Oh, Stars! Read the Wayfarers Series if You Love Yourself (and Great Sci-fi)
Becky Chambers's books are the feel-good space adventures you need right now
February 23, 2017 at 11:20 am
There’s never a bad time for captivating, feel-good storytelling, but these days it’s practically fucking necessary. I’m someone who often turns to fiction for escape, so I’m particularly drawn to stories that offer a joyful, immersive experience. And when those stories happen to take place literal worlds away? Sign me the hell up.
Enter the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers. These wonderful space adventures are exactly what you need right now—I promise.
The first book, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, was a new release from Harper Voyager last year after gaining traction as a self-published title. A Closed and Common Orbit, the second book in the series (and a spin-off following two side characters from the first rather than a direct sequel) is due to hit shelves in March (and is already available as an ebook). The third is in progress, and rest assured I will hit that pre-order button as soon as it appears.
Do you want to go on an amazing inter-planetary adventure with wonderful characters and fun discoveries?! Do you like cool descriptions of futuristic technologies? Do you like neat spaceships? Do you want to read more positive, diverse sci-fi stories where characters are supportive of one another and grow through their friendships? Do you like found families? Do you crave meaningful stories that stick with you long after you’ve read them? Do you like feeling good and being happy?
THEN YOU WANT TO READ THIS SERIES.
To my mind, they represent a new breed of sci-fi: Instead of huge battles and guns blazing and blood splattering, Chambers offers us intelligent, quiet storytelling that is as fun to read as it is moving. The beautiful cinnamon roll characters become your friends, and their travels take them through new worlds in this fascinating universe she has created. And yes, there are perils, of course—but not of the shoot-em-out, blow-em-up variety. At the heart of the Wayfarers series are the remarkably well-crafted interpersonal relationships, including those between humans and aliens from all walks of life. Chambers’s ability to place you in her world, as though you’re sitting there, having dinner in the spaceship garden with your new friends is nothing short of magical.
The first book, The Long Way, follows the crew of the Wayfarer spaceship on a jaunt across the galaxy, on their way to a “hole punch” job—creating a wormhole path—with several stops along the way. Many readers compare this novel to Firefly and Star Wars, among other popular franchises, but The Long Way is its own story. Let me put it this way: If Firefly is a joyride, this book is a walk on the beach on a perfect day. If Star Wars is a rock concert, this book is playing your favorite album while enjoying a bowl of your favorite ice cream. THIS BOOK WILL LOVE YOU BACK. (Seriously, there’s a surprise queer human/alien romance between two lovely female characters—the type that starts out as a subtle crush and then, amazingly, BECOMES SOMETHING—that gave me such heart eyes that I had to commission fanart of it. Fair warning for spoilers if you click that link, of course.)
When it came to the second installment, A Closed and Common Orbit, I was the tiniest bit apprehensive—could I love a spin-off as much as I’d loved the first book? Wouldn’t I miss the crew of the Wayfarer, my new friends?! How could a new story about new people top their fun, cozy (if occasionally heart wrenching), and ultimately symbiotic dynamic? Happily, my concerns about a sequel have never been more misplaced. This follow-up is every bit as brilliant and breathtaking as the first, while still taking readers on an entirely new adventure.
A Closed and Common Orbit follows Pepper and Sidra—one a human with a stark but completely enthralling past that is explored through flashbacks, and the other an AI that has recently been downloaded into a synthetic body. Through their eyes, you discover new worlds, both wonderful and horrible, and enter fascinating societies full of the interesting, compelling, dynamic characters missing from so much sci-fi. Pepper’s backstory sounded simple and straightforward when a character summarized it in the first book—after escaping a life of servitude as a child on Aganon, a planet where humans are bred for service jobs, she found an abandoned ship in a junkyard and made it her home for many years—but it’s easily one of the most moving and memorable sci-fi stories I’ve ever encountered. The novel’s resolution (no spoilers, but it involves a reunion of some kind) was so moving that every time I thought about it for a week after I finished reading, I cried again. THIS IS A HAPPY TEARS BOOK.
I’m completely over the moon for these books, and I’m hoping that Becky Chambers writes 20 more in this wonderful universe. (No pressure.)
Just to be clear, I’m not knocking sci-fi that is darker and/or more action-packed, or more traditionally a “hero’s quest”—a lot of great stories, books, shows, and films fall into those categories. But that’s just the thing: There are so many of them. The Wayfarers series is a beautiful breath of fresh air in this genre. As a reader, I’m refreshed and captivated, and as an aspiring novelist, I’m inspired.
And who among us doesn’t need some fresh air and a reason to smile?