A couple weekends ago I travelled to my hometown to help my sister and mother pack up and move house, and it was a bit of an organizational nightmare – scheduling problems, movers not arriving, incorrectly sized storage units. It was a weekend rife with potential pitfalls, but we dealt with each problem as it came up. Much of it sucked, but we stayed calm and kept moving forward. In many ways, this story plays out a lot like my weekend did.
The story begins with a human from Mars boarding a spaceship for a new job. The ship houses a small crew of multiple species, including a sentient computer system, and its purpose is to travel to different areas of the universe to punch wormholes through space, enabling others to travel the same distance instantly. Soon after she arrives, the team lands an unprecedented job that will require them to travel a long distance, over a long period of time, into the territory of a race who, until recently, was an aggressive enemy of the galactic alliance. It’s dangerous, but it pays well, so they accept the contract.
Once they set off, that plot fades away and we’re left with a varied group of people living together in close quarters for an extended period of time. We slowly learn about each individual through intersecting plotlines, and the novel begins to feel less like a science-fiction space drama and more like Cannery Row, in a good way. By the end of the novel, you really know these characters and their struggles with family, prejudice, love, and faster-than-light travel (okay, some of it still feels like science-fiction).
Ninety percent of all problems are caused by people being assholes.
Part of what I loved was how the characters acted like reasonable people. It sounds like a silly comment to make, but when problems would arise they were dealt with in ways that made sense. Nothing was drawn out needlessly and characters didn’t overreact for the sake of drama. There’s certainly tragedy and hardship, but when the members of the crew had issues they just discussed how they felt and found answers. They supported each other and treated each other with respect, and while it doesn’t provide a lot of conflict, it was a nice change of pace. In a world that feels less sane every day, a world where Americans would willingly elect a KKK-endorsed reality star as their president, it’s nice to spend time in a story where people are decent to each other.
I wouldn’t want all novels to be as light on plot and conflict as this, but somehow Becky Chambers made it work. She really has a gift for writing characters. I thought this was fantastic, and I’m looking forward to picking up the sequel.