First of all, with a title like this, I really don’t understand how you could not be interested. Seriously. On top of that, it’s categorized in a genre known as “space opera.” I have been into scifi and fantasy for pretty much ever, but hadn’t heard that term until this past year. In fact, I heard from a friend of mine (part of my awesome long-distance book club!) who was looking at doing a reading challenge this year and it was one of the genres listed. She texted to ask me about it because she had never heard of it. I hadn’t either! But who would not want to read something classified as a space opera?! I LOVE IT. So, here we are.
To open, let me straight up say that I loved this book. I loved the story, the characters, the idea, the details, and above everything else, I loved the experience of reading it. It was so engrossing and exciting and both foreign and familiar at the same time. Just so good, so much fun! (My thanks goes out to the people who funded the kickstarter campaign that allowed Chambers the time to write this. If I had seen it I can only hope that I would have donated myself – it would have been well worth it! Also, what a great story of anonymous support. Humans can be so cool.) This is the story of Captain Ashby Santoro and his crew of tunnelers (yes, they bore wormholes for faster space travel – so really, interstellar highway building) on his patchwork ship, the Wayfarer. There’s Sissix, the reptilian pilot, Kizzy and Jenks, the tech crew, Dr. Chef, cook and doctor extraordinaire, Corbin, the surly algae tech, Ohan, the navigator (pronoun: they), Lovey, the ship’s sentient AI, and the new addition Rosemary, clerk/admin assistant with a past she’s running away from. When they get offered the job of a lifetime, the mishaps…er, adventures begin.
Now, why did I like it so much? Essentially, I just really enjoyed the story the author was telling. It had some shades of Firefly/Serenity (a little more law abiding as an overall group, but the Kaylee character was perfect), which is pretty much an assured 5-star check in the “pro” column for me. Trust me, if you liked Firefly, then you’ll definitely enjoy this book. (And if you haven’t heard of it – go watch now!) Anyways, despite the fact that nothing will likely match up to Firefly in awesomeness, there was one aspect that I liked even better here. Though there is definitely space exploration, drama, and adventure, it’s all told within the context of “normality.” The cast of characters exists in the greater Galactic Commons that we spend most of the book learning more about, but on a day to day basis, they are just normal people doing their normal jobs. And though they get a little wrapped up in something bigger, they play their part and then go back to their lives. There is no big “save the galaxy” moment (even in Firefly you get that a little in Serenity) and they are really not that important in the greater scheme of things. That brought the vastness of space down to a more manageable (as I mentioned earlier, familiar) level and was really refreshing for me as a reader. Sometimes the stories of regular scifi/fantasy characters can be just are interesting as the great heroes…
Other than that, I think some of the themes that crop up are nicely universal and recognizable without being overbearing. The insights into human emotions, connections, actions (so, basically, humanity at large) that the author notices, and is able to make from the outside perspective of other sapient species (or, aliens) are incredibly perceptive and astute. A couple times I think I actually said “huh” out loud and reading and considering the points. For example, the passing comment, in response to someone saying “I’m sorry.” after hearing a sad story: “Such a quintessentially human thing, to express sorrow through apology.” Very discerning. Also, her creativeness in communication methods greater simply than just different languages (for example, color/color change based speaking methods, gestures or other appendage-only processes) was one of my favorite details. This also includes the creation of words/gestures for complex feelings or ideas that we do not have in English or that one language in the book had but another did not. For example, “tresha: the thankful, humble, vulnerable feeling that came after someone saw a truth in you, something they had discovered just by watching, something that you did not admit often to yourself.” Her description and explanation of these non-reciprocal meanings was deep and thorough and creative.
Another amazing aspect of this book was that the writing about interspecies relations had so many wonderful levels – from widely shared cultural beliefs that affected interactions (both politically and interpersonally) to dealing with those personal relationships that vary so far beyond the human sexuality spectrum (which, to be fair, is super complicated and nuanced all on its own) – it was similarly impressive in its depth, thoroughness, and creativity. There were twists and complications that you’d never expect or know to expect throughout this book, related to each of these themes, that were completely bizarre and made it the scifi novel that it is. But at the same time, with not too much analytical thought, some of those same twists and complications could easily be comparable to our own, human-only, experiences…and that made the exotic a little more understandable.
By the end you’ll feel like you want nothing more from life than to leave this world and become a part of this amazing, quirky, familial interspecies crew.
It’s sentimental, but I have two brothers and this was just so true. And real. So I had to share this passage: “Brothers never go away…Brothers you can’t get rid of. They get who you are, and what you like, and they don’t care who you sleep with or what mistakes you make, because brothers aren’t mixed up in that part of your life. They see you at your worst, and they don’t care. And even when you fight, it doesn’t matter so much, because they still have to say hi to you on your birthday, and by then, everybody’s forgotten about it, and you have cake together.”
I also love this quote: “Feelings are relative. And at the root, they’re all the same, even if they grow from different experiences and exist on different scales.”