27 June 2017

Hugos 2017 [Prelude]: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Trade paperback, 404 pages
Published 2015 (originally 2014)

Acquired May 2017
Read June 2017
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

I wanted to love this book. A group of disparate people thrown together in a meandering spaceship journey? Basically my favorite genre! But the way Becky Chambers actually executed this premise left something to be desired. There was just too little conflict-- I'm not saying that everyone needed to be at each others' throats like an episode of The Expanse, but spending a year with your friends in the confines of a spaceship would bring up more interpersonal conflicts than these guys experienced, as anyone who's roomed with and/or worked alongside anyone would know. But the characters here either get along in a completely lovely fashion or are Total Jerks.

I also felt very uncomfortable with the way the majority of the crewmembers impose their moral views on one character and their way of life, in a book that was otherwise about celebrating the joys of multiculturalism and (what I guess you might call) multibiologism. I don't think the book sufficiently made the case that a particular character was being exploited to justify what was done to them against their will.

There's also not enough external conflict. I'm fine with there not being an overarching plot beyond the journey itself (I am, after all, a big fan of the Oz novels), but it felt like too often the Wayfarer arrived somewhere, talked to the people, and just moved on, without any kind of problem to overcome. Really there are only two segments of tension in the whole novel. And I guess this bothers me because it also prevents the characters from popping as much as they could; I want to see more of them struggling, to see what they're like. I did like the milieu and premise Chambers created (particularly her vision of future Human culture, the Exodans), but I'm unconvinced this is the best possible story that could have been told in it. I didn't hate the novel or anything, but I basically finished feeling it was okay, with occasional flashes of interest. I will read the next book because I "have to" for Hugos voting, but I'm not sure I would have bothered otherwise.

In Two Weeks: Another attempt to solve the three-body problem in Cixin Liu's The Dark Forest!

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