I was going to give this four stars because I really enjoyed myself while reading it, but I didn’t get THAT FEELING, you know? But then I had this one thought afterwards that completely reshaped my perspective about the whole book and now I have to give it five stars.
But first some context.
This has been an absurdly well-reviewed book here at CBR (and everywhere else), and it pretty much came out of nowhere. It has been compared frequently to both Star Trek (because of its optimistic vision of humanity’s future) and Firefly (because of the ragtag, underdog nature of the crew). And it does owe debts to both of those worlds, certainly. But I also think it brings its own bona fides to the table. Star Trek wishes it was able to execute so perfect an example of IDIC (infinite diversity in infinite combinations, an ideal that franchise has yet to truly reach because of the biases of its various creators, benefactors, audiences, and the cultural mores of the era(s) in which each iteration of that franchise existed).
And unlike in Firefly, this isn’t a world in conflict with itself (for the most part). Mal and his crew were on the fringes: smugglers, criminals, murderers, rebels. The crew of the Wayfarer, small though they are, have no need of fringe behavior because the world they live in makes room inherently for multiple ways of being. Chambers isn’t writing a story about overthrowing systems and fighting against injustice. Her story is about the quiet power of love and friendship to cross boundaries, how differences can be a strength not a weakness or fault. It’s so fucking adult. How all these different people with different backgrounds and tastes and religions and familial bonds and EVERYTHING just let each other exist and don’t feel threatened by any of it.
I’m not saying much about the book itself. I think I shall continue not to, and let you be surprised if you haven’t read it yet. Ragtag crew is really all you need to know. Well, year in the life of a ragtag crew, while they make a long journey to, wait for it, a small, angry planet. The whole book is surprisingly chill and episodic, and you’re gradually pulled into the world and fall in love with the characters (even the cantankerous ones). And yet, the story still has stakes and you’re emotionally invested completely by the end. It’s a book that sneaks up on you (in my case, it didn’t fully finish sneaking until about a day after I finished it).
Which brings me back to my first paragraph, where I talked about my one thought I had that made me want to give the book five stars. Gonna put it in spoiler tags, so clicky at your own peril:
SPOILERS I mean, I’ve personally beaten to death the idea that all these people with their differences live together harmoniously, but the book doesn’t do that. In fact, you’re halfway through before you realize that’s what’s happening. It isn’t spoon fed to you at all. It wasn’t until after I finished the book that I realized the villains of the piece (who reside on the titular small, angry planet) are a civilization characterized by their dysfunctional insistence on agreeing with each other not just in action, but in thought. All differences are forcefully suppressed in the name of peace. It has completely ripped apart their civilization many times over, which is violent and unstable and completely cannibalizes itself. And the comparison to that way of life, in which all inhabitants are miserable, and make others miserable, with the peaceable and happy life of people who find harmony in acceptance rather than enforced (false) agreement was frankly, staggering, to me. I was in my car and the thought just popped into my head, and I go, “OH SHIT” and just started giggling kinda maniacally. That I made the connection on my own only heightened my enjoyment of it, rather than if Chambers had gone out of her way to point it out. That’s giving good book, people END SPOILERS.
So yeah, check this puppy out. I already own book two, so I’m sure I’ll be diving in shortly, especially since it was nominated for a Hugo this year. So glad this world is being recognized with awards. Totally deserved 1000%.