The Wayfarers books by Becky Chambers

In 2018, I was on a European solo trip (as usual). So, I had a lot of time for reading on park benches between sightseeing. This is why I got through the three books I had with me in Berlin and was looking for a new one at the airport bookstore on my way to Greece. I found The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, and my reading life was changed forever.

Book 1: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

First of all, great book title! Secondly, as I had been reading great, but quite serious and often depressing SFF book series lately (like Red Rising and Silo), the description “Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space-and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe-in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.” sounded pretty nice for a change.

And oh, nice it was. The crew of the Wayfarer is a wonderfully flawed mix of humans and aliens with fleshed-out characters, thought-out backstories and hopes for the future. The book had a great ‘mundane’ life on a spaceship setup, for the reader to get to know the characters and be really invested in them by the conflict stage of the story. And all of that in a feel-good way I didn’t know was possible in sci-fi writing.

The end was a bit sudden, but otherwise just a great book and set up for more adventures in the Wayfarer universe. Like all great first books in a series, it hints at a bigger world outside the spaceship on its way to the titular angry planet.

Book 2: A Closed and Common Orbit

The second book in the series leaves the crew of the Wayfarer behind and follows the ship’s AI Lovelace down the gravity well – in a brand new artificial body, to live with Pepper, an engineer we briefly met in the first book. A parallel storyline set in the past tells the origin story of Pepper and the hardships she faced as a child. Together it is another feel-good story about two women with a lot of baggage, confusion and hope for the future, who “Together will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

Chambers is really great at creating flawed, confused, hopeful and utterly loveable characters. Pepper and Lovelace are at the very top of the list of the greatest ones.

Book 3: Record of a Spaceborn Few

When I re-read the first three books before part 4 came out, I read this one after the first as it follows, amongst others, Wayfarer Captain Ashby’s sister Tessa. Both sequels basically start after book one ends, but A Close and Common Orbit feels a bit more standalone for me.

We already got to know Ashby and so going to the place he came from, is a great next step. And that place would be the Exodus Fleet. “Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat.

Though it is the only book in the series with only human main characters, it opens the world up quite a bit and shows how humankind ended up among aliens. Though concentrating a lot on the topic of (chosen) family, as the other books do, it has a bit more of a political drama hint to it.

Book 4: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

The last book in the series shrinks the world again back to five individuals of four species. It takes place on the very unremarkable planet Gora, basically a long-haul space travel truck stop.

When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop One-Stop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.

People from different species, trapped together, discovering their similarities, and secrets and also, that you don’t have to agree on everything to be friends. I mean, it is a 300+ page-long metaphor for life on Earth. And it’s the best book of the instalment. Wonderfully deep, meditative, a bit heartbreaking and a lot of food for thought.

The series

A quietly profound, humane tour de force


So – four books, a lot of good feelings, some tears and many quietly profound thoughts later I can say, that it is one of my all-time favourite collections of books and the most unique series I have ever read. “Quietly profound” probably really is the best description for the wonderful Wayfarers series.

A nice change for sci-fi fans who usually read darker books and a great first dip into the genre for people who have not dared yet. And for me a therapeutic read for sad days, when the world and people seem alien. Especially the last one.

Wayfarers series
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (2015)
A Closed and Common Orbit (2016)
Record of a Spaceborn Few (2018)
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (2021)

*The series won the Hugo Award for book series in 2019. The separate books were nominated for the Hugo Award, Arthur C. Clarke Award, Locus Award.