While Becky Chambers has already explained the circumstances of the descendants of Earth in broad strokes in her previous two Wayfarer novels, in this third novel, she shifts her attention to the remaining human fleet. When Earth was on the brink of collapse, some people with resources started by colonizing planets and moons in the Solar System such as Mars. Those left behind eventually had to deconstruct the cities and sky scrapers, and use those resources to create a fleet for the last of humanity to escape. They completely changed their approach to life, realizing that warfare and competition had only led to destruction, and took off into space in hopes of discovering a new home.
Instead, they found a thriving galactic community, and they were given access to a system to continue orbiting around, continuing their life as a human colony, designed around the fleet. Some people born in the fleet ended up leaving, drawn to life planet side or space exploration, but many also stayed and continued their way of life. Ash, the captain of the Wayfarer from the first novel, was born on the fleet before leaving. His father, sister and sister’s family are still part of the human fleet, and his sister, Tessa, is one of the five character POV’s in the third Wayfarer novel.
Other character perspectives include Isabel, an archivist/historian; Isabel, a caretaker, responsible for the proper handling of the deceased; Kip, a teen boy with a sense of restlessness, who is trying to figure out his place; and Sawyer, a young man who grew up elsewhere, descended from humans that left the fleet long before, who returns to the fleet searching for a sense of belonging.
The prologue takes place 4 standards before when a catastrophic event occurred: one of the ships had a mechanical failure that led to its destruction with no survivors. The rest of the fleet watched in horror, and it ked to a certain sense of unease. After all, the entire fleet is aging, there is no guarantee this could not happen again.
The rest of the novel takes place around the same time as the end of the first Wayfarer novel, and explores the meaning of the fleet and its people. External influences have the potential to change the life on the fleet, and some wonder why the fleet even still exists when they now have the option to spread out on various planet side colonies. The fleet was never designed as a permanent solution after all, it was created to take humanity to a new home, but it has in those centuries since become a home.
The life on the fleet was fascinating, and I hope Chambers continues to explore this world she has created because it is absolutely fascinating even as she manages to focus so much on the personal stories of her characters. I felt so bad for Sawyer who simply wants to find a community and is easily led astray as a result, while Kip is a typical teen, trying to figure out his place in the fleet and the wider world. Tessa, a mother of two, also begins to question her place as new technology affects her position, and she must worry about the mental well being of her children and what is best for her family. While there is a event that occurs, it’s less plot driven than the other two novels, and really is about people finding their place and figuring out their purpose and meaning. It worked for me, but I know it might be less appealing for some.