Found Family in Speculative Fiction

By Kristen B.

There’s an old saying that while you can’t choose your family, it’s lucky that you can choose your friends. Some of my favorite stories include found family, where the characters forge tight bonds that go beyond simple friendship into family feeling. These are often the books that live on my comfort reads shelf. It’s also one of the oldest tropes in existence: the band of brothers (or maybe just the band) who live and die for each other. If it can’t actually save the world, friendship can at least make it a better place.

This mostly brown cover features a planet in the background and a chunky spaceship in the front. The title appears in shaded block letters which gradually increase in size.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook from Libby/OverDrive)

This is the book I hand to people who tell me they don’t really like science fiction, but want to try something new. If you ever enjoyed the show Firefly, this novel will feel familiar. Set on an older, slightly beat-up spaceship, the crew represents a wide range of galactic species who pull together as a team, a ragtag group of political and social misfits. The fairly minimal plot focuses on the need to push a new wormhole/jump, which means that one ship has to take the slow voyage to anchor the jump points. It may sound tedious but it’s never boring with all that time to get to know the quirky crew of the Wayfarer. Two of my favorites are the pacifist chef who comes from a species that essentially committed self-genocide through endless war, and Lovey (short for Lovelace), who is the ship’s AI. While not so heavy on forward action, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet provides an interconnected set of character studies that leaves you feeling more than a little warm and fuzzy.

A blue cover with an image of Jupiter in the background features a flotilla of different spaceships framing the title across the middle of the image.

A Pale Light in the Black by K. B. Wagers

Some of the most enduring found family stories tell about military outfits whose bonds are stronger than blood – kinda like the A-Team. Meet Max and Jenks, officers (commissioned and non-com, respectively) on the NEO-G ship Zuma’s Ghost. A sort of space-based Coast Guard, NEO-G (Near-Earth Orbital Guard) Interceptor teams run counter-smuggling interdiction operations and rescue missions. Max has recently joined Zuma’s Ghost, after Jenks’ brother is promoted off the ship. Part of the story revolves around Max and Jenks finding a good working relationship during various military actions. Part of the story concerns the Boarding Games annual competition, which happens among teams from all military service branches and which Zuma’s Ghost just missed winning the previous year. Jenks is the all-time champion cage fighter, and Max, navigator extraordinaire, is still discovering what skills she contributes to the team. Underlying all this surface fun, something more sinister lurks that threatens Max, Jenks, and all of Earth. This book rolls with a ton of space opera fun, hitting all the beats you expect and some you don’t. It’s also one of the most inclusive set of characters ever thrown together to save the solar system!

A woman kneels upon a beach gesturing with her right hand toward a flat sea, with symbols traced on the sand beneath her. The palette is muted beiges and blues.

Winter Tide by Ruthanne Emrys (also available as an eBook from Libby/OverDrive)

I must admit to avoiding this title for longer than I should have given its association with the Lovecraft mythos. Lovecraft’s opinions and bigotry have not stood the test of time well, and I was a little apprehensive about diving into the deeps with a Cthulu-inspired novel. How wrong I was! Emrys reconstructs the Lovecraftian milieu into a family saga that demands empathy for the Other. Set in Innsmouth along the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, down the road from Miskatonic University (home to lots of unhelpful white men), Aphra Marsh and her brother Caleb look to reclaim their heritage that was stolen when the government interred her people away from the sea in the desert. The Innsmouth community comes from People of the Water (as opposed to Air or Earth), who eventually leave dry land and evolve to live as Deep Ones in the sea. Aphra needs to find trusted friends and colleagues to re-establish a home at Innsmouth before developers demolish what little remains and to reclaim her people’s heritage from the dim reaches of the university’s library. This quiet, personal novel focuses on staying true to yourself and trusting others who travel the path with you – even if one of them happens to be an FBI agent.

A face with long ears peeks over the bottom of the cover wearing a crown shaped liked a palace.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (also available as an eAudiobook from Libby/OverDrive)

Do you love pauper to prince stories? Heroes that go from the kitchen or the farm to the throne? Me too! Half-elf, half-goblin Maya grew up in almost total isolation after the death of his mother, living in a remote marshy estate with an equally outcast, abusive tutor. His father, the Emperor of Elfland, had come to regret his political marriage, exiling Maya and his mother from court. This book opens with Maya receiving news that he is the only remaining legitimate heir after his father and older brothers are killed in a terrible accident. Promising himself to be true to his mother’s precepts of kindness and generosity, Maya tries to maneuver in an imperial court for which he has no frame of reference or requisite education. He makes his way tentatively toward a previously unimaginable royal future, grounded in the adamant idea that he will not continue the cycle of abuse levied against him. Along the way and despite assassination attempts, he finds kindred spirits – helpful councilors, his maternal grandfather (who rules the goblin empire), long-lost aunts and sisters, and devoted bodyguards – to ease the burden of royal privilege and deference. I love this book to pieces, and it only improves with re-reading. The language can be a little dense at first, but stick with it and you will be greatly rewarded with a story of courtly politics and the power of kindness.

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, and take walks in the park.

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