Last year I had never heard of Becky Chambers. Now, five books into her work, she has become a favorite author of mine. Her ability to write beautiful, rich and cozy human experience is a constant. All her books take place in scifi settings, but the setting, the technology are ambient. Her stories focus so much more on characters over the alien. More intimate inter-personal stories than action heavy plot. I guess you could say they tend to lean into the slice-of-life genre.
To Be Taught, If Fortunate lives up to what I have grown to expect from Becky Chambers, but with a more beautiful, somber, bitter-sweet execution. It stands apart from what I’ve read of the Wayfarer series, which started out a little too much in the vein of Firefly. Not quite as openly light-hearted philosophical as A Psalm for the Wild-Built. It’s a short novella that takes you on a journey with four people over a few decades. It’s not perfect. The ending might be devisive. I really enjoyed reading it.
This is How You Lose the Time War is beautiful. It is also written in a way that took my brain a while to adjust to it. I had to meet the book where it stood. In places, it’s a bit too poetic, too abstract to follow, but that poetry is fitting. I haven’t read a book written like this before. There are wild sci-fi settings and concepts, but they’re all just bokehfied background. What is rendered in sharp clarity, is how the protagonists, Red and Blue, become entangled. After reading, I heard someone jokingly describe This is How You Lose the Time War as, “Romeo and Juliet, but they’re terminators”.
Maybe I’ve said too much, but go in blind. You’ll likely read it in a day or two.
One of those deep-dive non-fiction books covering some everyday thing you had no idea was so integral to life as we know it. Fungus! Who knew it commands and shapes so much of the world as we know it?! I found this book approachable, wonder inducing, and sometimes terrifying. Fungus that links and networks trees and plants throughout a forrest. Lichen existing as a michrocosm of bacteria, fungus, and plant. Nervous system hijacking mycelium to propagate spores. Psilocybin’s ability to treat addiction, PTSD, and depression. I was so enthused by this book that I started growing some gourmet mushrooms of my own out of five gallon buckets.
A Closed and Common Orbit is a sequel in name only. It’s book number two in Becky Chambers’ Wayfarer searies, but it stands just fine on its own. The first book in the series, The Long Way to a Small and Angry Planet, was a fun little story following a small Serenity-like crew across the universe. Each chapter felt like an episode of slice-of-life sci-fi television show. Overall the tone was positive, bad things might happen to the crew, but hope and empathy saturated the story. It was a pleasant read. This sequel focuses on one brief side character from the first book, off on their own. Going in, you don’t have to know much about their background, though it’s nice to have some contxt.
The non-spoilery pitch is that a ship’s AI has been transferred to a robotic replica of a human body, which is very illegal. In this diverse universe full of unique, sapient beings, Artificial Intelligences are viewed by most as tools to make life a little easier. While this is a topic as common as pepperoni on pizza, the book focuses on the AI’s experience trying to live in a body that doesn’t fit them. At her core, she is ment to occupy a space-faring ship, keeping her crew safe, with constant input from dozens sources. This body kit, is limiting. Being an individual with a purpose she can’t define is difficult. Through her stuggle she continues to refer to the body as “the kit”. Instead of saying that she picked up a glass, she says that she “made the kit pick up the glass”. She struggles figuring out just what she is, what she should be doing, how to be a person, how to manage friendships.
Alongside her journey, we see the life story of her friend and roommate; which could have been a book all on its own. Intertwining these two stories together, both about identity, purpose, and friendship results in a book that I couldn’t put down. I loved both characters. I loved seeing them struggle and grow. I’ve become quite the fan of Becky Chambers. The books of hers that I’ve read have felt comforting, like a heavy blanket on a rainy day. A review on Goodreads for the first book put it like this: “Feel-good science fiction. Bad things happen. Injustice exists. And yet, the world is a mostly beautiful and good place. Bad people exist, but people in general are mostly nice and almost always interesting. It’s a truly heart-warming novel.” That was true for book one, but A Closed and Common Orbit adds more sustenance. It feels more substantial, like a good heavy stew that sticks to your ribs. It’s a book I wish I could still be reading.
A lovable bunch of septuagenarians who like to sip wine and solve murders. Joyce, Elizabeth, Ibrahim, and Ron are such defined characters in my mind. Richard Osman was meticulous in crafting them. They’re people I’d love to spend time with, though I fear I wouldn’t live up to Elizabeth’s high expectations! I loved how these peppy pensioners would take advantage of humanity’s general underestimation of the old.
“After a certain age, you can pretty much do whatever takes your fancy. No one tells you off, except for your doctors and your children.”
They struggle with being forgotten, with the loss of friends and family that always seems to be around the corner, with the fear of losing ability both physical and mental. They push on and have fun in spite of the looming night. This book was fun and kind. I appreciate reading characters from a demographic that I haven’t read before. Ones that don’t fill stereotypes. I will definitely be reading the sequel.
This is my first introduction to author Becky Chambers, and I have the feeling I’m going to end up reading everything she writes. You could say not a lot happens in this book, and yes, this isn’t a wild, plot-driven, high-stakes read. What it does have is two great characters and vibes. This is the kind of book you just chill with. The warm, heavy blanket kind of book. I ended up brewing some tea every time I sat down to read A Psalm for the Wild-Built. Definitely because the protagonists is a tea monk, blending bespoke teas, but it was also demanded by that cozy blanket vibe.