Record of a Spaceborn Few
July 26, 2018 2:57 PM - by Becky Chambers - Subscribe

Return to the sprawling universe of the Galactic Commons, as humans, artificial intelligence, aliens, and some beings yet undiscovered explore what it means to be a community in this exciting third adventure in the acclaimed and multi-award-nominated science fiction Wayfarers series, brimming with heartwarming characters and dazzling space adventure. Hundreds of years ago, the last humans on Earth boarded the Exodus Fleet in search of a new home among the stars. After centuries spent wandering...

If you liked her first two books -- and especially the first one -- you will like this book, which is about nice people who want to help who all live together on a spaceship, except this time the ship isn't going anywhere. If you didn't like the first two, this is not going to change your mind.

Some reviews:

If you’re looking for a story stuffed full of substance, with sex and space battles and betrayals, Record of a Spaceborn Few really isn’t the book for you, but if the idea of a near silent and not at all violent novel about decent people in relatively difficult situations trying to do what’s right for them right then appeals—in other words, if you’ve enjoyed the Wayfarers series in the past—then Becky Chambers’ latest may well be the purest distillation of her characteristically smooth science fiction to date.
-Niall Ferguson,

The multiple narrators and seemingly unrelated plot lines converge thematically into an intensely powerful and multifaceted meditation on time, history, change, and memory, leavened with a welcome touch of humor. The characters are distinct and lovable, each shedding light on a different facet of the Fleet.
-Publisher's Weekly
posted by jeather (10 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
As the mother of a teen boy, the message that the kids are all right was very moving and comforting. All of these books show such real ways that imperfect parents struggle to let go, pass on their values, protect their families in uncertain times. And yet, the books also show clearly children and young adults in serious trouble, and not all endings are neatly happy.
posted by Malla at 6:50 PM on July 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just finished it and I loved it.

This is genuinely, deeply SFnal as any other book I've ever read. It does two very SF things at once: it mediates on the future fate of humanity, and in ways that prod the reader to challenge their assumptions (the anthropocentric hubris that humanity is extraordinary and destined for cosmic greatness); and it subversively leads its (largely Anglo-American) audience to adopt the perspective, via SF world-building, of a person in a marginalized culture at the fringe of a hegemony. It implicitly presents the reader with some of the core difficulties in developmental economics and cultural anthropology. There are Ideas at the core of the book, if that's essential to your understanding of science fiction.

It is that, but also very human and personal, grounding these ideas and themes in the daily lives of strongly characterized and diverse people -- as, I believe, all fiction should.

This easily could have been more of a conventional genre novel. All the ingredients are there. Instead, the part that could have been the heart of a potboiler is used to better and more meaningful effect as, well, a way into the heart of the book. It's a tragic, stupid death that is right at the intersection of past and future, of immigrants and emigrants, of different people moving through different stages of their lives. This is the better novel for this, because rather than the central gear of merely plot, it serves as a passage, a mechanism of transformation.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:09 PM on August 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just finished. Many feels. A little short on conflict. A little too tidy at the end.
Still loved it and will miss my time in it.
posted by signal at 7:02 PM on August 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ah, I loved this. I agree, Malla, that it was a hopeful book for a parent to read - both from the individual "kids are all right" perspective as well as from the "humans are going to be around doing their human thing someplace for a long time to come" perspective.

One of the things I love best about these books is the extremely sparing use of violence. I've been reading a lot of Star Wars novels this year and been pretty desensitized to just ridiculous amounts of combat in the fiction I read, and I love that in these books each life is precious and each incidence of violence or death is shocking and upsetting. It's so much better aligned with the actual human reality of the overwhelming majority of her readers.

I wish there were an alternate universe where Becky Chambers published these books under a man's name because I am SOOOO curious how the reception would have been different.
posted by potrzebie at 10:20 PM on August 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

I love these books. I love how small and focused they are; our protagonists aren't galaxy spanning empires or conquering heroes, they're just people being people.
posted by graventy at 8:37 AM on November 20, 2018

I'd gotten used to thinking about Chambers' books as big warm hugs from SF*, so the moment where she unceremoniously just killed Sawyer really hit me.

There's just so much I love about these books -- that they start in Long Way with the only white man in the book meekly submitting to a diversity lecture, that Ashby keeps his pacifism under stress, that there are still garbage human cultures like the one Pepper escaped from, her universe stuffed with beings that are still fundamentally just folks that can choose to understand each other, that humans really just don't matter and that most humans are speaking a literal alien language because they're refugees there... That this one ends up being sort of about how the death of someone nobody knows or particularly cares about still rattles around and affects people is just another.

*I should not have, because Lovey, but still
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:36 AM on November 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's took me forever (well, relatively forever) to read this. I understand that the Wayfarer's series is filled with stuff not really happening, but even this seemed like kind of stretch. For the record, thought A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet was interesting if a little boring, and A Closed and Common Orbit served me my own heart on a goddamn platter - I read most of it within 24 hours. I kept on waiting for the moment where the lives would intersect, and nearly gave up when I realized I was halfway through and it just hadn't happened yet. It took me a while to remember who was who among Irene, Tessa, and Eyas, and the only one I really cared about was Sawyer - he seemed to be the only one trying to do something. Then Sawyer died.

I'd gotten used to thinking about Chambers' books as big warm hugs from SF*, so the moment where she unceremoniously just killed Sawyer really hit me.

gory personal story time:
When I was a teenager my best friend's family owned a funeral home, and this was just from me getting a small splashback of the experience, but the talk about the alienation and discomfort/lionization of those who have to deal with death seemed pretty real. People seem to expect a lot of wild and wacky stories - stories that aren't really hers to tell, stories that are really about strangers dealing with grief, and certainly not stories I'm comfortable sharing. I usually try to keep it to 'I had very nice prom pictures that were taken in the funeral home and she complained about Seventh Day Adventists making a lot of noise on school nights'. People would get weird about even calling her phone number because it'd go to the funeral home receptionist first, so they'd call me to relay messages.

Eyas's way of dealing with it seemed pretty real, if not super interesting to me.

The second part of this is that one of her family friends was murdered, had his face smashed in, and her aunt spent the entire night trying to make him recognizable so he could have an open casket funeral and failed. They used some photos from my best friend's quincenera that I was in. He was sixteen, I think? Maybe seventeen. I didn't know him that well, but even hearing about it kind of fucked me up a little bit. I never got the impression that anyone who hadn't known him personally beforehand cared or thought it was tragic. 'Gang related' was used a lot.

So Sawyer's death hurt, but Eyas's reaction to the desecrated body was an unexpected gut punch.
/end gory personal story

Anyway, the last third worked a lot better for me. The funeral was moving, and I liked Kai's epilogue. Between the death and the funeral, I thought it was sweet but not very realistic that this closed group would care very much about an outsider, so I was a little glad that they mentioned that there was victim blaming - even in a better version of humanity. Tessa's story never really seemed to relate much to the others - except at the beginning, with Kai, and I was honestly not really sure where they were going with it until George showed up.

I'm glad Sunny was handled the way he was - He and Eyas are friends, but he gets to still be a sex worker and there's nothing shameful about that.

(Also, found myself getting offended on Lovey's behalf when Tessa described her passing as 'like a pet dying')
posted by dinty_moore at 12:41 PM on July 16, 2019

I realize these books are not by any stretch of the imagination Hard Scifi, and I genuinely like the gentle conflict-light tone of the plot. I generally love Chambers' world-building, her future feels very Star Trek optimistic while also seeming very realistic.

Until this book.

First, lets' talk about the Oxocomo. Homesteaders have floated in space for hundreds of years, with tens of thousands of people on board. These ships are laid out in a redundant, fractal, hexagonal grid. But one shuttle crashes into, if I'm not mistaken, a shuttlebay, and that's it? The whole ship is ripped apart like tinfoil? Totaled? Tens of thousands of casualties, in a ship made out of sealable hexagons? Realistically, a shuttle impact should have killed everyone on the shuttle and maybe a couple dozen more people, tops. Even if the shuttle somehow broke the backbone of the ship, that shouldn't have killed everyone on board, not when the ship is made of self-contained districts that are broken down into smaller and smaller units each of which maintaining its own pressure boundary. Pressure doors should be habitually shut except in passing. Every open pressure door should have automatically snapped shut the instant they detected a pressure differential. A small shuttle hitting a huge ship should have been like a person getting shot by a bullet. What kind of bullet makes every part of your body explode at the same time? Nothing short of vaporizing in some kind of reactor containment breach should have done in a ship built like the Oxocomo.

Sawyer found a still-sealed section of the ship, to his detriment, so obviously parts of the ship survived, but never once does the book mention any survivors of the Oxocomo. Also, despite the Exodan's deep-seated culture of repair and reuse, not once does anyone pay service to the idea of repairing the Oxocomo. Surely there are sections of the ship that are still fully operational to start with, ready for occupancy at that exact moment. I get that there's not a surplus of labor in the exodus fleet, but you know who would be the perfect labor force for fixing the Oxocomo? The survivors of the Oxocomo. Except there aren't any, for some reason.

I was shocked when Eyas just walked up on Sunny AT HIS HOME and he was just totally cool with it. Surely as a sex worker he's used to the concept of people getting too attached. I mean, Sunny isn't even his real name for chrissakes, not that we ever learn what his real name is. Had there been a scene of Eyas and Sunny at the Tryst Club where they mutually agreed to be friends outside that context it would have been fine, or if Eyas had brought up the idea of Immigrant Class in the club that's fine too. Eyas arriving unbidden in Sunny's private home? Totally not fucking OK. There ought to be serious socal mores in place that whatever happens in Tryst Club STAYS in Tryst Club. There was a whole movie about this, it's called What About Bob, and it proves it's a terrible idea to bring your work home with you when your work is helping people with their emotional issues.

Kai and Raz were horrible little shits and I hated them every moment I spent with them; so in that way they were exceptionally well-written teenagers, bravo.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:10 PM on July 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have more.

One more thing about the Oxocomo: Originally, the homesteaders were designed to generate centrifugal gravity. Maybe they weren't generating 1G, but it was probably significant. It's an engineering challenge to produce something that can spin and not tear itself apart. Building a spinning cylinder in space is a lot like building a suspension bridge that has to support its own weight. Those ships would have been built tough enough to hold themselves together for the long haul. I could believe a shuttle crash hitting just right such that it snaps the supports keeping the ship together and it spins itself apart-if the ship was still spinning, which it's not. Also, the chunks flung away into space should have still maintained their airtight integrity. Anyway, I'd expect a ship originally designed to spin to be even more resilient when it's no longer spinning. Maybe the Exodans cannibalized those supports when the ships stopped spinning. Seems like it was a bad idea.

OK let's talk about Exodan funerary practices. While turning human bodies into mulch for the plants and the trees is a poetic as hell, it doesn't make any practical sense. One, dirt would be in no short supply on the ship. You know what people do every day? They produce dirt. Dirt that needs to be processed and dried and prepared and reused. Dirt is everywhere. It's inescapable, and in a closed system like a homesteader you better believe all that dirt needs to get put back into the system. I hope you're doing something with the lint in your dryer, and the dust in your air filters, because that mass adds up over the centuries. You're going to be swimming in dirt, and it's going to be a challenge to get all that dirt recycled effectively. I'd start with massive algae farms to eat dirt and produce oxygen, then find something useful to do with that algae, like eat it.

You know what doesn't really need dirt? Terrestrial plants. Sure, plants get some nutrients from dirt, and they get water out of wet dirt, but plants get a vast majority of their mass from the air, not the ground. They get it from the CO2 we breathe. If you really want to turn humans into plants, you need to put our carbon in the air, not the ground. Cremation seems like a weird choice for a space ship, but that's what's going to get the mass of your body reused as plants. You know, though, there's a lot of high-quality calories in a human body. Okay, fine, let's assume cannibalism is off the table, but you know what else probably wouldn't mind chowing down on a human? Bugs. Toss the body in a Red Coaster pen and let nature take its course. Also, bones are probably the most reliable source of calcium in deep space. It'd be a good idea to hang on to those and make 'em into calcium supplements for Grandma.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:03 PM on July 22, 2019

Looking back a lot of my criticisms are overly harsh, but this is definitely the Wayfarer book I enjoyed the least and a big part of that was the worldbuilding, which struck me as much weaker than in previous books.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:18 PM on March 4, 2021

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