Today we have a double feature with books one and two of the Wayfarer series by Becky Chambers. Up first we have the incredible A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, which I will be shortening to SAP as I want to have room in the review to write things other than its name. Once finished I will talk about the sequel (which is more of a spin off), A Closed and Common Orbit. These books are super weird and I ended up loving both of them to pieces, so let’s jump right in.
As I said, these books are not your ordinary kettle of fish. SAP isn’t really about anything. It is a science fiction slice-of-life novel that follows the crew of a wormhole tunneling ship called the Wayfarer. The ship isn’t out to save, or doom, the galaxy- it is all simply a job for the crew, working 9-5 while also living as a large family in space. Our story starts with a new member joining the crew with a mysterious past, but while most science fiction novels segue this into world ending events, SAP only uses it to address that specific character’s backstory and slightly drive the overall plot forward. See SAP is all about the characters, and dear god are the characters excellent. We have the captain, pilot, navigator, 2 mechanics, engineer, chef/doctor, and the new clerk. I would tell you about each and every one of them, but for once I actually think I am going to hold off. The characters are all beautifully written and I loved them all. They’re an eclectic group and their personalities and stories have something for everyone, but while I had a favorite my ranking of who I liked most was so close for the entire cast it doesn’t really matter. As I mentioned, SAP follows the crew of a wormhole tunneling ship, and the plot of the book centers around the crew taking on a huge and challenging job that will keep them in an enclosed space for a long time stopping all over the universe. SAP uses this premise to weave a tapestry of micro stories about each of the individual members of the crew, telling you their life stories over the course of a chapter here and there, as well as showing their interactions as a cohesive crew. It is a book about people, and nothing, and I would read 100 of them.
On top of having one of the best written casts I have ever read, Chambers is a meticulous world builder with an eye for detail and… well… fun. Her universe is a place I badly want to live in as it sounds awesome. The races are interesting and original (mostly), the worlds and technological wonders are astounding, and she has done a great job of writing a window into her worlds for you to see all of them. The settings are extremely immersive, and I found myself wanting to call her and ask her all sorts of questions about how things worked. Due to the incredible setting, and relatable characters, SAP is one of the most relatable books I have read in recent memory. The entire novel is about small problems that everyone has: work, family, love, wanting to make something of yourself, running from your past, bigotry, war, loneliness, and the list goes on. If you can’t find something to relate to in this book you likely don’t have human emotions and should probably seek help.
Shifting to the second book in the series, A Closed and Common Orbit (CCO), you will find a lot of the same with some slight differences. Chambers mixes it up with her sequel, ditching the crew of the wayfarer and instead following two side characters from SAP. CCO alternates chapters between an A.I. who has just been born into the world and the mechanic watching over the A.I.. The A.I. is discovering new surroundings and sensations, and is trying to make sense of a whole new world. The mechanic’s chapters take place in the distant past and show how she once faced similar situations as a child and her struggles with the same problems. CCO is a different, but equally beautiful, book that weaves the stories of one womans past and the A.I.’s present to create a river of self discovery. I liked the duo of CCO less than I liked the crew of Wayfarer, but I still thought the cast of CCO was better than most books I have recently read. I appreciated that Chambers picked up right where she left off on worldbuilding in book two, and CCO continues to flesh out her captivating universe.
I don’t have a lot more to say about this series other than it has cemented a spot in my collection of favorite books in record time. I want more, tons more, and I think that Wayfarers is a series that anyone can enjoy. Do yourself a favor and pick them up now and take a break from reality and live the lives of a lovable crew tunneling through space, and finding their way in a brave new world.
A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet – 9.5/10
A Closed and Common Orbit – 8.5/10