So the next book on my Hugo nominee reading list is Becky Chambers’ A Closed and Common Orbit, except that it’s a sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, so I ended up reading both.
You’ll recall that I went on for a bit about how little How Like the Lightning felt like a first novel, right. Well, The Long Way feels very, very much like the first novel that it is. Clunky writing, cliched setup and world-building, characters that feel like lightly-disguised versions of characters from TV shows, a sloppy plot that kinda ambles around pointlessly and is full of coincidences. Really, all the hallmarks are there.
But that’s not to say it’s bad. It reminded me a lot of early Scalzi—Old Man’s War, let’s say, even down to the tedious infodumps about how the warp drives work. I’d say it’s probably a bit more fun than the Scalzi, though, so if you like sloppy-but-enthusiastic found-family-onna-spaceship stuff, it’ll be up your alley.
But anyway, that’s not the book that got Hugo-nominated. The second, nominated novel is significantly better. A Closed and Common Orbit is a quasi-sequel to the first book—you’d probably want to read them in order, but they don’t have a ton of characters overlapping—and it’s about growing up and learning to be a person, from a couple of different angles. It’s a more distinctive novel all around, with characters that feel more developed, a story that actually is about something, and writing that doesn’t embarrass. The growth between the two novels is huge, and promises good stuff from Chambers’ future works.
Still and all, I’m not sure I’d really consider it Hugo-quality, but then, I’ve thought that about a lot of past nominees (and plenty of winners, even), and this is better than a lot of those, so maybe I’m being too picky. At any rate, if it wouldn’t get my vote for the award, it’s definitely good enough that I’m looking forward to Chambers’ next book.