There are two main types (ok, ok, there are more really, but to generalize…) of Sci-Fi, the one with the big picture characters who save planets, who are emperors, Hari Seldons etc., and the one that focus on the small characters just going about their business in a bigger context. I have a soft spot for these kind of stories, and when they are well told they can be highly satisfying.
What is it about?
Similarly to a lot of good entertainment products (hello, John Carter in the Emergency Room), the story starts with a newbie. She in starting on a tunneling ship (that being a ship that tears the space apart in order to create a “tunnel” between two very distant parts of the same) and we get to meet a crew made of very different species. The setting is this “Galactic Commons”, basically a big coalition of very different beings, in which the Humans are themselves the newbies. The crew and their ship travel to a very far away spot in the universe in order to create a tunnel to a planet belonging to a species that is going to be accepted for the very first time into the GC.
What makes it good?
The plot is very straightforward and the focus is on the characters, the members of the crew. So don’t expect a lot of action or adventure, but you will immediately fall in love with the bunch of them, from the technicians, to the AI, to the captain, the cook, the pilot… Eve what is basically the office manager has a personality. The universe that Becky Chambers imagines is at the same time close to us and very different, and it’s described in a way that gives you a perfect, warm picture of how it would be to be a human spacer and have to cohabitate with the rest of a vast expanse of inhabited planets. It is pure optimistic sci-fi and it’s far away from grittier, darker stuff but to me that is not necessarily a bad thing at all.
Becky Chambers has a very graceful way of portraying a relationship between people, be them aliens, humans, parakeets or whatever she fancies. The dialogues are fluid and realistic, like their interactions. She manages to create in the space of a couple of hundred pages a fully formed universe with its own rules that feels cohesive and real.
She seems to be narrating in a very benevolent way, allowing the characters to express themselves through their own culture. Diversity is normalized and it feels so good.
Cozy up, put a blanket on, make yourself a cup of your favourite hot beverage (or alcoholic beverage if you so prefer), and tuck into this hug of a novel. It will make you feel like humanity, and the universe in general, can achieve marvels if they put themselves to it.
I am knocking 0.5 off the mark just because the title… meh. Same as with names, I feel like the title of something should never be too long (hello, Dave Eggers), particularly when there is no need for it (hello, Dave Eggers). I appreciate its lyrical quality, and yet, meh.