My Welsh sister-in-law taught me a wonderful Welsh word: cwtch. It’s a hug, but not just any hug. It’s the kind of warm, comforting hug that one gets from a close friend or family member, full of love and reassurance and the knowledge that there is always a safe space full of unconditional love. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers is a cwtch in book form.
Cross Farscape with Firefly and add in a hefty dollop of life-affirming goodness and you have The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. A multi-species crew travel across the galaxy under contract to build a new tunnel connecting the centre of the galaxy and the Galactic Commons, a collection of planets that have formed a loose alliance.
This novel is a love-song to the human condition, and our relationships with one another. As the crew of the Wayfarer travel across the galaxy to the start point for their tunneling operation, we learn about them and their relationships with one another. Everyone has secrets, but these are ones that expose their essential humanity – stories of love and loss that have shaped them as individuals. Rosemary is coming to terms with her father’s arms dealing, Ashby with his love for an alien woman in a dangerous profession, Dr Chef wrestling with the self-destructive urges of his species and Ohan with the beliefs of their people that propel them on a course towards self-destruction. And then there’s Corbin, the annoying flatmate we’ve all had to deal with at some point or another.
Although this isn’t the deepest or most complex of books (it’s a little too on-the-rails, with little sense of real peril at times), it’s one of those rare and special books that left me in tears. Jenks’s love for Lovey, the ship’s AI, is real and intensely moving, and there are moments of real connection for all of the characters. The visit to Sissix’s homeworld, in particular, reveals all that she has given up to travel with the crew of the Wayfarer.
The story of the novel itself is equally life-affirming: Chambers found herself out of work and short of money. The generosity of strangers through a Kickstarter campaign enabled her to complete the book and self-publish it. The success of the novel meant it was picked up by Hodder, a mainstream publisher.
Ultimately, what The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet teaches us is that we are all made of stardust. All essentially the same, and capable of profound connections with one another, regardless of how different we may seem. We are enriched by our diversity if we are open-minded enough to appreciate it and let it blossom. And I, for one, want to spend more time with the crew of the Wayfarer.
Goodreads rating: 4*