If you are looking for a science fiction book that seems to meander around and never really lands anywhere in both story or plot, “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” by Becky Chambers may be a book you will want to pick up. It is more like following a soap opera than a space opera. The audiobook edition is narrated by Rachel Dulude, who currently has over fifty titles narrated on Audible; at the time of this review. I initially had very high hopes based on the many great reviews, and science fiction is one of my favorite genres to experience. Yet, this book is one of the few that I found very difficult to pick back up once put down, hard to follow due to the overly descriptive writing, and even tougher to complete. It has a great premise along with a well-known publisher, but the book fell flat in so many ways that I have no intention of picking up the second in the series; which is also available in audiobook format on Audible. It was the lack of action, character development, along with other issues that made me want to be ejected from an airlock into the quite of deep space.
For those of us who like Sci-Fi stories, this book has a feel of “Firefly” mixed with a bit of “Dark Matter”, and some “Star Trek” bits thrown in when you look at the author’s agenda. Knowing this, you may be wondering why I rated the book as low as I did. Firstly, there is absolutely no plot development which is something taught to even young writers in school. This long journey the author takes us on to a small and angry planet feels more like the listener is being forced to listen to a friend describe his trip to his vacation destination for fourteen-hours. There are many side quests, events, and other obscure missions that seemed to not be relevant to the character’s main goal and I often found myself speaking out loud for them to get back on track. There was very little action, advancement, or discovery apart from a few new races and places. Not only was the main story weak, the writing felt childish and younger adult (YA) centric. Most of the characters use of profanity was like they were hardened sailors or truck drivers; which are both stereotyped as not having very flowery speech. I would say that the book is intended for mature audiences’ due to language and sexual topics or discussions, yet the writing style will often frustrate adult listeners. The author also tries too hard to push a more progressive agenda and by doing this, many of the characters and their traits given to the characters appear forced.
With that said, this book was not the worst I have listened too, it had some good elements which I felt could have been nurtured a bit more than they were. The creation of many different creature types that felt unusual and unique from one another; some having feather, skin, or scales. There were creatures with two-legs like humans and some with more. Along with many of the main characters, each had a rather established backstory and reason for being on this trip. I felt the world setup and some of the details leading to their journey were well defined and laid out. At times the writing style was descriptive and imaginative when discussing the state of the ship and how it is to be on a salvage/work vessel in the darkness of space, etc. But, what began as a great backdrop for the story, it quickly got complicated by the overly descriptive character interaction.
The audiobook’s narration by Rachel Dulude was overall well performed. I only recall a few places in the book where the audio volume was not consistent, but I do not recall any other audio artifacts while listening. Nothing that would prevent me from listening to her other works. Her ability to distinctly voice the many different characters of the book was a bit weaker than others I have listened too, which at times made it difficult to know who was talking. I felt some of the jokes or other humorous parts of the book were not delivered as expected, but read in a more monotone way. A bit more inflection and excitement would have been welcomed while listening.
In summary, I wanted to like this book and again, going into it I had very high expectations based on the reviews posted. So much so that I purchased it with my own hard-earned credit. I found the language to be out of character, the characters themselves to be rather shallow and uninteresting, and the flow of the story felt more like cold molasses flowing in the winter than I would expect in from a more traditional science fiction piece.