I haven’t read any sci-fi in a while, but this book came recommended by so many friends and coworkers—and for that matter the general public—that I felt I couldn’t ignore it any longer.
I have nothing against sci-fi as a genre, at least, nothing I can easily put into words, I just find that of all speculative fiction, fantasy tends to excite me the most (and you don’t get as many wangsty sardonic dude narrators). I’ve also found that the last few sci-fi novels I’ve read have been pretty dude-oriented and, despite the fantastic worlds they speculate about, they don’t do much to challenge the status quo in terms of female, lgbt and minority representation. Potentially just because I’m more aware of fantasy as a genre and its authors, it’s been easier for me to find fantasy books that do this.
But Long Way does it as well: it’s one of those books set in a future where everyone is (to quote Ilana from Comedy Central sitcom Broad City) “caramel and queer”; Becky Chambers seems to have no problem conceptualizing a universe where women, men, PoC and LGBT folks have full equality and representation. Unsurprising considering the rest of the cast of characters consists of sentient life in every form from reptilian to crustacean.
And this is another aspect of Long Way that I like a lot: Chambers doesn’t shy away from developing ways of being that are highly complex, and completely unlike those of humans (see my review of the Temeraire series for a fuller explanation of why this is so thrilling to me). The Aandrisks are the perfect example of this: their views regarding family, friendship, community and love are distinctly non-human, and developed in depth enough that the reactions Sissix, the Aandrisk pilot, has to the humans’ displays (or lack thereof) of affection are completely understandable. Chambers gives the reader insight into what it’s like to be a person who is not a human, but instead of strange and terrifying the revelation is engaging and enlightening.
So Chambers pulls off what some might think impossible: a kind, representational book that nonetheless speculates fearlessly. The book romps through worlds believable but wonderful, each as as wild as the last—from icy wastelands to infant planets covered in lava—and keeps the reader hooked until the very last page.