From the ground, we stand; From our ships, we live; By the stars, we hope
Welcome to the Exodan Fleet.
…and welcome to the SciFiMonth Read-along of the latest instalment of Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers novels, Record of a Spaceborn Few. This is a reread for me, as I devoured the book at the end of last year and then failed to review it (oops) – so here’s to giving it the love and consideration it deserves.
Record of a Spaceborn Few is set while the Wayfarer is in Toremi space, so contains spoilers for the final act of The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet – but there will be no spoilers for either of the previous Wayfarers volumes in this blog post.
1. As with the previous Wayfarer books, this one is driven more by characters and ideas than by high-energy/high-action plot, despite that prologue. If you’re new to the series, is this approach one that surprised you, and what do you think of it so far? If you have read the books before, is it something you appreciate?
I love that the Wayfarers books are slice of life space opera – and I think this is increasingly the case with each book. The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet introduced the Galactic Commons and had to do a heap of broad stroke galaxy-building – different locations, alien races, ways of life – as well as having perhaps more core plot (even if it is really about shipboard life on an extended road trip). A Closed and Common Orbit was largely confined to one planet and a smaller cast, but tackled huge questions of identity and personhood. And it was set on a planet that is a GC nexus, so it still felt like it had its eyes on the stars in some ways!
Record of a Spaceborn Few feels even more intimate to me than the first two books (which is saying something, given how character-driven they are). The Exodan Fleet is a purely human future, and one that occupies a very isolated galactic niche in some ways: I was excited to read more about it and to understand how it works.
That said – and in spite of my deep love of world-building – on first reading I found Record so low-key I was faintly disappointed. The Wayfarer had a mission; Sidra is under constant threat; the inhabitants and visitors of the Asteria have an existential crisis of sorts – is there a future for the Fleet – but it isn’t foregrounded. I was looking for something more. This is kitchen sink space opera… and I’m appreciating it more the second time around.
2. Sticking with first impressions a bit longer – what do you think of Exodan life (and all that history), and of the way Becky Chambers presents it to the reader, ie. specifically through the lenses of these characters?
Coming at Record the second time around, I’m perceiving it differently. First time in, I was a wide-eyed first time visitor myself – like Ghuh’loloan and Sawyer – with my own preconceptions. This time I have some inkling of the Fleet, and I can really appreciate the way the different POVs build it for us. It feels like Becky Chambers makes a deliberate effort to both give us an untarnished view of life and perhaps to puncture some of those expectations.
This is not an idealised depiction of what seems in many ways to be an idealised lifestyle: truly communal (not communist), built around respect, sharing and recycling. But that comes with its own stresses. Kip’s disillusion isn’t just teenage dissatisfaction (although I think there’s a fair pinch of that in play!) – his moment of shame when he sees the Aeluons when he compares his life and home to that of other sapients out there is incredibly poignant. Even if I lean towards loving the Exodan lifestyle, I can grasp how claustrophobic it could be from the repetitive gossip over dinner in Kip’s home hex, or Eyas going to another ship for an evening of release.
But I’m very glad that Tessa, Eyas and Isabel are so immersed in and satisfied with homesteader life in general. They give me the reassuring impression that the Fleet is still stable and durable.
3. In addition to the personal perspective on Exodan life, we do get some perspective from ‘outside’ sources, namely Sawyer and, to a lesser extent, Ghuh’loloan. How do you feel about their particular perspectives on the Exodan Fleet, and do you think these views in particular are important ones to share? If so, why? (Or why not?)
Sawyer is fresh off the boat with nothing but rumour and stories of the Fleet to set his expectations. He’s not come from a great place, but he’s here to embrace his roots and I think he’s hoping to find a place for himself. A bit like Kip, I see him as a foil – he’s full of idealistic dreams and set up for disappointment. On his first day, he wants to like it more than I think he really does. And yet he can’t quite escape the poetry of the history – the image of him marvelling at the handprints in his deserted apartment is both magical and sad. The Fleet is about community: but Sawyer isn’t part of it. Yet.
Ghuh’loloan gets a much softer landing! But she really is a tourist – she’s got a guide to welcome her and feast her, and she’s only here for a little while. I think this might be the first time we’ve really got to meet a Harmagian though, so that’s fascinating in its own right. It’s just as interesting seeing how others respond to her: the Fleet is quite isolated, and it seems humans can’t help but be both fascinated by and slightly leery of outsiders.
4. Politics, technology, gender identity… As before, this is a book that’s all about relationships. How they begin, how they stand now, and how they might progress. There’s a lot of today’s unfurling potential in how Chambers writes her stories and builds her world(s), but notably without a lot of our conflict. Do you think this is a world we can build, or does it feel too good to be true?
First off, I want to tip my deeply-impressed hat at the phrase ‘today’s unfurling potential’ 😍
I want to believe in a society that can be this supportive – where everyone has a home, and everyone is fed – but it throws into stark relief all the selfish interests that have to be discarded to realise it. From where we are right now, it feels too good to be true. But by the stars, I hope.
We’re in the safe hands of Lisa and Jorie for this read-along! Discussion prompts can be found on the Goodreads group midweek for those who wish to blog – and a Twitter chat (tag #SciFiMonth and #SpacebornFew) will take place each Friday.
- Friday 8th November | Prologue and Part 1
- Friday 15th November | Part 2
- Friday 22nd November | Part 3