I’m an optimist on many fronts, but a sceptic or even a cynic when it comes to popular acclaim. If I hear over and over about how great a thing is, I tamp down my expectations. If I hear it ad nauseam, I begin to think it’s not great at all. Somehow, though, Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet escaped my norm. I can’t say that I had to have it or read it, but when I saw a chance to pick it up, I did, and expected good things of it. Unfortunately, due to the size and virtual nature of my reading pile, I then forgot about it until I picked up a sequel at NetGalley – and found I already had the first.
I started Long Way, then, with optimism. I’d heard the book was funny and charming, and the series clearly had staying power. I’m sorry to say I was somewhat disappointed when I finally did dig in. The book is funny, and it is charming, but only from time to time, and in some places. While the characters are engaging, I found that after a while, I’d lost a good deal of my interest in them, and the book became something of a slog. Not so much racing to pick it up and see what happened next as picking it up so that I could finish it and get on to the next book.
That’s a bit unfair – the book is nice – but it is pretty much how I felt by about page 300. The characters are nice, the plot is fine, but it all drags. Those nice characters are also perhaps a touch over-earnest, and a little too carefully calibrated to today’s political environment. They’re all carefully politically correct. That’s fine; I am too. But it all felt too careful, too carefully colored within the lines to have much real passion.
Overall, I expected more. This is perfectly good, well written SF, but not something that really touched me or got me excited about a new author. I have book 4 in the series to read, and for once I don’t feel too bad about skipping intervening books. I’m not sure I’d ever reach book 4 at the original pace.