I’m not usually the sort of person who cries over books. There’s got to be something special about a book that makes me cry — something larger than life, almost. Whatever the trick is, Becky Chambers has got it down: I’ve cried over every book of hers that I’ve read so far, often multiple times, even on rereads.
There’s not a huge amount that happens in this book, in some ways — though I don’t quite understand it when people say nothing happens, because there are a few episodes which include the crew being in danger, and then one big incident at the end where the characters are in serious danger. There is a lot of slice-of-life (in space!) and character-study in the makeup of this book, and it’d be silly to pretend it’s not: part of the draw for the people who love it is the hopefulness of many parts of it, and the fact that the characters are pretty much all good people.
It’s pretty character-focused, but there’s a good helping of world-building as well, a sense of a galaxy outside the story. We barely get to meet some of the species in the Galactic Commons, but we get a sense that they’re out there, and sometimes scraps of what they’re like. We get a sense of some of the rules and customs, a little of the history, and some sense of where things might be going.
Overall, if you’re looking for hard SF and grittiness and characters who will do bad things for good reasons, or good things for bad reasons, then this ain’t it and it isn’t ever going to be it. This is about people who are trying to be good, who really do try their best, who become a family of sorts and travel through the universe building tunnels to allow other people to safely travel large distances in a short space of time. It’s warm and fuzzy in many ways, though it has some highly emotional and wrenching moments, and there’s a deep faith in the ability of people (not just humans, but in sapients in general) to be good to one another.