One of my friends at the day job did a wonderful thing recently – she started a science fiction book club, focussing initially on the Nebula award nominees. One of the early books we wanted to read was A Closed And Common Orbit by Becky Chambers, but since it’s the second in the Wayfarers series we decided to start with the first book, The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet*.
These are both lovely books. This is not especially because of the writing, which is well-crafted but not spectacular (and it is better in the second book), but because of everything described with that writing: the Galactic Commons setting is Star Trek-style utopian (with humanity a recent controversial addition to the GC), the non-human species are distinct and imaginatively alien, and the values on display are gloriously inclusive**. There is real care taken with gender roles and inclusive language which shines through in the overall sense of warmth and friendliness. I would describe the sense of joyousness portrayed by these books as awesome people being awesome to each other.
The differences between the books are as instructive as the similarities. The first is definitely an ensemble piece, where the first character we meet is part of a diverse cast, while the second book takes a couple of characters from the first book and explores their story much more deeply. The biggest weakness of the first book is that there is no conflict until a long way through the book – it all seems a little too cozy, even twee, but the sense of welcome carries us through the travelogue and setting summary. This lack of conflict is certainly not the case in the second book, although the conflicts are too often resolved without cost.
One of the themes of these books is AI personhood, which is a hobbyhorse I ride a lot in my own writing. I really enjoyed seeing that issue aired, and I’m looking forward to reading more to see how Chambers develops the theme further.
Still, very enjoyable books and definitely recommended. And we love the Aandrisk and their feather families in the book club.
[*] it turns out we would have been fine in terms of comprehension if we had just dived into the second novel, but I’m glad we read the first one.
[**] apart, perhaps, from the Quelin.