Another book review!
Rather, a series review.
The Wayfarers Series by Becky Chambers consists of four books each related to the other through their character’s links to the eponymous Wayfarer, the ship at the center of the first novel, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.
When you pick up The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, you may be expecting a classic sci-fi space opera and, whilst their are some elements of that within the novel, it is an expectation that lasts only as long as the first chapter.
And instead of the lack of space battles, inter-planetary politics, huge set pieces and sweeping vistas, you are treated to an intimate look at an inter-species crew travelling through space. That’s Becky Chambers hook, draw card, or whatever you want to call it. Her books aren’t epic space adventures that have Heroes and Villain’s and Universe ending calamities that must be halted.
They are books that focus on the small details, the moments between the events that usually get written about. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is about the crew of the Wayfarers taking a job to set up an interstellar tunnel next to a volatile planet. The end is explosive and exciting but 90% of the book is getting there. You spend time with each crew member through their journey and come to know them as well as any characters ever written.
These characters are humans (from different planets and upbringings), an Aandrisk (a reptilian-like sapient), a Grum (a many-limbed, large and lumbering sapient), an advanced AI, and a Sianat Pair (an ape-like sapient capable of understanding multi-dimensional space).
A complex cast of characters to be sure, and yet by the end of the book, without even realising it, you will have grown to love each and every one of them in their own way. That’s what Chamber’s does better than almost any other author. She draws you in to this complex universe with a vast history and huge cast of alien species each unique and different, and then she gets you to love them.
The remaining books in the series are much the same. You leave the Wayfarer but you remain connected to them; book 2 (A Closed and Common Orbit) focuses on a character from the Wayfarer after they leave the ship. Book 3 (Record of a Spaceborn Few) spends its time with the Exodus fleet, a group of homesteader ships that carried the last vestiges of humanity into the stars, and Ashby’s (the captian of the Wayfarer) sister. Book 4 is probably steps the furthest away from the Wayfarer.
The Galaxy and the Ground Within shifts it’s focus to six characters, only one of whom appears in another book and that appearance is short, without much time given to the view point of the character.
Six new sapients, six new character that Chambers has to introduce the reader too and get them to connect within the first few pages. Six new characters that are all non-human sapients. Backgrounds, customs, the way they speak and think are all different to the way her readers do and yet Chamber’s manages to get you to care about them almost instantly.
You care about these characters because Chamber’s makes them relatable in the only way she can; how they feel.
What they care about, their concerns, fears, loves and losses. She drip feeds them to the reader and in doing so creates a connection strong enough that when you put the book down after finishing it you wish there was another and another and another…
That’s not to say that the books are perfect. In fact, the slice-of-life fiction that Chamber’s writes will not work with everyone. It is hit and miss, depending on your expectation and your mood.
These books, to me, are a blanket and a cup of tea. I go to them when I feel I need comfort and support. Reading them helps me grow my perspective, increasing my empathy and compassion for others.
Though sometimes, I don’t want a blanket and a cup of tea, and in those instances, these are not the right books.
But I implore everyone to read them; it doesn’t matter which one. You can pick up the fourth and go to the second and not miss a beat.
Pick up one of these books and if they’re not right for you, that’s okay. Books aren’t ubiquitous and some just won’t work for you.
But I like to think that maybe one day you’ll feel like reading something comforting, a book that will make you think differently, and one that might make you feel good.
And on that day you’ll pick up any one of the Wayfarers Series by Becky Chambers.