Becky Chambers continues to keep me in awe of her writing. Record of a Spaceborn Few is the third book in the “Wayfarer Series”. It tangentially ties into the first book as one of the main characters, Tessa Santoso, is sister to Captain Ashby Santoso, of the spaceship Wayfarer, in A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. This book is centered on The Exodus Fleet, the last humans to leave Earth when the environment collapsed hundreds of years ago. They wandered for generations until eventually making contact with the aliens of the Galactic Commons. The GC brought much needed technology to the fleet such as anti-gravity and better engines. Since then there has been a slow, steady migration of Exodans from the fleet to explore what the galaxy has to offer. Even more generations have passed and occasionally humans raised elsewhere emigrate back to find their roots in the Fleet.
Record of a Spaceborn Few is a slow moving story told in four parts with chapters alternating between several characters. The individual stories running alongside one another until near the very end when they loosely weave together. It begins with a prologue of a horrible disaster occurring within the Fleet, a shuttle accident causing one of the ships of the Fleet to violently rupture. Tens of thousands of Exodans are lost as they are suddenly sucked out into the vacuum of space. Several years have passed since this catastrophe but it has had long term effects that echo across the book.
Tessa is a mother in her thirties struggling to help her young daughter, Aya, deal with the trauma of having witnessed the shuttle accident in real time. Aya no longer feels her spaceship home is safe and secure at odds with Tessa who can’t fathom the idea of leaving. Kip is a listless sixteen year-old, chaffing at being underage. Bouncing between job trials to find a future place within the Fleet and wondering what is the point of anything. Isabel is in her seventies and comfortable with her place within the Fleet as archivist for the ship Asteria. She is currently playing host for Ghuh’loloan, a Harmagian reasearcher at the Reskit Institute of Interstellar Migration visiting the Asteria to learn about the Exodan Fleet firsthand. Eyas has always known that she wanted to be a caretaker, those who oversee the dead. They prepare the bodies for funerals and then oversee the composting so that each Exodan will be returned to the soil and nurture future generations. Eyas is happy with her job but lately has been feeling a sense of not being complete, that there is something more she is missing. Sawyer was born out in the GC. His family left the Fleet several generations before so Sawyer doesn’t feel as though he has a tie to it. Tragedy left him orphaned at a young age and in his early twenties Sawyer decides to leave his planet and join the Exodan Fleet to reconnect with the community of his forebears.
At its core, Record of a Spaceborn Few is about purpose and finding meaning in life. It’s also about the joys and challenges of living in a small, tightly knit community. Chambers continues to write touching stories of the human experience that are often deeply relatable. I appreciate the level of thought she put into the Exodus Fleet. From how the ships are designed on a large scale but also the small touches, like each family having their own viewing port into space so there can be no competition or envy over housing that has windows and those that don’t. I’m torn between diving right into the fourth and final book of the “Wayfarer Series” or to hold off the day that there will be no more books to read.