Hodder UK, Harper Voyager US, out now
Fleeing a catastrophe that has destroyed her personal world, Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, a tunnelling ship that is about to go on its most unusual mission…
The short version of this review is: buy this book now, and revel in a beautiful piece of SF writing that celebrates diversity and emphasises the importance of the differing relationships that we all have in our lives.
The longer version: It occurred to me after finishing The Long Way… that Chambers has written what is effectively a serious version of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, with its point of entry character an ordinary Human (the capital is used throughout for good reason) whose horizons are massively expanded by the people she meets and the places she visits. Information about the universe Chambers has created is provided courtesy of various references to databases as well as via the backstories of the characters. (My only real criticism of this is that some of these feel rather like infodumps.) As the story unfolds, Rosemary becomes an integral part of the Wayfarer crew – a multispecies group of sentient beings, each with their own particular outlooks on life, and their own secrets – so that by the time they hit real problems in the final section of the book, they have become almost a gestalt entity of their own.
There are some lyrical passages of writing, as well as sharp observations, and it’s when the two combine – as they do, for example, when Rosemary witnesses what she initially believes is some sort of sexual liaison but discovers instead that it is actually that particular species’ way of showing comfort to one of their own who is being treated as an outcast – that this book becomes something special. The relationships within the crew range from the sexual to the platonic, the sibling to the parental and each is credible – so much so that when disaster strikes, we feel the loss as keenly as the characters.
Verdict: One of the best SF books I’ve read this year. Highly recommended. 9/10