This is one I heard about from British bookish folk, and then had to wait a very long time for it to come out in the U.S., where it just came out last year, and a bit longer for it to burble to the top of the pile.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. Harper Voyager, 2014.
As our story opens, Rosemary Harper has just been hired as a clerk for a small, ramshackle tunneling ship that never was so official as to have someone to handle their legal paperwork before. She’s got her secrets, but has at least legitimately gone through the training she’s claimed to. The crew of the small ship consists of some humans, including Captain Ashby; the cranky and anti-social Corbin who manages the algae the supply the ship’s power; and Jenks and Kizzy, the fun-loving techs. It also includes the pilot, Sissix, a member of a cuddle-loving lizard-like species; Dr. Chef, who sounded rather like a large caterpillar; and Ohan the navigator, deliberately infected with a virus that allows for seeing through space/time, so that Ohan is now considered plural.
The ship’s work of creating the tunnels through space which allow for practical interstellar travel is considered unglamorous, but it does allow for lots of adventures. Though there is a big mission towards the second half – the “angry planet” of the title – this is about the characters and the vignettes, as well as observations on cultural differences, both between species and between the different groups of humans. I saw some people complaining about these in their Amazon reviews, but I liked the feeling that it gave me of classic sci-fi, only with modern ideas and characters I actually cared about.
It’s hard to avoid comparisons to Firefly with the ragtag crew and the cobbled-together ship, though this one goes on much more official missions. But if you, like me, enjoyed the interpersonal relations in Firefly as much as the official Plot, this might be for you. My love, when I described it to him, though it might be rather like his beloved Maturin/Aubrey seafaring books, which are much more about the journey than the destination. This is written for adults, with references to a fair amount of sex and illicit drug use, none of it explicit. I’d give it to sci-fi loving teens if I knew them and probably their parents well. Definitely recommended for anyone looking for a character-focused space ramble.