Record of a Spaceborn Few
is the third entry in a loosely connected set of books written by Becky Chambers called the Wayfarers series. It is set in a Universe where many generations before humans have been forced to abandon Earth and conducted an exodus into space on 32 generation ships formed from the metals and materials of their cities. Eventually the Exodan Fleet made it to a part of space where they met and were allowed entry into a thriving community of alien lifeforms called the Galactic Commons.
The Wayfarers stories began with A Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet
in 2016 and continued with A Closed and Common Orbit
in 2017. Although I was not very enamored of the first book, it definitely had a lot of award-worthy buzz for a debut novel and even now has an average Goodreads rating well above 4.0 out of more than 40k ratings, which is impressive. The structure of that book was off-putting to me in that Chambers uses the now-familiar George R.R. Martin structure of each subsequent chapter being named for and centered around different characters. In A Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet
, the characters are the 7 members of the crew of a ship, and Chambers goes into details about their backgrounds and home planet. However, I simply didn't care much about any of the characters and there's very little plot development, but the universe the book is set in was compelling enough to convince me to read the sequel. A Closed and Common Orbit
has less than the half the number of ratings of its predecessor but an even higher average rating, with good reason. (It was also on the short list for the 2017 Hugo award for Best Novel.
In Record of a Spaceborn Few
the story is centered firmly in the Exodan Fleet with passing references to the numerous planets that humans have colonized throughout the galaxy instead of focusing on one ship and its crew like in the first book. (Although to be fair, by going over the backstory of the crew, we did learrn more about more of the other planets in the Wayfarers universe than we do in this book.) The plot of A Closed and Common Orbit
was much more story-focused, as it dealt with a continuation of the story of one of the crew members from the first book and has a fascinating focus on the cultural norms of a society filled with multiple, variegated forms of alien life.
In the third entry in the Wayfarers series, Chambers has the good sense to make the civilization and culture of the Exodan Fleet the central aspect of the story, more as it was in Book 2. This time she does this by focusing on several characters who play specific roles: a disaffected teenager who wants to rebel against Exodan society; an alien amateur anthropologist who is visiting the ship the story is centered around and a lesbian librarian who is shepherding her around; a clueless human "Grounder" who leaves his planet to visit the Fleet to make his fortune; a single parent with two kids and who yearns for a better life; a spiritual leader who actually does find a hooker with a heart of gold. It is an eclectic mix, and this feature is one of the great strengths of the novel. The main characters and side characters are diverse in age, gender, physical ability, sexual orientation and other factors.
However I still found Record of a Spaceborn Few
to be a slow, somewhat forced read for me. It started off very slowly, and I thought it would become a repeat of the first book where I hated all the characters but instead what happened is that all of the characters grew on me and I was anxious and interested in what happens to them. It's clear that plot is not really what Chambers is interested in, as much more of the focus is on the contours of the character's lives. Happily, Chambers obliges with codas for most of the characters at the end of the book which tell you what happens to them six months to two years after the main events of the central plot are resolved. This allows the reader to end the book on a hopeful and satisfied note.
Title: Record of a Spaceborn Few
July 24, 2018.
October 13, 2018.
OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).
GOODREADS RATING: ★★★½☆ (3.5/5.0).