Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers is another standalone novel set in the Wayfarers universe, along with Long Way To A Small Angry Planet and A Closed And Common Orbit both of which I've previously reviewed and enjoyed. Although it continues the trend of gorgeous covers, I didn't quite enjoy this one as much as the other two Wayfarers books.

From the ground, we stand. From our ship, we live. By the stars, we hope

Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat.

Tessa chose to stay home when her brother Ashby left for the stars, but has to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened.

Kip, a reluctant young apprentice, itches for change but doesn't know where to find it.

Sawyer, a lost and lonely newcomer, is just looking for a place to belong.

When a disaster rocks this already fragile community, those Exodans who still call the Fleet their home can no longer avoid the inescapable question:

What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination?

The title of this novel pretty literally describes the story. The book is about a fleet of generation ships that left Earth in search of better worlds after it had been completely ruined. Some time after that, the Exodan fleet encountered the Galactic Commons which is a conglomeration of alien with much better technology than what the Exodans left home with. So the Exodan fleet, a few generations after first contact, find themselves in a position to merge with the rest of galactic civilisation (including the humans left behind on Mars and around the Solar System), and some use the opportunity of new technology to head for planets. But some are used to the way of life on the ships and, with a few technological improvements and the gift of a sun no one else was using, continue to live life their ancestors did. This is a story about some of those people.

It's quite a philosophical premise and makes for a fairly philosophical and very character-driven story. The characters are set up to show us different aspects of life among the Fleet and how Exodan values clash and mesh with the outside world. We get a very good idea of how life works for the Exodans — the foil of a visiting alien was very useful on that front — and the problems faced with integrating with the rest of the galaxy; down to the fact that Exodans don't have a currency but rather a barter system, and speak a different language to Martians.

The reason I didn't enjoy Record of a Spaceborn Few as much as the earlier stories is mainly because there were so many characters that I kept getting some of them confused for a pretty large chunk of the book. I'm not great with remembering character names, so even though each chapter was headed by the relevant PoV character's name, I was still getting a bit lost and losing track of things for a bit more than half the book. I had it sorted in my mind by the end but the frustration had already taken place by then. (I was tempted to go back and reread the prologue again to see if it had a bigger impact, but didn't.)

The issue, for me, was that the female characters, of which there were three, had quite distinct work lives but their home lives were not that obviously connected to their work. My brain just struggled to link character at home A with character at work A. I'm not even sure that it was because I was especially tired when I was reading... I had less trouble with the male characters because they were kind of less multifaceted; one was clearly distinguished as The Foreigner, while the other was The Teenager.

By the time I got to the end of this book I was properly enjoying it but I think it's a pity that it took me so long to get to that point. All of Chambers' work has been quite character-driven but this is the first time it didn't really work for me (there were parts of A Closed and Common Orbit that I found a bit dull, but they were interspersed with the parts I was more invested in, making up for it). While I didn't dislike any of the characters, I also wasn't solidly invested in any of them — probably thanks to getting them confused earlier on. This isn't the ideal situation for a character-driven story, alas.

Anyway, if you enjoyed the earlier Wayfarers books and you have a penchant for character-driven stories, then I definitely recommend Record of a Spaceborn Few. If the premise and the concepts I mentioned interest you, then I also suggest giving this book a go. I think it would be interesting to reread Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and then this one to get the full impact of the worldbuilding of different areas across both books... but it's definitely not necessary to have read any other Chambers books before starting this one.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: July 2018, Hachette Australia
Series: Wayfarers book 3 of 3 so far, but they can be read in any order
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

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