Space Opera is the subgenre of Speculative Fiction that focuses on daring heroes and their adventures in outer space. Springing from the Science Fiction pulps in the 1930s, moving into novels, and novel series, by authors like E.E. “Doc” Smith, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and David Gerrold, Space Opera moved onto the big screen with Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers and then scattered into comics, comic books, television and graphic novels. For over 70 years, it has been a favorite with readers and viewers alike. Reading The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, it is easy to see why.
Rosemarie has just accepted the position of Clerk on the Wayfarer. When she boards, she is introduced, to Lovey (the ship’s AI), Corbin (the Algeist), Jenks and Kizzy (the Techs), Sissix (the Aandrisk pilot), Dr. Chef (the Grum doctor and cook) Ohan (the Sianat navigator) and the ship’s Captain, Ashby Santoso. Together they work to create stable hyperspace lanes, or wormholes, between distant locations, allowing for transport, commerce and communications on an intergalactic scale for the Galactic Commons. Shortly after their latest tunneling project is successfully completed, Ashby gets wind of a job that not only pays handsomely, but also would open professional avenues for the ship and crew. But there’s a catch, there always is, and it is this: it will take a year to travel to the point necessary to create the new tunnel, and it is located in an area of space that has been plagued by war for years.
Chambers, in her debut novel, has created a true marvel of world/universe building and compelling characters. Structurally, the novel is not the execution of an overly complicated plot. Instead, Chambers focuses her attention, and the reader’s, on the people who comprise Wayfarer’s crew (possibly challenging some reader’s preconceptions regarding who qualifies as being designated a person along the way). She explores the relationships between the existing crew members and allows the reader to “follow along” as Rosemarie navigates the potential minefield of getting to know “co-workers” you just met and will now be living with for a year. As Wayfarer makes its way to the drilling point, they stop off for supplies and other necessities, allowing Chambers the opportunity to increase the reader’s knowledge of the characters, the universe in which they live, and the how andwhy they live the way they do. It seems effortless, but clearly is an accomplishment and is all the more remarkable.
Andrew Liptak, in his review on io9.com, described The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet “. . . as though Firefly and Guardians of the Galaxy had one hyperactive and excited baby.” What an accurate, appropriate and concise description. In this novel Becky Chambers has created a yearning for the sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit, which will be published next year.