Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Becky Chambers' The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet tells the story of the motley crew of a wormhole-constructing spaceship, as they navigate their interspecies cultural differences, galactic-civilization-scope politics, and (of course) the weird wibbly-wobbly non-Euclidean subspace through which they construct spaceship bypasses.

It's fun and it moves along at a clip. In terms of comedic-dramatic romps taking place mostly on spaceships, it is much closer to Iain M BanksCulture novels than Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice. There are many species, with different physical and societal structures, but at least a few of them can see eye-to-eye[stalk]. enough to form a conglomerate civilization. Bureaucracy, treaties, the careful social and political leeways given and adjustments made for aliens --- these things are important and hard but mostly tractable in this universe. They come to the forefront because one of our protagonists is an office clerk... but being the clerk on a wide-travelling, alien-filled, wormhole-constructing spaceship makes the paperwork, accounting, border declaration forms, etc. cool.

Also like an Iain M Banks book, there's not one single crescendoing plot, but instead a series of interesting events with no special signposts for readers. Life, in all its banalities and stresses and joys. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet manages to be a fun, quick space opera; a sweet novel about interpersonal relationships and the values of small tight communities; and a sad story of loss. It could also be read as a screed about basic universal rights, or what constitutes sentience, or how to be a good neighbor. Or the importance of snacking between meals, and continuously drinking non-caffeinated tea.

I liked it.

It didn't sparkle with the sheer perfection of Pride and Prejudice ("too light, and bright, and sparkling" -- Austen herself), or The Hydrogen Sonata, or Ancillary Justice, but I recommend it, especially if you already like space opera. It's a great first novel, and I'll keep Becky Chambers on my radar.

This post's theme word is praxis, "customary practice or conduct", or "exercise of a skill," or "practical application of a theory." This alien praxis is bizarre, but it makes sense for those with neither opposable thumbs nor bones in their bodies.

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