Our species doesn’t operate by reality. It operates by stories. Cities are a story. Money is a story. Space was a story, once. A king tells us a story about who we are and why we’re great, and that story is enough to make us go kill people who tell a different story. Or maybe the people kill the king because they don’t like his story and have begun to tell themselves a different one.
It’s no secret that I’m completely “ride or die” for Becky Chambers and her Wayfarers series, and Record of a Spaceborn Few is further affirmation of what A Closed and Common Orbit cemented (read my review here), what The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet began. Like the two before it, Chambers’ latest book tells a fresh, personal story set in the world she first described in 2014’s Wayfarers #1.
Note: This is a standalone story set it the world and the continuity of the Wayfarers series, and does not directly reference any of the characters in the previous two books.
This time, we readers are finally getting up close with the oft-referenced human travelers, the Exodans. This story follows four (or five) characters living in the Exodus Fleet, which has long since left its mission to travel the stars behind it and entered a permanent orbit around a small sun. The Exodan community faces many challenges, mainly stemming from the necessities of living in the closed environment of the fleet. Complicating this are two factors: 1) Exodans by-and-large insist on perpetuating as insular a lifestyle as possible, wanting to be self-contained and self-sufficient, and 2) more Exodans leave the fleet to seek life elsewhere in the Universe than come back to rejoin their old home. In addition, the remains of an exploded Exodus ship are in orbit with the rest of the fleet, casting a permanent dark cloud over Exodan life and standing as a reminder of how fragile, how tenuous, life in the fleet truly is.
What appears at first to be a simple story (the lightest by far, to my eye) turns out to be a beautiful story that unfolds gracefully chapter by chapter, piece by piece. Each of Chambers’ stories has read to me as an exploration of what it means to be human – particularly in a universe that contains so much more than humanity. From that viewpoint this story carries on that proud tradition, exploring the lives, the passions, the families of characters throughout the fleet.
In Record of a Spaceborn Few, Chambers recounts a whole history of humanity, space travel, and interspecies interactions by allowing her characters to discuss that history’s present-day impact on everyday choices and challenges facing Exodans. Chambers demonstrates surpassing skill in economy of explanation, allowing small exchanges between characters (a discussion of a neighbor’s anti-import bias, for instance) to illuminate backstory or culture and trusting the reader to understand the implications.
This book features the most POV characters of any Wayfarers story, and all of the POV characters are human (arguably, minus one Harmagian) and when combined with the fact that the Exodan fleet is populated primarily by humans, this in general is the must human of all the Wayfarer books (so far). Personally, I feel that this dramatically intensifies the “meditations on humanity” content in this book as well as making the individual stories maximally relatable to all kinds of readers. We do, however, lose contact with Chambers’ beautifully complex non-human races in this exchange (minus, again, one Harmagian).
I was particularly moved by Eyas, whose role in the community and personal character are an incredible intersection of respectful traditions, insight into Exodan bias, and the importance of individuating your identity from that given by your title. However, each of the POV characters (and the people in their lives) adds tremendously to the overall narrative while tracing a moving and relatable personal journey.
This book is notable, I think, for its uncharacteristically satisfying conclusion. Unlike the previous two, this book wraps up its individual storylines with lovingly rendered, satisfying final chapters. I worry, then, that this will be the final Wayfarers book. In truth, nothing could satisfy my hunger for more of this world, for more of the characters she’s written. I’m not done here yet, not by far; I hope Chambers isn’t either.