Record of a Spaceborn Few is the third of Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series. Like the second, it is more set in the same universe than a series, although clever folk may recognise characters linked with the first book. I’m not that clever, so it could have been a standalone. But this is not the review. That follows below.
This completed my SpaceTime Reads Challenge for 2019, and got me to the rank of Interstellar Traveller. If you like scifi or time travel, you can sign up for this reading challenge for 2020 on this post.
Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers #3)
From the ground, we stand. From our ship, we live. By the stars, we hope
Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat.
Tessa chose to stay home when her brother Ashby left for the stars, but has to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened.
Kip, a reluctant young apprentice, itches for change but doesn’t know where to find it.
Sawyer, a lost and lonely newcomer, is just looking for a place to belong.
When a disaster rocks this already fragile community, those Exodans who still call the Fleet their home can no longer avoid the inescapable question:
What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination? [goodreads]
I have reached the stage where reaching for a Becky Chambers book is to scifi what reaching for Elly Griffiths is for crime thrillers—or Rebecca M Douglass for cosy mysteries, for that matter. I know it’s going to be a good read, with interesting diverse characters, most of whom you’re going to like, and a good dose of brain exercise as you work out what’s going on. It’s a snuggle-up and read, and an antidote to stress, choice.
In Record of a Spaceborn Few, Chambers gives us five views of the Exodan situation and invites us to discover the difficulties of being a relatively impoverished race that has joined up with the very much more sophisticated Galactic Council members. How does it feel to be studied by their academics? How do you reconcile your cultural treasures with the modern world you’ve entered? What relevance is the sum of humanity, the remnant of a single lonely planet that its native species destroyed in their greed? And how does a newcomer fit in?
This is not a philosophical work, but these questions trouble our protagonists without them necessarily putting their worries into words. Well, Isabel does, but then Isabel is an archivist, and it’s part of her job to think of such things. But even she lets her hair down. I suppose, really that it was I who had these questions as I finished the book. Lingering thoughts on the nature of life, diversity, culture and environmental sufficiency.
Lots of my favourite things get addressed in this book: recycling in the most fundamental of ways just for starters. Choice of careers in a culture where you work for the good of the community, and not for your own gain. The impact on the concept of gain on traditional ways. Societal change. All told by interlinked and interwoven stories of five (by my count) individuals, with further input from one slug-like alien who records her impressions during her cultural research visit.
stars beneath your feet
The worlds, cultures, ways of living, physical characteristics of aliens, and plot all lead me feeling slightly inadequate as a scifi writer. But the fact that I recognise the skill involved is good. It spurs me on to greater things. There is an element every now and then of ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ and occasionally, ‘darn, that was my idea, too.’ I think I’m justified in continuing with my own version of an idea, but it is the danger of reading scifi when you also write it.
Becky Chambers is a master of this craft. I aspire to be as good, in my own universe. This is a great, gentle but occasionally painful, read. Interesting people reveal stories you can relate to, even if they do live in hexagonal homes where they go down to a cupola to look at the stars beneath their feet. They don’t know what wind and rain is. You do. Enjoy it while you can. I can’t wait to read the next Becky Chambers book (which is already on my kindle!). Add Record of a Spaceborn Few to your list if it’s not there already!
My favourite quote from Record of a Spaceborn Few: Isabel’s words to Kip. loc’n 4741
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If you never leave, you’ll always wonder. You’ll wonder what your life could’ve been, if you did the right thing. Well… scratch that. You’ll always wonder if you did the right thing, no matter what your decision is, big or small. There’s always another path you’ll wonder about.