For a lot of people, reading has changed quite a bit since the start of the pandemic. Some people have started reading much more than they did previously, while others have found themselves a bit too restless to read much. I think I fall in the first category: I’ve definitely read a lot more than I did in previous years. Part of that has to do with the fact that I’ve simply had more time, but I also think it’s been even more of a way to escape reality than it normally is. I’ve also developed an even bigger appreciation of books that are hopeful and joyful.
Which brings me to the book series I want to talk about today! Over the course of the previous year, the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers has grown to become my all time favourite series, and I want to convince you to read it too.
First, some facts: the Wayfarers series is a sci-fi series that consists of four books that are all companion novels to one another, meaning they can be read out of order or separately (although I do recommend reading them in order of appearance to get the full experience). The books in question are:
- The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (2014)
- A Closed and Common Orbit (2016)
- Record of a Spaceborn Few (2018)
- The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (2021)
I bought The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in a bookstore in Amsterdam in December 2017 because of the gorgeous cover and the cool title. I had heard of it before, but my knowledge didn’t go beyond “this is supposed to be good”. As is the case with many books I buy, it was left to gather dust on my shelves for a while until I read it while on holiday in the summer of 2019. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the novel, but I fell head over heels in love with it and it ended up being my favourite book of the year. I read the second and third book last year, during the pandemic, and by the end of Record of a Spaceborn Few, I knew that I had found my new favourite series. Last week, I read the fourth and final book, and now I’m hopefully going to make you read it.
Like I said, these are all companion novels, which means that every book follows a different set of characters. There are some small connections between some of the characters within the different books, but they’re definitely all their own stories. What connects all of them is the amazing universe that they take place in. If I could name only one thing I love about this series, it would have to be the exquisite worldbuilding. Throughout this series, we find ourselves on several different planets, and we hear about many more. The first book introduces us to the Galactic Commons, which is a union of many different alien species, as well as Humans, that functions more or less like an overarching government, like the European Union.
This is what we’re dealing with in this universe: different alien species, all of them with their own cultures, co-existing in space. Humans are just one of many species, and they are not the dominating species at all. Humans are newcomers to the Galactic Commons and they’re often seen as the underdog, which I loved and thought was very refreshing.
Now, I could tell you about the plot of all four of these stories, but I actually don’t think that would tell you all that much about the books. That sounds as if it doesn’t make sense – however, these books are so focused on character development and world building that plot is kind of secondary to everything else. It definitely was for me, personally. I adore these books because of the way they explore humanity, for lack of a better word (with ‘humanity’, I mean all of the sapient species in this series, not just humans). It delves deep into culture and habits and how what’s obvious and natural to some species might be completely strange to another. For example, in the last book, which doesn’t feature any Humans, the characters talk amongst themselves about the fact that Humans eat cheese. One person describes to the rest what cheese actually consists of, and they’re all horrified (but not in a mean way). This is just a small, light-hearted example, but I think it portrays very well what these books try to achieve.
Each book explores different themes, but at the root, that’s what it’s all about: humanity.
So, what makes this the perfect time to read these books?
It’s the same thing that made me fall utterly and completely in love with them: their kindness, their hope and their joy. These books aren’t gritty or dark. They’re gentle and kind, which is something many of us are craving right now. And with ‘gentle and kind’ I don’t mean that Becky Chambers takes you by the hand and shows you all of the wonderful things in this universe. Characters go through hardship. Bad things happen in these books, and some of them might break your heart a little, but the underlying tone is one of hope and joy. When there’s hostility, there’s also gentle curiosity and friendliness to balance it out, and there’s kindness at every corner. Also, they’re beautifully written and wonderfully inclusive.
To me, these books strike the perfect balance: they’re feel-good and make me feel happy and warm inside, but they also explore important themes that can be directly mapped onto our own society. This series feels both comforting and surprising. It uses familiar sci-fi tropes and does its own thing with it, giving us what I think the world could use a little more of: happy books. We’ve seen enough tragedy and grit, and we’ve definitely seen enough good versus bad. Let’s focus on the good things the universe has to offer us; on the things we can learn from each other and we can love about each other. It definitely made me feel a lot better and I hope it will cheer you up as well!