// Let’s Talk About Reptile Sex… *record scratch* // Author: Becky Chambers // Rating 5/5
Synopsis: 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.
Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.
Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.
Honestly, I could have (should have?) subtitled this review: The Hope Spot I Needed. (But just singsonging the above line in my head made me snicker.) I loved this book, so much, my dudes. SO. MUCH. These characters made my heart full. They had empathy. They had diversity. They had kindness and tails, distinct personalities and scales. They felt like a family. When I read The Long Way… I had recently been in a car accident and I was stressed the f/// out and not focusing well and this book came to me, a gift from the shelving sprites, and I had a blast reading it. It helped me to feel that everything was going to be alright. For me, it was just that good, and it was that good because I fell in love with the characters and the details.
Let’s see if I can recap the crew of The Wayfarer without getting sidetracked with how much I love them all (even the resident asshole (eventually)). Rosemary Harper is the latest addition to the crew, a human from Mars, who’s keeping a big secret (dundun). Captain Ashby Santoso is cool-headed, absolutely stars over garters in love with his lady, and treats everyone in his crew with respect. Sissix is a species that’s reptilian (yes, she’s part of the reference above), and I love LOVE all the bits featuring her culture, which is basically found families galore. We’ve got Kizzy and Jenks, engineers on the ship // if you liked Kaylee from Firefly at all, hoo boy Kizzy is BETTER, or at least, they’d be best friends and obnoxiously cute together. Jenks is fantastic and completely at ease in his own body and mostly happy with life, but he’s trying to work out how to get the love of his life, the ship’s AI Lovelace, into her own body kit, and their conversations are so great about her choice and desires and autonomy. Then there’s Dr. Chef and Ohan, two different species // the former loves food (the descriptions of food in this book omg gimme some red coast bugs and fire shrimp please and thanks) and feeding his crew and his species’ history is fascinating and devastatingly sad. The latter goes by they/them pronouns because their species is infected with a neurovirus that gives them mental capabilities beyond most other species, with eventual physical degradation side effects. Now, the way Ohan’s willful (suicidal) degradation is treated in the book is its weakest part. Its resolution was wholly unexpected for me and interesting and complicated, but I liked it. Which brings us to the last crew member, Corbin, who is an asshole and the token white guy and his storyline had twists in it I just didn’t see coming and somehow, I ended up – not quite loving him – but understanding him better and being glad for his role on the ship.
Holy Westeros, Batman. That is a huge f///ing cast. And then there’s gads of wonderful, badass, interesting side characters as well. But the writing and the world-building and the flow is so well done. I never felt like I was being infodumped on; I felt immersed and eager to learn more. This book doesn’t quite hit The Left Hand of Darkness perfection, but there’s so much to love.
Now about that reptile sex, and by reptile sex, I mean, Sissix and a female crew member start a relationship, and I thought it was very well written and believable and quite lovely frankly. If it’s two sapient adult beings getting it on, and the buildup has been cute and well-done, then, well, it worked for me. I’m also a fan of The Shape of Water, another recent non-human/human pairing, and again, it was the storytelling and the framework and the characters that made me enjoy their love story. Not the logistics. Would you like to know what I’m not into? My Boyfriend is a Bear. Don’t ruin bears for me. I just don’t get the point of that story – she’s literally “dating” a bear, which can’t speak, and is a bear, and there’s references to them having sex, and if it was supposed to be funny? No? (Also, huge missed opportunity, that story could have been fixed and become interesting and actually cute by switching “boyfriend” to “best friend.” I just wtf. Full stop.) Sorry for this tangent, maybe, but that’s where I sit in the sapient inter-species romances vs straight-up bestiality debate. (Leave bears alone!)
So, while I was utterly engrossed in The Long Way… and would recommend it to you and you and you random internet friends, I can see why parts of it wouldn’t be for everyone. Overall, it was the heart and the bonding moments and the kindness of this crew that made me very happy, and hopeful.