It’s with a bittersweet heart that I possibly inadvisably chose to finish reading this book, thus pushing out my overall bedtime much into “…now, really” hours. I both didn’t want it to end (there were supposed to be two hours left, and then I blinked and suddenly there was only 27 minutes left??) and very much wanted to see it end (see: “bedtime, inadvisable” above).
The very first book in this series, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, is the very first book that I ever read on recommendation of the Cannonball read recommendation in the daily Pajiba Love briefing. The day was March 20, 2017, the news was bad and we didn’t have any idea how much worse it was going to get, but the throwaway line of “Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet isn’t really like Firefly, but Julie ‘did enjoy the experience of reading this book.'” was the seed that, six years later, finally got me to sign up for an always-had-been virtual book club that has been one of the few unmitigated joys of COVID.
In some ways, the experiences that reading the Wayfarers series has brought me are very much like the books themselves. Most of the time, nothing much is happening. There are many species, all of which are realistically anatomically and culturally different–or as realistic as our human minds can grasp (everyone still communicates verbally, although in different languages. No babel fish here!). A surprisingly large amount of text space is taken up to the minutiae of merely interacting with others who are not at all similar to you, and the various ways in which you can show them respect (or realize that you aren’t, and try to correct it). The universe that this book postulates is the logical extreme of being “woke” except carried out by sapiens who don’t need to first defend the need to treat everyone with respect. Which is to say, there is no such thing as woke, there’s only people who are singled out for being rude and disrespectful.
It’s world building predicated less on technology (although there is that) or adventure (although there is some of that as well) and more on the small, quiet ways in which everyone is trying to make a living in a world even more vast than the one that makes us feel small and insignificant today. Writing that I might otherwise find a bit onerous and cumbersome is handled deftly by Chambers, who writes a page and a half paen to utilitarianism by any means necessary (namely, by suppressing real disagreements born of ideological differences in the nature of future-day colonialism) (this book isn’t any less complicated for all that it is short) that only made me roll my eyes a lettle lettle bit.
There’s no real need to read the prior books to enjoy this one, although as Chambers notes she doesn’t bother with the whole rehashing of information she’s already provided. If you choose for some bizarre reason to read this book out of order, you’ll miss a number of small easter eggs–Aandrisks show up a few times as especially open-minded, Pei (!) shows up again and continues to angst over her romantic choices, even Kizzy’s beloved Fire Shrimp! This is a universe that rewards your ability to exist in it and remember the shape of cultures–no gatekeeping “do you remember the exact member makeup of an Aandrisk feather family? oh you don’t you must not be a rEaL fAn.”
I’m sad that we’re done, I’m hoping for a small bonus epilogue [of Pei and Ashby getting their ever after, even if it makes others unhappy], and I look forward to Chambers’ novella duology coming out later this year!