Rating: 4.4 (out of 10)
Now that A Closed and Common Orbit has received a Hugo nomination for Best Novel, it would seem that Becky Chambers fandom is inescapable.
That’s really not such a terrible thing. She’s basically invented an entirely new sub-subgenre of science fiction – the Rainbows & Hugs Space Opera (RHSO, for short) – in which most people are basically good and decent and want nice things to happen to each other; in which no conflict cannot be resolved, no obstacle not overcome, if there is an understanding to be reached between folks who recognize each other’s innate humanity; in which no amount of meanness by the mean meanies who do mean things to people cannot be endured and transcended by the kindness of the kind.
Becky Chambers leaves no sentiment unexpressed, and is unafraid to yank mercilessly at your heartstrings until you either submit to her gentile, benevolent will, or die of myocardial infarction.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing, reading, or being a fan of RHSO – rainbows are pretty, hugs make you feel all warm inside. If you don’t like rainbows and hugs, you’re probably kind of a shit, and no one wants you around anyway.
And herein lies the problem. A Closed and Common Orbit is full of all sorts of pleasant things: pleasantly competent writing, pleasantly likeable characters, pleasantly imagined settings. Enough unpleasantness arises to generate the struggles and stumbling blocks necessary to qualify this as an actual story, but nothing that can’t be conquered with a little plucky determination and a helping hand from a friend, just like your parents and teachers and every children’s book you’ve ever read won’t stop telling you.
It’s not a bad book, I guess, but it is a mediocre one: predictable, safe, reassuring. But it’s also a novel that you can’t actively dislike without being the asshole in the room, and honestly, I think I like that even less than a novel that I can just go ahead and dislike for being mediocre.
So I’m with you, Becky Chambers fans. You are good people, who want to believe in a better future full of better people, where decency and graciousness and magnanimity will carry us all through this life. I want to believe in those things, too. Sadly, I’m the jerk who wants better fiction to take me there.