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Blog: Bingeing Becky Chambers

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When I was about eight years old I got REALLY into The Famous Five books. Yes yes I know they are OF THEIR TIME in some (A LOT) of the attitudes therein but the time I read them in was ALSO of its time so it wasn't so obvious then.

Anyway, I read LOADS of them one after the other, and after a while I remember thinking to myself "This is all well and good, these adventures and so forth, but what I'd really like would be a book where nothing happens at all and they just hang around being pals with each other." That is right, way back in 1978 I predicted the advent of THE HANGOUT SITCOM, I was indeed a visionary even in 1978 at the age of eight... um... I mean MINUS TWENTY.

That THORT has stuck with me ever since - sometimes you like the characters so much that you don't actually NEED them to go around answering calls to adventure or leaping into the void and so on. This may partly explain why I FLIPPING LOVE the works of Becky Chambers so much, because she writes books where really really interesting characters interact with each other and say interesting things without too much ACTION getting in the way. They are GRATE!

Like pretty much everyone else the first book of hers I read was "The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet" which was BRILLIANT. Weirdly I then kept buying the follow-ups when they came out but forgetting quite how much I'd enjoyed them so took ages to get round to each one on the Kindle, at which point I'd think "Oh yes, I really like these books don't I?"

This changed a month or so ago when I read "The Galaxy And The Ground Within" which is the very EPITOME of "Interesting Characters Just Hanging Around A Bit", although saying that does rather glide over the IMMENSE and AMAZING worldbuilding that she does in all her books (a subject which I shall return to momentarily). What basically happens in that one (NOT REALLY SPOILERS) is that some SPACE ALIENS get stuck at a SPACE MOTEL for a bit and spend a while interacting with each other - there is some MILD PERIL towards the end, but that's pretty much it, and it is RUDDY MARVELOUS. All of the characters are SPACE ALIENS with their own cultures and ways of existing which she mixes and matches to generate all sorts of IDEAS about how societies work, or might work, and does it in a supremely DELIGHTFUL way.

It was so brilliant that at the end I thought "RIGHT! This time there will be no messing about, I'm going to read the next thing she does RIGHT AWAY". As it turned out I had waited so long to read THAT book that there were already two MORE to go - the two books in the "Monk And Robot" DUOLOGY. CRUMBS! If these had been any more up my street they would have moved in next door and invited me round to talk about Doctor Doom, for LO! not only are they immense and wonderful examples of world building done with a light hand, containing fascinating characters and ideas, but they are also SHORT! HOORAH!

I realised how much I wanted to SHOUT about these books a couple of days ago when I finished the first one, "Psalm For The Wild Built". There is a bit near the end where one of the characters does something for the other that is SO INCREDIBLY MOVING that it moved me to tear up on The Elizabeth Line. More than that, the thing that happens is something TOTALLY MADE UP and relies on the fact you fully understand the characters and the entirely fictional SPACE WORLDS what they live in. It was absolutely incredible!

As I type I am watching the clock so I can get on and finish "Prayer For The Crown Shy" - I would have finished it yesterday but I had looked up Crown Shyness to see if it was real (it is) and then spent about an hour reading about it. It's educational as well as moving, what more could anyone want from a book eh?

Well yes, data about Doctor Doom OBVIOUSLY, but other than that these are pretty much perfect and I would very much recommend them to anyone!

posted 1/11/2023 by MJ Hibbett

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