Record of a Spaceborn Few
By Becky Chambers
Paperback, 359 pages
2018, Hodder & Stoughton
The humans of the Exodus Fleet has been set in their ways since their departure from Earth. They’ve joined the GC and accepted the more advanced technology offered by other sapients, yet hold themselves apart from the rest of civilized space. Tessa, Ashby’s brother, has stayed with the Fleet, but recent events have made her question her decision. Sawyer hopes to join the Fleet and find a connection to his ancestors, or at least a place that feels like home. But after disaster strikes, people begin to ask themselves “What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination?”
I always struggle to describe Chambers’s books because they’re more about the people and the development of their relationships than the plot. That blurb is a mash-up of me attempting to summarize and also help from the back of the book.
Anyway, as usual, I love Chambers’s tone and the universe she’s created.
Before I dive into my review, I need to rant about my edition. I preordered this bitch from the UK because I needed the cover to match my other (beautiful) UK editions. So I waited longer for it and then this heckin’ chonker arrived on my doorstep. WTF even!? Why so big?!
My friends on Instagram informed me that I, apparently, bought the previous two books later in the game. What they do is release the larger trade paperbacks, then a year later, the smaller ones. WHO DECIDED THIS!? Isn’t it bad enough that readers have to wait for paperbacks a year after the hardcover if they don’t want to buy the hardcover? Now there are multiple paperback sizes, released a year apart? Fuck that.
Not only am I upset that this book doesn’t match the size of the others, but day one of reading, the bottom edges of the plastic coating on the cover started to peel. Some of it even ripped off the actual print of the cover. Why the heck did I pay $17 for this edition!? I suppose I should have checked the size, but I had no idea this was a thing, so I only checked to make sure the publisher was the same. Boo! I’m crazy so I’ll be buying the CORRECT size next March when it comes out.
Here’s the thing: I don’t have a lot to say about this book.
Admittedly, I’m partial to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet because it was my first experience with Chambers’s work. I feel like I bonded with the crew of The Wayfarer, especially Lovey. Chambers created a vast universe with so many intriguing species and not only that, but there was an emotional hook and something warm and homey about her writing that I’d never experienced before.
Then comes A Closed and Common Orbit. While I was left desperate for more about the crew I’d grown to love, I at least had a familiar face – Lovey. This time around I was sucked into the always interesting idea of sentient AIs, a topic I love (obviously.)
As usual, Chambers took me on an emotional and social journey with her new book, focusing on a different group of sapients in the world she built. Humans! Less interesting in some ways, because I pretty much get how we work. Ok, I don’t actually understand why humans do most of what we do, but that’s not what I mean. The other sapients (or aliens, as we might think of them) are more interesting to me.
There’s a lot of food for thought in Spaceborn Few: relationships and connections – both familial and societal – one’s “purpose” in society and how different species handle death. Every book, even if only loosely connected to the others, expands the universe in so many ways. While the tone of this book was a bit darker, given the focus on death, I still consider this feel-good-sci-fi.
But I didn’t love any of the characters. I didn’t dislike them, but they didn’t snuggle into the cold recesses of my heart like most of the cast of the previous two books. I enjoyed their varying perspectives though.
I was also under the impression this book would be a direct sequel to Angry Planet. Tessa is Ashby’s sister and there’s a note from the author that this book follows the events of the first book, so I put two and two together and assumed I’d be back in familiar territory. WRONG. Sadness! I think my misunderstanding of the plot left me a little underwhelmed.
Overall, though, I still loved the latest installation in the Wayfarers series. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous two books, but I can’t wait to re-read it and annotate it in the future. I think, as long as you aren’t expecting a direct sequel like I was, if you enjoyed the first two books, you’ll like this too. I don’t think it’s necessary to read this after Angry Planet either, so if you think this sounds interesting and you haven’t read the other books, I don’t think it will be an issue.