Review:: A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers [SPOILERS GALORE]

Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space in A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet —and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.

Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.

Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.

Okay, so A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was recommended to me as a hilarious, comforting space found family story. And, to be fair, it was that, in a lot of ways, and I’m sure it was for a lot of people. However, I had some really major problems with it that really ruined the story for me.

There will be spoilers ahead for three major plot points , and quite a bit of ranting. Be prepared. Maybe get yourself a drink, cause I’ve got words to say.

There was a lot of discussion throughout A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet about personhood. It brings together all of the main character arcs in the story, particularly:

• whether Wayfarer AI “Lovey” Lovelace was a person, or if she was just well-adapted sentient software;

• whether Corbyn (as a clone) is a real person and;

• last, and most important for me, was whether Ohan, a Sianit pair, was really a pair, or whether the neurovirus called “the whisperer” was a parasite that was ruling their actions. (That’s a plural they, because they call themselves a pair, and that’s the pronouns they use.)

Jenks, one of the mechanics, is in love with Lovey, and she has loved him back for almost three years. The issue is – Lovey doesn’t have a body, and putting sentient AI into body kits is illegal in the universe. (It’s never explained exactly why that I remember. Jenks goes as far as ordering an illegal body kit, at Lovey’s request, so that he and Lovey can be together. I will come back to this!

Corbyn, the species-ist algae tech, learns when they’re stopped by an alien country’s enforcers, that he’s actually a clone. He’s arrested, because clones are an immoral thing in their culture, and are also not citizens by the rules of the Galactic Counsel. They beat the shit out of him, and the only way to rescue him is to basically turn him into a legal dependent of the crew member that he’s been species-ist AS FUCK TO throughout the entire book, and reapply for citizenship in the GC under her guidance. Which, she of course does. Because she’s not a complete asshole.

Anyway, back to Jenks and Lovey.

Jenks gets to thinking and realizes that his heart would be absolutely broken if this were to happen again, and they were to realize that Lovey were an illegal robot-in-a-body. He would go to jail (Corbyn’s dad/original is sentenced to 12 years in prison for it) and she would be dismantled and erased. So he backs out, and Lovey admits that she only wanted a body for him, so she could be everything he needs. Cause you know, obviously he needs sex and a body to love on.

*squints in annoyed asexual*

(lets be real, that’s who I am all the time.)

And now we get to Ohan, who are barely a character in this novel. We get to hear from their perspective only a handful of times. However, every single time we hear from Ohan, we hear how they are dying from the neurovirus that allows them to basically see the space-time continuum. “The Whisperer” is the thing that makes Sianit Pairs unique, you see. They actively infect their children with it to make them special.It’s treated as a holy thing. It’s their purpose in life – it allows them to navigate space and time. Every time we hear from Ohan’s point of view, they make it extremely clear that they do not want a cure for this neurovirus, even as their body tries to fall apart under them.

At one point, the crew needs a part for their stasis field that keeps their food fresh. The only place close enough to them to get that part is…. a rogue Sianit planet where everyone is a “broken” pair, or has never been infected with The Whisperer. There, Ashby and Kizzy learn that there’s a cure for The Whisperer that still allows them to navigate time and space, but lets them live more than a century more than a pair would.

Ashby brings the cure back to the ship, and gives Ohan the option to cure themselves. They say that they understand the options and do not want the cure. Ashby says he won’t force them to do anything, but from that point forward, most of the crew (whose opinions we get to hear ad nauseum) refers to Ohan as a singular person despite their continual use of plural they for themselves, and insistence that they do not want to be cured. 

At one point, they specifically state that they don’t know who they’d be without it, something that resonated a lot with me as an autistic and ADHD woman.

So take a guess what their plot arc winds up being. I’m positive you’ll figure it out, especially if you’re familiar with disability rep in books.

After a big, desperate rush to escape attack from the people they were creating a tunnel for, Ohan is basically hospitalized on the ship to let them die in peace. Lovey gets hit hard during the attack, and winds up having to be reset, which breaks Jenks’ heart.

Ashby, whose voice we hear throughout the end of the novel, has an entire section talking about how he wasn’t sure if he’d treated Lovey as a person, if he’d said thank you when she did things for him, et cetera. It was sweet.

THEN, asshole algae tech Corbyn comes in and decides that there’s not allowed to be any more sadness on the ship and cures him of The Whisperer. Once Ohan heals, he inexplicably starts using singular he pronouns, and is all about being a part of the crew. It’s kind of treated as  “oh yay he wants to eat real food and be part of the crew.”

He never got a choice in the matter beforehand. Corbyn takes that choice from him. We never get to see how he feels afterward – we just end with the crew being so happy and excited to have him be less aloof and more intent on being part of the crew, which again really resonated with me as someone who’s been accused of being aloof and not caring about people because I can’t stand to be around large groups of people for very long because it’s sensory overload.

So, there’s two ways to think about this particular character arc in A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, in my mind.

1. The Whisperer is actually a brain eating parasite, like a facehugger from Alien, but internal. It’s telling Ohan that they cannot function without them being present.

2. The Whisperer is a disability analogue. Its symptoms present very much like autism and Parkinsons, in my opinion – two diseases that are famously incurable, and ones I have personal experience with.

From the story that I listened to, the second option was how Ohan felt about it. The Whisperer was so much a part of who they were, how they became who they were, that they couldn’t imagine a life without it.

The first was how their abled crewmates in A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet felt about The Whisperer. And apparently, the author, which really, really bothers me.

There’s a lot of debate in the disabled community about whether or not each person would take it, if they were given the option for a cure. Personally, I fall very hard on the “no” side of that debate, and here’s why.

Much like Ohan, I have no clue who I would be without being autistic and ADHD.

This is who I’ve been, literally forever. How much of my personality is tied up in being autistic? How much of my work process is tied up in being ADHD? Would I still love what I love if I was neurotypical? My taste in foods, my clothing preference, my choice in friends? How much of that is me, and how much is my weird ass brain?

I can only guess that these are the same things that went through Ohan’s mind when he thought about whether he wanted to be cured of The Whisperer or not. Being a sentient creature, you’d think that he would get to make that choice for himself, the same way Lovey did in A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

But no, he doesn’t. That was the kicker for me with this book, the thing that really bothered me the most. Overall, this was a really well-written story. I loved how the crew got along with each other and really were each other’s family. I loved how mostly queer-friendly it was, how polyamory friendly it was, and how enjoyable the writing was.

But the three major plot points in this story bothered me so much that I cannot give this book the rating it otherwise would have deserved.

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