We're living in times that need a few healthy doses of optimism in our science fiction. It's a good thing we have this book.
Becky Chambers' debut novel was originally funded on Kickstarter in 2012 and self-published in 2014 before being picked up by larger publishers. The book focuses on the crew of the Wayfarer, a small working-class spaceship that specializes in building wormholes to facilitate long-range travel throughout the galaxy. The crew includes Rosemary Harper, the ship's new clerk, who's hiding a dark secret from her past; Ashby, the compassionate human captain; Sissix, the gregarious reptilian pilot, Corbin, the ship's uptight algaeist; Kizzy and Jenks, the fun-loving engineers; Dr. Chef, the ship's doctor and cook, who's from a dying race; Ohan, the reclusive navigator, and Lovey, the ship's AI. Among the crew, several have interesting plothooks built in -- Ashby is dating a member of an alien species that deeply disapproves of sexual relationships with aliens; Sissix and Corbin absolutely hate each other; and Jenks and Lovey are deeply in love and making plans to give the AI an illegal robot body.
The Wayfarer is an unusual ship because most of their crew is human. In this futuristic universe, humans are a distinct minority among more numerous and more powerful alien nations. The human race had to leave Earth hundreds of years ago, living on scattered planets and asteroids and spaceships. They've come to terms with some of the problems we've had to deal with, and most of the species has chosen to embrace pacifism, feeling that endless warmongering is what got their homeworld wrecked.
Soon after Rosemary joins the crew at the beginning of the book, the Wayfarer gets a lucrative contract, and because they'll have to spend a year traveling to the site where they'll be building the new wormhole, we get to spend most of the book meeting these people and getting to know them. We essentially get a nice long stretch of short stories focusing on each of our characters. We get to visit Sissix's homeworld, we meet Kizzy and Jenks' demented engineer buddies, there's a pirate attack on the ship, and one character gets arrested for an accidental genetic crime.
The characters and interactions in this book are absolutely why you'll find yourself loving it so much. It's a hard, brutal, depressing world out there, and this book gives you a bunch of people who are interesting, diverse, funny, and supportive of each other, even when they hate or don't understand each other.
We're able to see through these people's eyes to examine a galaxy filled with wonders. Aliens may be everywhere, but they still tend to be pretty compassionate and empathetic, because that's what you have to be in order to survive in a cold, cruel universe. And if scores of alien species are able to live together in peace, maybe there's hope for us, too. It's everything you'd ever want from optimistic, forward-thinking, hopeful science fiction.
There has been two sequels so far -- 2016's "A Closed and Common Orbit" and 2018's "Record of a Spaceborn Few."