The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Wayfarers, #4)

By Becky Chambers

Rating: 5 stars

I was in two minds about whether I wanted to read this as soon as I got it. On the one hand, I’ve adored every Wayfarers book so far, but on the other, this is the last book in the series and when I finish it, it’ll be over. But I’m really glad that I did, it’s a fine way to end a wonderful series.

Three disparate aliens all stop at an interstellar hub, between legs of their journey, and while they’re there, an accident traps them there for a while, and these three strangers, and their host, end up getting to know each other better than they had intended.

In the same way that the previous book in the series, Record of a Spaceborn Few, was mostly a book about humans, this one is mostly a book about aliens. One human does have a cameo part, and Ashby (captain of the Wayfarer, of course) haunts the book through his partner, Pei Tam, who’s on her way to see him when she gets stuck. The other aliens are Roveg, an arthropod Quelin, and Speaker, a bird-like Akarak, with Ouloo, a Laru, as their host, along with her child, Tupo.

The others all start the book wary of Speaker, which confused me until I remembered that the pirates who attacked the Wayfarer in The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet were Akaraks. We learn more about them in this book, and why they have a right to be as angry as they sometimes seem, although Speaker is adorable. I think the exiled Roveg is possibly my favourite character though. He designs virtual environments (sims), is jovial, and is a bit of an aesthete.

The themes are typical of the Wayfarers series: optimistic and humanistic (if that isn’t a chauvinistic term for a book about aliens). We know that the interstellar civilisation of the Galactic Commons isn’t perfect – their treatment of the Akaraks and the ongoing war between the Aeluons and the Rosk is proof of that, and it’s no spoiler to say that although Pei is a cargo captain, the cargo that she mostly carries is weapons. But on an individual level, people are people and most of them just want to do the right thing. This is summed up best by Ouloo, at the end of a tense scene between two of the others.

This is a slow-burn of a book, that builds its relationships slowly as the three visitors who start off regarding the others as aliens start to see them as people on an emotional level, not just an intellectual one. It didn’t have the instant appeal of Small Angry Planet but it’s a lovely book and one that I will definitely return to. I’m sad that Chambers is wanting to leave the Wayfarers universe behind, but I’m excited to see what she creates next.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473647664
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Year of publication: 2021

To Be Taught, If Fortunate

By Becky Chambers

Rating: 4 stars

In the 22nd century, humans have cracked one of the big problems in spaceflight: how to keep humans alive outwith the safe, nurturing environment of Earth. Their answer: somaforming. Instead of changing the environment to suit the human, they change the human to suit the environment (on a limited scale at least; generally minor changes, where the recipient is still recognisable as human). Ariadne O’Neill and her three shipmates are members of a crew (Lawki 6) sent to the planets of a star, fourteen light years from Earth to investigate its planets in the name of exploration and the drive for human knowledge.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I really enjoyed the simple steadfastness of our protagonist and her shipmates, their love for each other and the fact that Chambers avoids the obvious impulse to have conflict between the crewmates to drive the plot. She doesn’t do that, and I think the book is all the stronger for it.

I also love the science-driven nature of the plot. Lawki 6 is a pure science mission, privately funded without any desire to terraform or exploit what they find. They tread lightly, find joy in their discoveries, and weep when they accidentally kill some of the life they find. Chambers describes this with a light touch that nonetheless touched me to my core.

There’s a deep ambivalence around the ending which could be incredibly positive or very depressing, depending on what happens next. Chambers leaves this to our imaginations, and I choose to believe in the more positive choice. I choose to believe that Earth responds to the message that Ariadne sends and whichever direction they go, they will do so with joy in their heart and the blessing of their home.

PS: I googled ‘Lawki’, and it could be either a place in Poland, or an acronym for “Life As We Know It”, which seems more relevant.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473697188

Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers, #3)

By Becky Chambers

Rating: 5 stars

I think it took me longer to warm up to this book than it’s taken for previous Wayfarer books. There are more PoV characters and fewer aliens (there’s really only one who plays a role in the story) so it takes a while to get into the swing of things. Early on, things felt quite… negative isn’t quite the word that I’m looking for, but several of our PoV characters didn’t enjoy their life in the Fleet, and the book needed to show us that, to show us how the characters would react to it and develop.

Moreso than the other Wayfarer books, this one doesn’t have much of a plot. There are five PoV characters and the book interweaves their lives and uses their eyes to show us the Exodus Fleet, the people who live there and their ways of life. It mixes the old and the young, the incomers and those who feel stifled. We get a sort of alien PoV with the xenopologist who is visiting the Fleet and we get segments of her essays to provide another viewpoint of the Fleet.

I was rather gutted when Sawyer died. I can see how his death was the catalyst for change and moving other stories on, but I felt for him. He was just a kid, and although he didn’t understand the Fleet, he was desperately trying. I so wanted the Silver Lining to be like the Wayfarer and for him to find a life there, and it was heartbreaking when he discovered that it wasn’t to be. And then to be killed by something so random was sad.

By the end, I was, as I had hoped, completely smitten by the book. Like the other Wayfarer books, I suspect it will benefit from a rereading, which, unlike many series, this series definitely gets. It doesn’t take much to make me blub these days, and I found myself welling up an awful lot, at both sad and happy bits, and bits where people showed courage and realised who they were and where they came from. Say it with me: “From the ground, we stand. From our ships, we live. By the stars, we hope.”

Book details

ISBN: 9781473647602
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Year of publication: 2018

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1)

By Becky Chambers

Rating: 5 stars

After I finished this book I wanted to hug every single crew member of the Wayfarer (yes, even Corbin). Since that wasn’t possible, I settled for the next best thing: I hugged the book instead. I absolutely adored this book but I’m struggling to put just why into words. The plot concerns the crew of the wormhole tunnelling ship Wayfarer, recently joined by Rosemary Harper, who is running away from her past. The crew is a heterogeneous affair, captained by a Human but with several other species on board. Right from the start you realise just how integrated they are, the lizard-like Aandrisk navigator, the strange double-minded Navigator, the jovial Dr Chef (whose name encompasses his functions), not to mention the ship’s AI, Lovey, as well as the human techs and algaeist who keep the ship running. Rosemary is lost at first, but soon settles into this odd crew, who are just about to get the contract of a lifetime.

The blurb on the cover of my copy uses the word ‘humane’ to describe the book, and I think that’s a great word. There’s something about it that gives you hope for Humanity and its future. One thing that I liked about it was that humans aren’t top dog in this universe. They’re Johnny-come-latelys to galactic society and only by accident at that. Humans messed up their own planet and had to flee, some to the solar system and others built a big fleet and sailed off into the unknown. If they hadn’t been found by an alien probe, they would all have died, and this has given them a sense of humility, one entirely lacking in current society. The ‘Exodans’ (those descended from the exodus Fleet) are mostly pacifist and have an understanding of themselves that I hope that we can achieve without having to lose the Earth.

So yes, humane, joyous, fun. For once, the cover blurbs are entirely accurate, as far as I’m concerned. I grew to care deeply about the crew of the Wayfarer and their very disparate lives and societies, yet bound together with ties of friendship and more. I was welling up more than once while reading this book, and rarely because of sadness. The writing is absolutely lovely and had me going at the good as much as the bad. And there’s certainly darkness in this universe. We see that in the “practicality” of the Galactic Commons, in the stories of Rosemary and Dr Chef and in hints at the past. But this is a galactic culture that accepts its history and looks forward as well.

I know there’s a companion novel (not sequel) to this coming out, but that seems to have a different focus. I really hope that there’s more stories to be told about the Wayfarer. I, for one, am going to desperately miss her crew.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473619814
Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks
Year of publication: 2014

A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2)

By Becky Chambers

Rating: 5 stars

Update 2018-05-14: second time round, I loved this book as much as I did previously. The only comment I’d make is that since I now knew where Jane’s story was going, I could engage much more with Sidra early on. Definitely a book that rewards rereading.

Original review:
I didn’t think it would be possible, but I adored this book almost as much as The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. I thought I would miss the crew of the Wayfarer too much, but the Lovelace instance last seen leaving the Wayfarer in an illegal body, in the company of a tech wizard slowly enchanted me. This book tells both Lovelace’s (soon renamed Sidra) story and that of Pepper, and why she is so keen to help Sidra. For the first half, I found Pepper’s story much more engaging than Sidra’s, as she was suffering worse (or, at least, more relatable) deprivations.

But Chambers is better than that, and she slowly draws you into Sidra’s head and you feel for her as much as you do for Pepper and then she draws the two strands together at the end in a joyous and satisfying conclusion that may leave you blubbing but buoyant and with no AI-cide this time round, either!. Speaking of blubbing, I made the mistake of reading this on public transport, and was welling up more than once (Owl meeting Jane in the Big Bug sim was a roundhouse to the feels!), so be warned.

The theme of AI rights, which was touched upon in Small, Angry Planet comes much more to the fore here. Like in Ann Leckie’s Ancilliary books, it’s something where (sentient) AIs are taken very much for granted in this world and aren’t considered worth spending any time on, but as we found out in Small, Angry Planet, they can grow, feel and fall in love. Sidra is constantly terrified that others might find out what she is, and she’ll be terminated, because she’s not considered to be a person. And this fear means that she has to hide who she really is, and deny her self and her purpose.

I hope that this thread will be picked up again in later books, but given how different this is to its predecessor, I’m willing to bet that Chambers will surprise us all over again. And I, for one, am hugely looking forward to it!

Book details

ISBN: 9781473621473
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Year of publication: 2016

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