One of my favourite books of 2017 was the long way to a small angry planet, by Becky Chambers. For some reason I held off on reading a closed and common orbit, the second Wayfarers book that picks up with one of the characters in a different part of the Galactic Commons (GC). I think I was worried that angry planet had raised me to such a dizzying height that I would be set up to dislike common orbit from the offset. I needn’t have worried really. A few weeks ago, I went to “A conversation with Becky Chambers” at my local Waterstones, for the launch of her latest Wayfarers novel Record of a Spaceborn Few. Fascinating woman, fascinating talk. So I got home, and started common orbit!
*Spoilers for the long way to a small angry planet – if you haven’t read angry planet yet, please don’t read this!*
Lovelace, once the AI system on the Wayfarer, wakes up in a new body with no memory of the life she had led before her system reboot. As Lovelace learns how to negotiate the universe with the help of friends Pepper and Blue, she learns that no matter how vast space is, a few people can fill it together.
Pepper is like an excitable, hyperactive teenager, but once she was Jane 23, part of a slave class of girls designed to sort scrap on a distant planet. Now, a grown woman living the life of an engineer, she is determined to help Lovey find her place in the universe, just like she did.
To get the summary out of the way quickly – I loved this book. It is about identity, belonging, found family, what it means to be a person verses what the GC defines as a person. Its about fitting in, and what makes people gel. It was raw and emotional and amazing.
Sidra seems a bit like a teenager, she is new to absolutely everything and she wants to observe rather than participate because that’s what she has always done. She argues for being allowed to stay isolated, because being outside worries her, and she is desperate for a purpose. She feels like a young person trying to find their way in the world, guided by someone who is trying desperately to help in whatever way they can. Pepper and Sidra have a wonderful relationship that is part sister, part friend and I loved it, even when they argue.
The story goes back and forth between Sidra trying to learn how to be human in a body that she doesn’t feel belongs to her, and Jane 23, a clone girl being raised in a scrapyard. The plot was fairly linear, in that there were the two timelines – when Pepper was Jane some twenty years previously, and Sidra learning to live in the present. The focus in this book was defiantly identify and belonging and growing up, which is much more focused that angry planet. It was emotional, and it was comforting and hopeful at the same time.
And again, amazing for representation of real world issues, like gender, identity, LGBTQ+ identities, cultural politics ect. She has such an incredible understanding of how humans are flawed and how cultures are flawed, not just the people in them.
That’s what I love about Becky Chambers, her books are filled with hope. They understand that the world is tough and you may not fit right now, but they hope that you’ll find the place where you fit perfectly. I can see why people don’t like them – the context is very emotionally based, it’s about community and understanding. There is no Big Bad, no space race, no guns, no “excitement”, just a few existential crises. If you’re looking for high speed chases, this book is not for you. If you want to try a new form of Sci Fi, then maybe you should give this series a try.
Look, honestly, I loved it. I loved angry planet more, but this was pretty incredible too. Record of A Spaceborn Few is also on my imminent to-read list, but I got Grey Sister from the library on Friday so I want to read that first!