This is very much my preferred type of science fiction – give me more character development and philosophical musings, and less dramatic space wars. If you are someone who enjoys science fiction generally, but finds yourself loving the middle act scene setting and sort of skimming the inevitable third act fight scenes, this book is for you, too. I have not had the pleasure of reading Becky Chambers’ Wayaferers series – and now these books are on my library queue, eagerly awaited. Chambers gives us an interesting concept, complex characters, and draws the reader in with questions relevant to the characters that are also a bridge to our lives. To me, this is what I want most from science fiction.
This concise novel immediately draws the reader in with the first section name – Please Read This. She gives us stakes up to our eyeballs with the setting – we’re already traveling in space – and then further draws the reader in by establishing this is a direct communication. This pays off beautifully in the final section where the narration again turns into a direct-to-reader appeal, full of questions that masterfully bring the subtle philosophical questions to the forefront. The story itself is about four astronauts in the 22nd century. Through crowd-funding, space travel has been re-introduced to the world. There has been definitive evidence of life existing within the universe beyond Earth, and new technology has emerged to allow humans to both conform to the various atmospheres of different planets or moons, as well as to enable them to travel over multiple years without dying. Despite the technological advances, it is understood that the best, if not only, way for humans to understand the different ecosystems within the universe would be to send humans, not just robots, to undertake extensive scientific study on specific planets and moons. And the four astronauts who we meet on this journey have agreed to do this – which means they are agreeing to be away from the Earth for 80 years.
The book recounts the travels of this group, their relationships to each other, their joys and surprises and pain in the midst of their journey. I loved the ending, although if you’ve read it and feel differently I’d love to know that, too. I also loved how the book included allusions to character’s sexuality that wasn’t strictly cis-hetero (the protagonist, who I read as female, has an open sexual relationship with two different scientists, one of whom is female and the other who is a trans male; this was presented as extremely normal which was refreshing). If you’re looking for more Star Wars style adventure, you might have trouble with this book. If, however, you’re looking for science fiction that really focuses on humanity, I’d highly recommend this.