The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

Title: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

Author: Becky Chambers

Summary: When a freak technological failure halts traffic to and from the planet Gora, three strangers are thrown together unexpectedly, with seemingly nothing to do but wait.

Pei is a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, torn between her duty to her people, and her duty to herself.

Roveg is an exiled artist, with a deeply urgent, and longed for, family appointment to keep.

Speaker has never been far from her twin but now must endure the unendurable: separation.

Under the care of Ouloo, an enterprising alien, and Tupo, her occasionally helpful child, the trio are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they might be to one another.

Together they will discover that even in the vastness of space, they’re not alone.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I was automatically approved for a review copy of this book by NetGalley, and despite the utter hassle getting an epub onto my nook has become these days, for the fourth (and final) book in the Wayfarers series I would have endured worse. With the previous book being a slight disappointment for me compared to the first two, I approached this one with a little more caution. I needn’t have. It is absolutely bloody fantastic.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within feels like it brings together elements from all three of the previous books. The adventures of space similar to Angry Planet, the limited number of main characters akin to Common Orbit, and the feeling of isolation from a Spaceborn Few. It takes those elements and makes something wholly new and wonderful.

All five of the main characters are loveable, another common trait for this series of books. Roveg was my standout favourite, though. For someone with a literal hard shell, he was so soft at heart. Similarly, Ouloo, the host of where this group are stranded for several long days, only wants everyone to be happy and does everything she can to make that happen. Pei and Speaker were fascinating, both individually, but especially together; their tentative relationship and the juxtaposition of both their species’ histories. Tupo is the glue holding all the other characters together, simultaneously a moody teenager and a ball of curious energy, xe was definitely my second favourite character.

With an unforeseen hiatus from their travels and stuck for several days on a pit-stop planet with nowhere to go, every single character goes on a journey regardless. They learn from each other, about each other, and give each other advice. There is a blast of action at the start of the book, and some tense action at the end. The middle is a quiet and meaningful meander from one to the other. The characters gradually give up more of themselves and their stories as they get to know one another, and on the whole it was just so peaceful.

Of course, there is the amazing world building that Chambers writes so well. Details and information dotted and sprinkled throughout, always adding depth and interest to the characters; the various species, cultures, and social norms; as well as to the story as a whole. The book touches on important topics as commonplace as dietary requirements, accessibility, and language, to equally important but more philosophical topics such as the concept of home, the merits of war, and the erasure of an entire species.

This book is just… so… lovely. It left me with a feeling of such warmth. A group of such diverse folk in a difficult situation, all making the best of it, being nice and considerate to each other. What does it say about the real world (or perhaps my perceptions of it), that a book about people simply being kind to each other affected me so much?

They say that sometimes a book finds you exactly when you need it. I think for me this was one of those books at one of those times. I didn’t want this book to end. I felt safe while I was reading it, and dragged it out far longer than I needed to. But I just absolutely adored this book. I’m sad to see this series end, but look forward to revisiting it again in the future.

Record of a Spaceborn Few

Title: Record of a Spaceborn Few

Author: Becky Chambers

Summary: From the ground, we stand.
From our ships, we live.
By the stars, we hope.

Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat.

Tessa chose to stay home when her brother Ashby left for the stars, but has to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened.

Kip, a reluctant young apprentice, itches for change but doesn’t know where to find it.

Sawyer, a lost and lonely newcomer, is just looking for a place to belong.

When a disaster rocks this already fragile community, those Exodans who still call the Fleet their home can no longer avoid the inescapable question:

What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination?

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: This is the third book in the Wayfarers series, and I absolutely adored the first too. So, of course, my expectations for this one were almost astronomically high. When it took me nearly two months to read this book, I was a little disappointed.

Now, let me start by saying this book isn’t bad. This book has all the wonderful, warm, friendly, and inviting writing of Chambers’ other work. It’s easy to read, curled up with a cup of tea. It has ups and downs, but never so much that it’s stressful or overly tense. It folds you into the pages with its words and you could happily stay there forever.

It has fantastically complex and interesting characters. Kip was my favourite; a teenager ready to really start living his life, but finding himself cautious and unsure of what to do with himself. Eyas was another wonderful character; she seemed wise beyond her years in many ways, but despite having the most respected job in the fleet isn’t happy or fulfilled enough.

It has incredible world building, awesome science fiction, explores engaging concepts, and depicts more unusual lifestyle choices with respect. The fleet is incredible–a collection of huge ships, on which humans live in large and small communities. The way they have adapted to life in space, while still keeping many aspects and traditions from Earth is bizarre and unique. The ideas of being afraid of being on land, of favouring a barter system over currency, of embracing the new while not losing all of the old… these are so interesting to examine and consider. I loved that sex work is a vital part of the fleet and, like most things, is provided free to anyone who needs it, and the reasons people both make use of the service and choose the line of work is thoughtfully and wonderfully done. This is the same for open relationships, communal living, and more much subtler things.

But.

But I’m only giving this book three and a half stars. For all I loved the things above, this book lacked cohesion. Other than one or two small overlapping events, there was no one driving story to this book. That may be wholly intentional. Each of the main characters has their own, smaller story. A personal journey. More like four or five vignettes than a singular cohesive novel. Which, I might have enjoyed more, but for the fact it feels like the individuals’ stories have attempted to be pulled together under some vague all-encompassing umbrella, but misses the mark. I enjoyed the book when I was reading it, but with a lack of driving action, of true stakes, and binding narrative… i had very little desire to pick it up and continue reading it. It was nice, but it wasn’t thrilling. It was well-written and interesting, but lacked any kind of powerful plot. I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

Chambers remains an auto-buy author for me, and I do look forward to whatever she has coming next… I just hope it has the momentum A Spaceborn Few was missing.

A Closed and Common Orbit

Title: A Closed and Common Orbit

Author: Becky Chambers

Summary: Once, Lovelace had eyes and ears everywhere. She was a ship’s intelligence system – possessing a personality and very human emotions. But when her ship was badly damaged, Lovelace was forced to reboot and reset. Now housed in an illegal synthetic body, she’s never felt so isolated.

But Lovelace is not alone. Pepper, an engineer who risked her life to reinstall Lovelace’s program, has remained by her side and is determined to help her.

Because Pepper knows a think or two about starting over.

Pepper was born Jane 23, part of a slave class created by a rogue society of genetic engineers. At ten years old, she had never seen the sky. But when an industrial accident gave Jane 23 a chance to escape, she jumped at the opportunity to leave her captivity.

Now, recreated as Pepper, she makes it her mission to help Lovelace discover her own place in the world. Huge as the galaxy may be, it’s anything but empty.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I loved everything about the first book in the Wayfarers series, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. And i am indescribably happy that i can say the same thing for this stand-alone sequel.

Where Angry Planet gave us several main characters, flew us all over the galaxy, and introduced us to multiple worlds, species, and cultures, Common Orbit focuses on two main characters and remains firmly on the ground of two planets. The book still offers so much about this universe–more species and cultures and day-to-day details–but along with that, it focuses more on the depth of and the connection between the two main characters. It immerses the reader more fully into the lives and planets of these two, and they are fascinating places to be.

I loved all the characters, which was a surprise and a delight. Sidra was intelligent and thoughtful, though at times quite stubborn and short-sighted. She occasionally read like a selfish teenager having a tantrum, but as a freshly re-booted AI in a new synthetic human body, i read it as her developing much like biological humans do–and being a moody, selfish teenager is a part of that. Pepper was brilliant. Caring, selfless, intuitive. We see her literally through her moody teenage years and out the other side. The parallels drawn and differences highlighted between Sidra and Pepper, and their respective time lines, were the true essence of the book for me. What it means to be human–what is means to be alive–what it means to be. The supporting characters were all wonderful. Sweet, steadfast Blue; cautious, open-minded Tak; and my favourite… patient, selfless Owl.

The book switches between Pepper’s past, and Sidra’s present. Pepper’s story made me cry. Many times. Her story spans both time lines, and knowing what’s to come in the past, and what’s driving her in the present… I won’t lie, i had to skip ahead to make sure things worked out for her.

It’s the themes explored and represented in this book, as with the first, that really excite me and set this book apart. Sex-shifting, cloning and genetic modification, multi-parenting, bartering, the ethics of artificial intelligence… These things are such a part of the world and the story, and approached in such respectful, thought-provoking ways. I can’t explain how much i love this.

This book is just as good as the first, and has cemented Chambers as an auto-buy author for me. With a third book in this series on the way, i am rather freaking excited for more!

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

22740972Title: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Author: Becky Chambers

Summary: Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the starchart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there.

But all voyages leave their mark, and even the most ordinary of people have stories worth telling. A young Martian woman, hoping the vastness of space will put some distance between herself and the life she‘s left behind. An alien pilot, navigating life without her own kind. A pacifist captain, awaiting the return of a loved one at war.

Set against a backdrop of curious cultures and distant worlds, this episodic tale weaves together the adventures of nine eclectic characters, each on a journey of their own.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This book, my stars, this book. I received a review copy from NetGalley, but took so long to start reading it. I regret that with every fibre of my being. This books is all sorts of amazing. I didn’t want it to finish, and i dragged my heels reading it so i could make it last as long as possible. I honestly only have good things to say, and that fact surprises no one more than me.

First of all, the world building, or, more accurately, the universe building. It’s so rich, so alive and so effortlessly portrayed. It’s not overly explained to the reader in blocks of uninspiring exposition, but rather sprinkled throughout, in different and interesting ways–it’s more part of the essence of the book and the writing style. It made it such a wonderful reading experience, feeling immersed into the world. Everything from the wider concepts of the Galactic Commons, the different species and their history and cultures down to the small details of a wide variety of food stuffs and the intergalactic postal system–all of it is so obviously well thought out and perfectly brought to life.

How massively inclusive and representative this book is blows my mind a little. I was trying to list the awesome subjects this book addresses, either simply by representing them, or by touching on and exploring them, to my partner and i couldn’t get them all. For the rest of the night i kept remembering more and simply crying out, “Cloning!” “Polyamorous relationships!” and, “Gender neutral pronouns!” at random moments. Every new diverse theme broached made my grin a little wider and my heart a little bigger.

The book reads like a mini series, with each chapter containing enough plot, topics and character development to fill a short story or television episode. This gave my reading experience much more depth, like i was really living with these characters for a time, rather than visiting with them for a single narrative. Each and every character learnt, grew and changed over the course of the book, and were so well-rounded for it.

Talking of characters, i loved them all. That’s such a rare thing for me to say, but it is entirely true. Some i loved instantly, some grew on me over time, but all of them were so unique, so vibrant, so perfectly imperfect. I’m not the biggest fan of character-driven stories, but this book walks the line between character- and plot-driven, and with characters as wonderful, diverse and real as these, it was a delight to have them driving half the book.

I read somewhere that this book is like a cross between Firefly and Star Trek, and while i see where that comparison is coming from, i don’t think that’s quite fair to any of those three fine and wonderful fictional worlds. Yes, if you look for it, you can see similarities to the rogue and friendly crew of Firefly as well as the varied races and ethical explorers of Star Trek. But if you’re looking for that, you miss what only The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet has.

There is a companion book set in the same universe coming out later this year, and I must have it. I can’t get enough of this book and these worlds and these characters and their adventures. I pretty much wanted to be reading this book forever.