I am currently trying to read the entire Arthur C. Clarke shortlist, before the announcement I only read Europe at Midnight but since all the other books looked interesting I decided to challenge myself to read the entire shortlist before August 24th (the date the winner will be announced). The shortlist is as follows :
- Europe At Midnight by Dave Hutchinson
- Way Down Dark by James Smythe
- The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
- The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
- Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovski
- Arcadia by Ian Pears
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 404 pages
Rating: 4 stars
“Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the starchart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there.
But all voyages leave their mark, and even the most ordinary of people have stories worth telling. A young Martian woman, hoping the vastness of space will put some distance between herself and the life she‘s left behind. An alien pilot, navigating life without her own kind. A pacifist captain, awaiting the return of a loved one at war.
Set against a backdrop of curious cultures and distant worlds, this episodic tale weaves together the adventures of nine eclectic characters, each on a journey of their own.”
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is what I would call a feel-good book. It has a very thin plot: it mostly focuses on character relationship and it’s quite refreshing.
Indeed, I love SF but it tends to be quite depressing (kind of like literary fiction): I do like this aspect of SF don’t get me wrong, seeing how humans could react in different world, how we could live in centuries or just how we could have behave in alternate histories setting, is for me, utterly fascinating even if, 99,9% of the time, it’s not utopian (or when it is, it’s not quite perfect (Too Like The Lightning by Ada Palmer)).
This book is different. Like I said, the plot isn’t really important (it just follows characters working in a spaceship that “builds” wormsholes): the characters are the main focus. At the end of the book, it was very hard to let them go, I wanted to see more of their interactions (and I also wanted to work with them on the Wayfarer).
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet had really interesting ideas and themes such as inter-species relationship, how humans differ and look like the aliens and love. The whole aspect of inter-species relationship was very interesting to read about since I believe that it’s the first time that I encounter it in a novel (that isn’t Star Wars related).
It’s a book about tolerance, sexual freedom and actual life in space. It’s a very good book and, if you’re tired to read only depressing SF about evil corporations, wars, ecological disasters and post-apocalyptic futures, I would highly recommend it!
It reminded me a bit of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison but for SF fans: the characters are genuinely good and try their best and it’s refreshing after reading dystopians (or grimdark fantasy in the case of The Goblin Emperor!).
However, I do have some issues with it, I won’t talk about all of them because some of them are spoilers but, one the main character is in love with the ship’s AI, Lovey, and he wants the AI to have a physical body (which is possible in this world thanks to body kits). In the book, it never felt right; I thought that the AI agreed to do this only for the human, not because it/she wanted to, it was a bit cringy since I saw that more as emotional blackmail than an actual thought-out decision. It might just be me but I didn’t love this part of the story that much. They were other things that bothered me and lowered a bit my enjoyment of the story.
So, would I like this book to win the Arthur C. Clarke Awards?
Nop. Again it’s a good book, I wouldn’t be mad if it win of course but, Europe At Midnight and The Book of Phoenix are way more interesting in my opinion. A Small Angry Planet is good book but it didn’t offer new ideas or great discussions like Hutcherson’s book for example. Still, I’m glad I read it and I will be reading the sequel/companion, A Closed and Common Orbit when it will come out!