So it’s 2022, let’s try something new. I have kicked off the year by rereading and finishing (hopefully) the four books in Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers series. I am currently reading the final book in the series, The Galaxy and the Ground Within, and that will be getting it’s own review since I was approved for it on Net Galley.
Bit of background to this post, one of the first scifi books I read getting back into SFF back in 2016/2017 was The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. I saw it recommended by a few of the small amount of booktube I watched at the time and my experience with science fiction to that point was solely Ray Bradbury and similar. I fell well and truly in love with it. It’s hard not to. See Becky Chambers has captured a lot of people’s hearts with this series, my own included.
The Wayfarers series is a series of 4 companion novels, a story as hopeful and tender as the characters she has created. Each novel follows different people, though all tie back to, or appear in passing, in the first book. These stories focus more on the lives of the people living in this future of a Galactic Commons, where humans are a rarity and other sapient species live along side them, as they manage everyday life. Love, hope, dispair, family and friendship are among the main focus but some things are questioned on a more deeper level. Subjects like war and the price of peace for one, the well natured attempt at understanding others cultures but sometimes causing more hurt than intended. Childbearing and motherhood another, how other species handle gender, sexuality and personal freedom not far off either.
Since I would be here forever writing individual reviews of books with that much characters and substance (also how my brain has put them all into one large story as a result of marathoning them), I’m going to do this in one post. There will be mild spoilers for the end of the first book, since the second is happening as a result of a big event in it so consider this a spoiler warning.
The book that began it all. This book follows the crew of the ship ‘Wayfarer’, starting with the perspective of Rosemary Harper as she joins the crew as their clerk. The ship is a tunnelling vessel, punching holes through space for ease of travel and the book follows the whole crew as they take up a government contract to punch a hole through to a hostile spot of space.
This is my second time reading this and it was the first book I finished this year. It was the best decision I could have made. This is such a warm, caring book. You really get sucked into the lives of these characters and heavily invested even from the first few pages. We see alot of it through Rosemary’s eyes and it serves as a good entry point since she isn’t a ‘spacer’ herself, having lived on Mars her whole life.
What’s really set up well is the formatting and Rosemary’s inner thoughts to set up this future. There are various instant messages, internet searches, news alerts and announcements throughout the book to break up all the species, history and politics the book needs. Rosemary, especially at the start of the book, uses a lot of her own tacit knowledge and learning (to varying results so quite relatable) where those aren’t in place so there’s little telling over showing. Ashby, the captain of the ship, fills in for a lot as well since he is a fair, hardworking man who has been at this a lot longer. Alongside Doctor Chef, the pliot Sissix, the techs Kizzy and Jenks, the Ohan, Corbin and Lovelace their AI, this crew is up there with that of Firefly as the closest to my heart.
Perfect for fans of the mentioned Firefly (mostly for the space crew/captain aspect) as well as Mass Effect and This is How You Lose the Timewar. Can also be read, in my opinion, as a standalone.
Again, this one is a spoiler for the ending of The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet so be warned if you proceed with reading.
This is the exception to the rule of these books that it does follow directly on from the previous book. After an attack on the Wayfarer leads to Lovelace being reset and having to be housed in an illegal synthetic body, she decides to rebuild and figure herself out with the help of Pepper and moves to Port Coirol. Pepper, a fellow tech/modder and friend of Kizzy and Jenks, being raised as an AI herself finds herself thinking back a lot.
This is definitely the one I enjoyed more on reread. I first read this in 2019 and should have read the previous book again at the time. Because a lot of the emotional weight for both of these characters does come from the loss of one and the expansion of the others back story. This is also, to me at least, the most brutal of the series.
Lovelace is learning how to live with being a person, in a body and just be independent. Pepper and her partner Blue definitely allow her all the room she needs but she doesn’t know how to be independent, she’s not got much awareness of having a body. Pepper in turn doesn’t understand how she can’t just be happy with that freedom, or get on board to what Lovelace, renamed Sidra, wants to do since it does threaten them all. Body housing an AI is highly illegal. Her existence alone is a danger.
As we go over Pepper’s story as well, it makes sense how important this life she built is. It would be important to anyone, but in Pepper’s case she was solely created as a clone to repair scrap. An escape and bitter story for survival is what she carries every day. Food, love, a home and a job are something she fought for with her own life. This is also the first book that confronts head on how as good as the GC existing is, how it can effectively ignore or erase some people’s stories by helping them.
A bittersweet tale about identity, family and how moving on doesn’t always mean leaving someone behind.
This takes us far from the crew of the Wayfarer and is another of the books I feel can be read on it’s own or as it’s own. When humans joined the GC, they were called the Exodus Fleet. A collective of people leaving a dying Earth on a few ships to survive among the stars. This book takes place among those in the Fleet and connects us to the overall narrative following Ashby’s sister, Tessa. We also follow four others within the fleet in various positions of the community.
Big small town vibes in this one, but equally wholesome. The people of the Fleet recycle, upcycle and help each other in everything. Society is relatively similar to that in The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin. There’s always foods, always a home for you, and work is something everyone has to do. Even sanitation is a lottery. Their process for handling their dead involves composting them back into the very ground that grows their vegetables. Everyone has a role, a purpose and a place.
This is definitely the best written I think as well. Becky Chambers chose 4 very different perspectives in terms of age and experience. A teenager and elderly member of those 4 being the best for understanding the limits and more complicated aspects of living in the Fleet. One instance I really loved was one of the other perspectives was someone who worked with the dead and she wanted to visit a sex worker. But she felt the need to go to another of the ships, just to avoid someone she might be related to being picked for the appointment. That gives the best idea of the vastness and tight living they all experience there.
This is wonderful, the best written of the three but also the first away from the crew proper from book 1. Again, you can read this one on it’s own but it has more impact and context if you read the others. Perfect for anyone who loves small town vibes in books.
There you have it! Book four will link back to this post when I review it later in the week but I wanted to get this up on the blog to try and compress my feelings about reading the entire series. I do think this is my favourite science fiction series, if we don’t consider the Hainish novels a series in the traditional sense. But this has so much to it, I could go on for an age. And it was definitely a rewarding one to start this uncertain year off with.
Have you read this series? Tell me if you have! I’d love to chat favourite characters! Thanks for checking in guys, happy reading to you all.