A long, long time ahead of us in a galaxy maybe not so far away, the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers takes place. This four-book science fiction series is not one to miss for lovers of the genre, and an ideal introduction for those seeking a gateway into space.
In this blog post, I review all four books, including characters, themes, and plots, and I do not include any spoilers. The books discussed here are The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, A Closed and Common Orbit, Record of a Spaceborn Few, and The Galaxy, and the Ground Within.
Keep reading to nab your ticket to the stars above!
Although all four of these books are a part of the Wayfarers series, each installment follows a different group of characters. The events of the former novels in the series do not play a large role in understanding the later novels, but I do still recommend reading them in order, as each one builds upon world-building established in earlier books.
You can also check out the Wayfarers Wiki page, which is pretty cool, although relatively sparse.
Another tidbit I’ll offer: I also suggest reading To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers. It is a brief novella of a space crew that is a nice segue into the Wayfarers series. It does not take place in the same universe, but it’s a good preliminary book.
#1: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet
- Rosemary Harper (Human)
- Captain Ashby Santoso (Human)
- Sissix (Aandrisk)
- Kizzy Shao (Human)
- Jenks (Human)
- Dr. Chef (Grum)
- Artis Corbin (Human)
- Ohan (Sianat Pair)
- Lovey (AI)
The crew aboard the Wayfarer make their living punching tunnels in the galaxy for other space ships to travel through. Soon after new member Rosemary joins them, Ashby accepts a risky yet rewarding gig creating a tunnel in Toremi Ka space, a clan new to the Galactic Commons and known for their violent ways and constant war. During the crew’s long voyage to the outskirts of known space to get to the Toremi Ka site, they learn a great deal about each other and themselves, making a few pit stops on other planets along the way and dealing with hiccups that arise.
- Having secrets
- Starting over
- Taboo/secretive relationships
- Guilt about parents
- Experiencing new things
- The characters and the world-building are strong points in this and all the books in this series.
- The writing is also pretty strong.
- However, the story is very episodic and thus the plot feels meandering.
- The ending is a bit rushed, so the pacing feels very scrunched at the end.
- Overall, a fun space adventure!
#2: A Closed and Common Orbit
- Pepper (Enhanced Human)
- Sidra (AI)
- Blue (Enhanced Human)
- Owl (AI)
- Tak (Aeluon)
In the present timeline, Sidra adjusts to her new life existing in her own body kit, an illegal arrangement–AI are not supposed to have their own autonomous bodies. She stays in Port Coriol, an urban city teeming with different species, with friends Pepper and Blue, who welcome Sidra into their home and help her establish herself. In the past timeline, young Pepper is one among an assembly of other girls just like her who were created to scavenge through junk within a factory.
- Adjusting to new realities
- Finding our purpose
- Discovering and asserting our autonomy
- The alternating timelines is a huge improvement on the pacing from the previous book.
- Moreover, both timelines feel as though they are heading toward a necessary and natural climax or end-point.
- The characters are well-studied and experience challenges and growth.
- However, the setting of both the present and the past timeline are very industrial–so if you do not enjoy the hodge-podge Port Coriol or factory junkyard landscapes, then I can imagine this book reading quite drab, especially if you do not connect with Sidra or Pepper as much, who are the main focus of the narrative.
- Overall, much better than its predecessor in terms of craft but not quite as fun of a space adventure.
#3: Record of a Spaceborn Few
*All main characters in this novel are Human
- Tessa Santoso – cargo management
- Aya (daughter)
- Ky (son)
- George (partner)
- Pop (father)
- Isabel – archivist
- Tasmin (wife)
- Kip – teenager
- Eyas – caretaker
- Sawyer – immigrant
Centuries ago, the last humans left Earth, forming the Exodus Fleet. Now, the space station, officially a part of the Galactic Commons, is home to Tessa, Isabel, Kip, Eyas, and newcomer Sawyer. Many changes face the Fleet–younger generations are increasingly leaving, traditions are being questioned, and their communal-centered existence is threatened by cultural exchange.
- Feeling pigeon-holed by one aspect of our identity
- Being laid off after working at a job for decades
- Single parenting
- Long distance relationships
- Growing pains
- Cultural exchange
- Understanding our roots
- Generational shift in attitudes and ways of life
- This book seemingly learns from the prior two and combines elements from both: a motley cast of characters in a space station, but with a more discernible overarching plot with alternating perspectives and well-fleshed-out arcs.
- The characters, setting, and plot continue to be strong points.
- Even though this story primarily takes place in one location, the viewpoints felt varied enough to craft a sustainably interesting setting.
- I have yet to mention this, but Becky Chambers is wildly successful at creating characters who, despite existing in an entirely different time, place, and society from ours, are incredibly relatable in their hopes, fears, successes, and challenges.
- I unexpectedly teared up at the end of this book.
- An excellent, visionary space novel.
#4: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within
- Ouloo (Laru)
- Tupo (Laru; Ouloo’s child)
- Captain Pei (Aeluon)
- Speaker (Akarak)
- Roveg (Quelin)
On the planet Gora, a transitory rest stop for travelers, Ouloo and Tupo run the Five-Hop One-Stop, a bed and breakfast. After Gora experiences technological failure that prevents travel for a few days, the hosts and their guests are forced to get to know one another, bonding over their similarities as well as their differences.
- Being apart from family
- Watching children grow up
- Deciding whether to have children
- Secretive relationships
- Being marginalized by society
- Cultural exchange
- This final novel in the series feels like a callback to the first: a diverse group of inter-species travelers are confined together.
- In contrast to the previous novel which was primarily comprised of Human characters, this book features Chambers’ first all-non-Human cast of characters, a much-needed and refreshing new arrangement.
- Again, the alternating viewpoints allow for more dynamic pacing, even though the events of this story take place over roughly a few days.
- A touching and powerful what-basically-ends-up-being a space group therapy session.
My Review of the Wayfarers Series as a Whole
Although I was initially unsure about the format of same-universe and different-but-related-characters for this series, I think it ended up working really well. We are able to read a decent sampling of the huge universe Chambers has created, and it would be a shame if we were limited to only a small group of characters. Space is so vast and her world-building so intricate that allowing each novel its own room to focus in on various perspectives ends up being the best way to achieve crafting a series that feels truly limitless in its scope.
The characters Chambers creates are flawed and messy but hopeful and honest. I truly enjoyed this series, and I think that readers new to science fiction will find it a welcome introduction to the genre.