This may be my favorite science fiction book this year. It's that good. And it's only after repeatedly seeing positive reviews from bloggers I trust that I decided to get it. I mean, it has a nice cover but I have no idea what's it about, and it's got a weird title. And to be honest the plot is nothing to write home about. There's nothing wrong with it, but it's not super noteworthy either. The crew of the Wayfarer travel around the galaxy creating wormhole tunnels. That's it. They're pretty much working stiffs, not heroes, not fighting in a galactic rebellion or anything like that. They're just living their lives.
And that's the beauty of it. This is a book about a disparate crew- diversity is the rule here-living together and just trying to get through another day. The galaxy is populated with all manner of alien beings, and they mostly get along or at least coexist. This is a far future when interstellar travel is refreshingly common and people can enhance themselves with cybernetic implants, where imubots in your bloodstream keep you healthy from most things, and where the sky is the limit technology wise. And yet for all the tech, it still comes down to human beings- or in this case, beings (humanity is a relatively low tier member of the galactic community).
Becky Chambers has created a crew that have come to think of themselves as family- and as readers we get to tag along as they grow and change and live their lives aboard the Wayfarer. It's not a nice ship- it's cobbled together and a bit of a junker, really- but it's home for these people. The crew is a mixed species group- we start out with Rosemary, a girl from Mars who is running away from her secrets, but before long the perspective shifts to the other members of the crew, and Rosemary is just one of several. That surprised me a bit, I thought initially this was Rosemary's story- but it's the entire crews story, really. Standouts for me included Ashby, the captain of the ship, and Sissix, the reptilian pilot who steals a lot of scenes and seems to be a favorite among the reviewers I've talked to.
Chambers seems to effortlessly offer up tantalizing information about the galaxy, various races, background bits that make the story so rich. It's a very well realized setting, and there's just something about it- one reviewer said the story made them feel nostalgic for characters they had just met, or something to that effect, and I can see that. There's a family feel to the crew that just feels comfortable. There's not a lot of action here, but there is a lot of dialogue, character development and broadening of horizons as the crew all live together and learn more about each other.
There is an overarching plotline but along the way many of the chapters feel like vignettes, day in the life pieces, but through those we get to really know these characters- and by the end I was ready for a sequel so I could just keep reading! And the thing I like about SF is the sense of wonder- that's why I read SF. To imagine. With this book you get to imagine a lot.