Title: Record of a Spaceborn Few
Author: Becky Chambers
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: July 24th, 2018
Genre(s) and Subject(s): Space Opera, Aliens, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 368 (paperback)
Becky Chambers’ third entry in her highly-acclaimed Wayfarers series opens with a catastrophic accident and a mass funeral. Thousands of people, including our main characters, come together in the wake of this tragedy to weep for those they’ve never even met. And this prologue really kind of sets the tone for the rest of the story. Celebration of life in the midst of death. A community coming together for support and healing.
I’ve seen the Wayfarers books compared with Mass Effect and Firefly, two very popular space opera franchises. And while I can see a few similarities in this book–humans tentatively coexisting with aliens, spaceships serving as homes–Spaceborn Few doesn’t have the sprawling, galactic feel of Mass Effect or Firefly. What it does excel at is homing in on all the minutiae of a person’s everyday life and blowing them up to dramatic proportions. In that respect, it reminded a lot of NBC’s drama series This is Us, complete with all the warm and fuzzy family dramas. These aren’t galaxy-spanning conflicts but microconflicts that don’t extend beyond one person, one family, but are just as meaningful, if not more.
We follow the lives of five characters who reside in the Exodus Fleet (either temporarily or permanently), which is a series of ships that set out from Earth generations ago in an attempt to carve out a new, better chapter for humanity.
Tessa is a mother of two and works at the cargo bay where she keeps track of the goods coming in and out of the Fleet. Her perspective was my favourite, as her interactions with her children, Aya and Ky, are so endearing and nauseating sweet (in a good way).
Isabel is the oldest character of the group (she has grandchildren!). She’s an archivist who’s playing guide to an alien researcher who has come to visit the Fleet for the first time. I loved their little debates on the differences between human social nuances and alien ones. They serve as a celebration of the best of human culture but also an embracing of the “other.”
Sawyer is in his early twenties and unlike the other characters, he’s a newcomer to the Fleet. He’s come here to trace his family’s roots back to the place where it all really began (post-Earth) and to experience all that the Exodan culture has to offer. And boy, is he ever excited.
Eyas is a caretaker, and her job is to prepare dead bodies and bury them as fertilizer throughout the Fleet’s gardens. It’s a job that she loves but it does make for a lonely life, as many people are confused and repulsed by the idea of being intimate with someone who literally handles death on a daily basis. With Eyas’ POV we also get positive explorations of sex work, which I wholly loved and appreciated.
Kip is a teenage boy and the youngest of the cast. At sixteen he’s already tired of life on the Fleet and wants out badly (cue the Beauty and the Beast lyrics: “I want so much more than they’ve got planned”). Trouble is, he doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life once he graduates.
There isn’t much of a plot. And I know some people will physically recoil at the very idea, but let me tell you, I’ve never been more entertained by a story with such a heavy focus on gardening, cooking, corpse-preparing, long distance phone-calling, and other such mundane activities. It’s as domestic as it gets and there’s comfort to be found in that.
Most of all, though, the story made me feel good. About humans. About being a human. About sexuality, relationships, and all the uncertainties that life likes to throw at our feet. Record of a Spaceborn Few is my first glimpse into Becky Chambers’ writing and it sure won’t be the last.
Copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review