSciFiMonth Read Along: A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet (#1)

I seem to be getting involved in a bunch of social review and discussion, which makes me exceedingly happy – not least in this case, as I’ve had my eye on A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet (by Becky Chambers) and this is a perfect excuse to get on and read it! If you’re interested in joining in, the schedule for the readalong is here, and I’m sure you’d be very welcome to jump on board.

I’ll be posting weekly updates along with the rest of the group, followed my usual review when I complete the book.

So, a little context: Rosemary Harper is on the run from her past. She’s assumed a new identity and managed to get a berth as an admin clerk on a small ship that builds wormholes. The colourful crew welcome her on board with the sort of abandon only a close-knit team with limited chances at socialisation can embrace without blushing. But the captain has aspirations, and when the crew are offered a job that’s too good to be true they jump at the chance. It’s on the other side of the galaxy and involves working in the middle of a civil war. What can possibly go wrong?

Week 1 is being hosted by the lovely Lisa at Over the Effin’ Rainbow. She asks: (minor spoilers)

1. First things first, we get to meet the central cast – the crew of the Wayfarer. What are your first impressions of this crew? Which members, if any, stand out the most to you and why?
Becky Chambers does a great job of building character quickly. A terse conversation between Captain Ashby and algae specialist Corbin tells us a lot about them and about the galactic community Humanity is now a part of. I loved how much I absorbed – from Ashby smacking Corbin down for making a racist remark about lizards, to a quick consideration that Humanity in space has lost most of our current hang-ups (although there are clearly divisions between Exodus and Solar Humanity).

The cast are fabulously diverse: Rosemary is uptight and stressed, clearly worried about her Dark Secret on top of first-day-on-the-job impostor syndrome nerves. I liked that she worried about making a social gaffe at dinner, when it was clear to anyone less emotionally involved that the laidback crew were highly unlikely to get judgmental about her first-time efforts to dismember the spacer equivalent of a crayfish.

I’ve fallen head over heels with Sissix. She gets more physical description than anyone else in the intros, but it’s her warm character and sense of humour that won me over. Rosemary reflects a lot on ethnocentrism (and Ashby calls Corbin out for a racist remark about lizards), which sets up nicely that this cold-blooded crew member seems the warmest of the lot. Not literally – there’s a great comedy moment where Sissix needs to warm up enough to be able to type in the middle of the night. Yep, been there.

The rest of the crew are given enough to be going on with, but I haven’t got as attached. Kizzy is a sort of Kaylee/Elan the Bard hybrid on a dozen Red Bulls – effervescent and bound to get on some readers nerves, but actually frighteningly competent in a haphazard sort of way. I’m a little uncomfortable with Jenks pranking Corbin, but I do like that his deep romantic (and reciprocal) attachment is to Lovelace the AI. Doubleplus points to Chambers for calling the AI Lovelace, too. Ashby, Chef and Ohan need a bit more time to develop, as does Corbin – apart from knowing he’s an asshat, we haven’t really got to appreciate him.

2. Rosemary gets a rather entertaining physics lesson regarding space tunnelling from Kizzy, upon her first full day as a crew member. What are your thoughts on the science part of the fiction?
I enjoyed the physics lesson as a demonstration of how Kizzy thinks and communicates – and for the almost paternal role Chef takes on – and I’m familiar with the old folding something trick for talking about wormholes. The rest… well, I can’t comment on the actual science, and it’s presented in such a way here that the principles seem perfectly reasonable as a set of constraints and threats that can bite the crew in the ass horribly somewhere down the line. Anyone care to take any bets?

3. We go into the story aware that Rosemary is hiding something from the rest of the crew, and that she’s gone to great lengths to do so. Any ideas/suspicions/speculation you’d like to share on what her secret might be?
I don’t have a clue about Rosemary’s Dark Secret. She clearly doesn’t feel responsible for it, which leads me to think that it’s something awkward but not terrible (…or she’s a psychopath. Um) and I wonder to what extent her family and especially her sister were involved, as we’ve had clues that the latter relationship at least has broken down. Of course, that may be unrelated! Given her training in languages and her hyper-consciousness about social cues, I wonder whether she may have been involved in some awful diplomatic gaffe – if not on the political stage, then relating to her father’s business. Whatever it was, it seems to have got badly out of hand and had unintended consequences.

4. Ashby scores a huge job – and a huge potential payout – for the Wayfarer, but it means possibly having to get mixed up in a violent civil war. What do you make of what we know so far about the Toremi?
The Toremi are fairly enigmatic so far – we know they’re blowing each other up, and until recently they’ve cheerfully opened fire on any non-Toremi vessels in their space. Someone is making some good deals – the news story about an entrepreneur going to jail for selling weapons to a Toremi clan sounds to me like he backed the wrong horse (as the GC were negotiating with another clan) – but I get no sense that the Toremi are genuinely interested in joining the GC. It will be interesting to see how they develop…

So far, so great. The novel trips along with breezy prose and engaging characters. I’m liking the focus on alien races, and there’s plenty of set-up on topics from AI rights and body image(!) through to galactic politics and personal drama. And Sissix just makes me happy on every page. It’s been a good year for SF in my reading, but so far I’d put this up there with the best for entertainment value.