It has been quite a while since I’ve had a truly lovely reading experience. I should have known that Becky Chambers would deliver the goods. When I read To Be Taught, if Fortunate in September of 2019 (godtopus I missed regular library service in 2020 and am glad to have it back) I was simply astounded at what it accomplished, and it was from that time my favorite of Chambers’ works, with A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet a very close second (I had struggled a bit to get into A Closed and Common Orbit even though I eventually found it to be moving and important and a four star read).
Record of a Spaceborn Few fed my soul, it is all about hope and connection. Chambers tells the story of the Exodus fleet, the homesteader ships that left Earth centuries ago in search of a new home for humans. They’ve found it now, but many have chosen to continue living on the ships as they orbit a star granted to them by other members of the Galactic Commons while some have taken off for life planetside or on smaller, individual ships. Like my other love Station Eleven, we trail several point of view characters over a period of time. The prologue starts with a terrible tragedy and then we jump ahead four years in time and experience what life is like now and what the lingering fall-out is for the residents of the fleet.
If Chambers had stayed there this would still easily be a four-star read that I would have been very glad indeed to have read. But Chambers pushes further, as she is wont to do. She takes the minutiae of their lives (an interesting read all by itself, I didn’t struggle as others did with the feeling of a slow start) and weaves with them tapestry of the human condition, of the struggle to find purpose, to know what our purpose even is, to find meaning in our lives both individually and in community.
Record of a Spaceborn Few bounces between Tessa, a mother of two small children who has always been content with her life in the fleet but is starting to have questions about how to best raise her kids; Kip, a teenager who has no idea who he wants to be but he knows he doesn’t want to be on the fleet anymore; Eyas, a woman in her late 30s whose job is to tend to the dead which often leaves her feeling at a remove from everyone else even though she knows that she is doing what she was meant for; Sawyer, a young man in his twenties who was born and raised planetside but comes to the fleet looking for a new start in the place of his ancestors; Isabel, an Archivist who serves the role of documentarian and historian, of preservationist and clerk, and a visiting ethnographer from another race who serves as the outside viewer within the structure. I loved these characters, and I loved their relationships. By and large they do not cross paths with one another, but their worlds are fully developed with delightful secondary characters who are elegantly drawn. I was particularly attracted to Eyas’s and Isabel’s stories, I think everyone probably has their own characters which spoke to them and these were mine.
While told in an episodic way, this character driven story brings the various components of the society to life through the eyes we see it. We know these characters by relatively early on so as events transpire, we are pulled further into their world. Chambers has the gift of writing these stories of people living on spaceships who act like people you interact with every day. In short, Chambers captures our humanity, she uses the small details that tell us so much about who we are.
I was lucky enough to receive book four, The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, as an ARC from Goodreads and will be starting it immediately.