Spoiler Alert – I love these books so very much!
Unlike many sci fi trilogies on the market these three books do not follow the same characters, they follow the same world. In the first book, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Chambers creates a diverse community on a ship that is punching tunnels through space. Despite the linguistic and physical differences of the people on the ship they mostly get on and do their job brilliantly. Old battles are about personalities not really based in species dislike, but in this society species hatred does exist, it’s just that on the ship everyone has a skill and the job can’t be done without all of them. The book touches on inter-species sexuality and the fluidity of gender in some of the species. It is very much a book for our times.
The second book, A Closed and Common Orbit, was harder for me to get into as I was waiting for my favourite characters from the first book. But this book explores a story and characters that run somewhat alongside the first book. Once I got over my slight disappointment I couldn’t put the book down. This was a story of the power of humanity in ways that will surprise you. I don’t think I have ever read a book that has touched me so emotionally before. This book is really about how we create family and bonds of loyalty and affection. It’s extremely moving and Chambers’ empathy for human problems is deftly applied. It could so easily have been preachy but it isn’t. It’s beautiful.
And then there is the final book in the trilogy, Record of a Spaceborn Few. This is connected to the first book through Ashby’s sister, Tessa and was my favourite. It’s basically a series of character studies of a few of the spaceborn characters in this community. There is some interconnection between the stories but not much and mostly the connections are tangential but are surprisingly profound. The character arcs are well managed and Chambers shows herself to be adept at emotional evocation that is not saccharine but authentic and moving.
Often we read science fiction to see a mirror of our world and to engage with the big qustions of our times. And Chambers definitely does this. Except that she gives us the world we mostly all want – caring communities and their awareness of how important the community is as well as how important the individuals are within this community. Chamber’s Wayfarer trilogy is not a reflection of what we are but a reflection of what we could be. There are wars and conflicts; there is specism and bias but members of this community are open to differences and engage with the differences; if only more of us were prepared to listen.
But it’s not preachy and it’s not overly politically correct. It a series of books that show us lives in transit, individuals grappling with their privilege and others trying to find their place in a very wide world.