Dublin Unitarian Book Club’s choice for May 2020.

Comments from the book club on

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet
by Becky Chambers

Jennifer: This book was my suggestion - I'm not usually a science-fiction reader and we hadn't read any science-fiction in the book club before so this was a departure from the norm. I read it a year or so ago and enjoyed it so much that I hoped it would meet with general approval. On the whole I think it did, as you will see from the various comments below. I was fascinated by the extraordinary range of characters, all wildly different from each other and from any life-forms we could imagine, all from different backgrounds (and planets), and all with, obviously, very different world views. The pace is gentle, and although there are exciting episodes in the book there is an overall lack of tension, both of which I found very appealing. I'm not much of a one for cliff-hanging narratives. It's gripping, genial and good humoured. What more could you ask?

Gerry: For anyone who is a fan of science fiction there is plenty to enjoy in this book, a wealth of jargon, interplanetary relationships, modes of transport, different species and life forms not to mention the food, all vividly described. For those who may struggle with the Sci-fi genre, there are, in addition to all the above, moving accounts of personal and inter-species relationships and even one between a human and a non-organic entity, all portrayed with great warmth and compassion. For me, a surprisingly good read.

Alison: This is a feel good sci-fi story featuring a diverse set of characters human and alien, who are interesting and well described if not a bit stereotyped such as the good guy Captain, the nerdy technicians, the grumpy scientist. Many themes come up as we travel with the crew of 'The Wayfarer' such as multiculturalism, diversity, war, violence, pacifism, sexuality, genetics and cloning. I did feel at times I was being given a politically correct lesson on these themes as every altercation, mishap, even pirate invasions, get resolved very quickly. I thought I was reading a young adult novel at times, however the central themes of the story of love, friendship, loyalty and family are heartwarming and pull it together. I would recommend this as a good holiday read, light and entertaining.

Mary: Science fiction has never interested me but when Jennifer suggested this book and said she had enjoyed it, I took the plunge. As the libraries are closed, I listened to the book on Audible. It was beautifully read and, as I love being read to, it was a real treat to listen as I pretended to weed the garden etc. There is no real plot to the story but, on the journey through outer space on The Wayfarer, the reader gets to know the back stories of these fantastical creatures, and these stories focus on their human-like interactions describing fear, anger, disappointment, love, heartbreak, joy etc. The technology, body enhancements and AI are all very credible as many elements are already in existence. For me, Ohan the navigator was a very interesting character/creature/concept. Ohan are a Sianat Pair. At birth, Sianat children are infected with a virus called The Whisperer that gives them a deep understanding of space and so they become great navigators. It also causes them to think of themselves as a pair ie the body plus the virus, and they are always referred to in the plural and are known as a Sianat Pair. The virus has many negative impacts on their lives, including shortening them dramatically, but just like many of us humans find it difficult to question gifts from birth eg religion, they too find it difficult to consider getting the cure for the virus. Given that many of us in the Unitarian Church started life following different religions, this was an interesting aspect of the story. I enjoyed the book and I would recommend it. Having said that, science fiction would still not be a genre that would attract me.

Madeline: I have been reading science fiction for fifty years at least, and this is a good one. All the best sci fi holds our humanity up for inspection, it is anthropology, not science. In this novel we are shown many different ways to organise society, and could realise ours is not the best, especially as the humans have had to abandon their ruined planet. People often avoid sci fi as they think it is about battles in space. Star wars has a lot to answer for.

Jenifer Flegg
Dublin Unitarian Church