Good lord, can Becky Chambers write.
I mentioned late last year that Martha Wells wholly renewed my sometimes waning interest in science fiction books, and writing like Chambers accomplishes is going to keep it awake and attentive indefinitely.
The story is about a mixed bag of interstellar races who work aboard a “tunnelling” space craft designed to create stable wormholes between otherwise distant locations. A new (capital H) Human arrives to join the crew, through whose eyes we see and experience parts of the story. That allows for some deft handling of information the reader needs to help make sense of what’s going on. There’s no hamfisted info dumps here, but instead we learn much along with the newbie, which helps the material get relayed organically.
What I particularly enjoyed was how Chambers handled each of the primary characters, not only giving us rich and engaging insight into what they were thinking and why, but also what contrary beliefs and opinions others, even of their own race, may hold and why.
Conflict is the driver of novels. Not necessarily literal conflict, but some degree of characters wanting something/anything, be it from each other or from themselves or in a particular situation they want or need to change or endure, etc. Yet even in this debut novel, Chambers beautifully shows us both sides of many issues of those conflicts, from personal to romantic to interstellar. You’ll find you think you understand and agree with why a character of a specific race does something, but then you’ll also agree with what other members of the same race think and do for their own reasons. She has you seeing and agreeing with multiple sides of sometimes very complex issues at the same time even when they’re (figuratively and literally) alien to us. I don’t know of any writer I’ve read who does that so gracefully and effectively, let alone for every one of her main characters.
Chambers gets big bonus marks for very nearly bringing me to tears toward the end of the book. I don’t get weepy over fiction often, to say the least, but this one blind-sided me, and damn if the room didn’t get a bit dusty when it happene0d. I’m not spoiling anything, but I bet anyone who reads the book will know the part I mean.
If you like to read science fiction, you’re missing out in a huge way if you don’t get your hands on this book ASAP.