Becky Chambers writes such nice books. Not nice like well-behaved children and polite cocktail parties, but nice like heartfelt hugs and handmade gifts. Nice in a way that makes me feel good about life.

The setup of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet reminds me of Firefly: small, scrappy, tightly-knit crew of a spaceship goes on a journey. Much of the book is spent on getting to know the crew members, their species, and the relationships between them. The details of all the difficulties and dangers they inevitably face are not that important – all focus is on what happens to the people. They live together, struggle with their problems together, and ultimately come out better at the other end of the process.

I like the way Becky Chambers imagines the future. It has futuristic technology and inventions that we don’t, from spaceships to stasis fields. But it’s like today in that things are sometimes made on the cheap, wear out, may need a kick to work, etc.

This actually characterises much of this book’s worldview. It’s homey and down to earth. Technological advances are balanced out by porridge and piles of unsorted bolts.

The plot is a bit thin and the book doesn’t explore any deep or novel ideas, so it’s not a book that will make an enduring mark on the world. But universe and the characters in it are colourful and vividly described, and it’s all simply good fun, so this is a book to read and re-read with genuine pleasure.

A Closed and Common Orbit ups the game a bit. The themes in the first book were very PC: racism/speciesism, “live and let live”. This one explores the question of what it means to be human, and to be family. There are two parallel plot threads. In current time, an AI called Lovey (short for Lovelace) is put into a human body and tries to adapt and learn, and fit in with the humans she lives with. In past time, a girl escapes from a slave planet with the help of another AI, who is more of a parent to her than any human has ever been.

Superficially there is not much the two lives have in common. But both characters start from a confined, deprived background (in the case of Lovey, all she has ever experienced is the inside of one spaceship) and suddenly burst into freedom. Both now have to make sense of a whole wide confusing universe. Both have to learn what it means to be human and have relationships with other humans – and how to be free and set their own direction in life. (Less profoundly but very enjoyably, both revel in previously unknown pleasurable sensations of touch, smell and taste.)

Fundamentally this book, like the first one, is a warm, intimate story about friendship and love. I hope Becky Chambers goes on to write many more in the same vein.