Sunday, December 15, 2019

Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
Published: Hodder & Stoughton (2018)
Series: Book 3 of the Wayfarers
Awards Nominated: Nominated for the Hugo, Locus SF and Red Tentacle Awards

The Book:

Hundreds of years ago, the last humans on Earth boarded the Exodus Fleet in search of a new home among the stars. After centuries spent wandering empty space, their descendants were eventually accepted by the well-established species that govern the Milky Way.

But that was long ago. Today, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, the birthplace of many, yet a place few outsiders have ever visited. While the Exodans take great pride in their original community and traditions, their culture has been influenced by others beyond their bulkheads. As many Exodans leave for alien cities or terrestrial colonies, those who remain are left to ponder their own lives and futures: What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination? Why remain in space when there are habitable worlds available to live? What is the price of sustaining their carefully balanced way of life—and is it worth saving at all?

A young apprentice, a lifelong spacer with young children, a planet-raised traveler, an alien academic, a caretaker for the dead, and an Archivist whose mission is to ensure no one’s story is forgotten, wrestle with these profound universal questions. The answers may seem small on the galactic scale, but to these individuals, it could mean everything.” ~WWEnd.com

I read this one as a part of a community read-along, for which you can see my spoiler-filled answers to the discussion questions here, here, and here.  Since I’ve posted a lot about it lately, I pushed this review to the top of my review queue.

My Thoughts:

The novels in the Wayfarers series all take place in the same universe, but the stories are only very tangentially related.  To learn about the universe, I would still recommend reading them in publication order, but it doesn’t matter as much for the plot or characters.  With regards to the plot, Chambers does not follow a traditional narrative structure in Record of a Spaceborn Few.  Instead, she tends towards a “slice-of-life” structure, which is more focused on character study through the events of daily life than in conflict or adventures.  We are following a handful of people who live in the Exodus Fleet, the group of habitable spaceships that (along with Mars) has become the homeland of humans after the death of Earth.  The story explores each of their relationship to their home, their thoughts on the meaning of their lives, and how they see a future in the Fleet or out of it.

At first, I felt like there were too many switching perspectives, and the general peacefulness of the characters’ lives made it a little difficult to keep them straight.  After getting at least a few chapters from each viewpoint, though, the different voices and themes began to take shape in my mind. It was also interesting to learn more about Fleet society, and how the necessity of harmony and balance continues to shape their culture.  Though it is an unusual science-fictional setting, the Fleet also has a lot of problems in common with small US towns. The Fleet is seen as a backwater, and there’s a drain of the younger generation to far-off universities and career opportunities. The Fleet is also seen as not having all that much to offer the wider galactic society, so there is generally not a lot of interest from outsiders.  Concerns about the long-term future and safety of the Fleet, it’s place in wider society, and the value of its culture influence the character arcs of each of the viewpoint characters.

Just as the wider societal problems have an analogue in reality, the personal troubles of each character are relatable to the lives of modern readers.  I suspect that readers will identify more strongly with different characters, depending on where they currently are in their lives. I was especially drawn to the story of Eyas, a woman with a culturally valued career in post-life care. She loved her career and her community, but also found that it was demanding and restricted how much of herself she was able to express.  Other characters included Kip (a teen who longs to run off to a university), Isabelle (an elderly woman forging ties with alien researchers), Sawyer (a planet-born young man longing for a simpler life), and Tessa (a mother who is uncertain about her family’s future in the Fleet). I enjoyed following them as they each looked for their own answers, and determined the path that their lives should take. 

My Rating: 3.5/5

Record of a Spaceborn Few is the third novel in the Wayfarers universe, though the story itself is standalone. That story takes even more of a “slice-of-life” approach than the previous books in the series, as we follow the perspectives of a handful of humans in the Exodus Fleet going about their daily lives. It’s a peaceful novel, focused on character study rather than a traditional plot.  I enjoyed learning about the culture of the Fleet, and seeing the challenges it faced as an enduring community. Despite the science-fictional setting, I feel like each of the characters represented relatable anxieties from different stages of human life. It’s an unusual novel, but one that I’m glad to have read. I’ll keep an eye out for the next Wayfarers book!

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