Read-along: Record of a Spaceborn Few – week two

SciFiMonth Read-along: Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

In the Exodan Fleet, everyone is guaranteed a home and food on their table, and everyone works to make a contribution to the Fleet in return. But life isn’t without difficulties. This week focuses on the challenges faced by those who make the Fleet their home…

Welcome back to the SciFiMonth Read-along of Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers. As usual, I’m avoiding spoilers for previous Wayfarers books, but this is a frank discussion of the book we’re reading, so expect spoilers from the very start for Record of a Spaceborn Few.

Sawyer’s story comes to a rather abrupt end in these chapters… Were you surprised by his fate? And do you sympathise with his situation, or did he bring that on himself?

Oh, Sawyer. In some ways I was even more shocked by the brevity of his life in the Fleet this time around: I’d forgotten just how quickly it comes to an end. He arrives so wide-eyed, fundamentally well-meaning but ignorant. I don’t think it’s fair to blame him for leaping at the chance of a job where he could apply his skills – it’s entirely in character for him to be so utterly naive as to think it was above-board. Sawyer never thought anything through and rarely asked the right questions – he’s young and stupid, and I don’t entirely sympathise with him on those counts (use your noodle, man!) but his death is completely on Oates and Muriel for taking advantage of him.

I don’t really blame Oates for not keeping a close enough eye on Sawyer to stop him doing something stupid – but I do judge him and Muriel quite harshly for being dishonest with him in the first place. They misled by omission, effectively tricking him into doing something that is at least immoral and presumably illegal as well as dangerous. If he’d survived, would he really have believed he could walk away once he’d realised the enormity of what he was complicit in? (and would they have allowed him to?)

This is an atypical narrative in the trilogy: a harsh punishment for innocence. It makes an unflinching point, though. In spite of its socialist, inclusive structure, the Fleet is no utopia and life is fragile out in the black. This storyline dovetails neatly with the robbery at Tessa’s work: there may be work and resources for all with the Fleet, but there will always be people who want to take shortcuts to having more than they are allocated. I’m fascinated by the web of tensions within the Fleet around what constitutes enough and what makes different people happy.

It seems as though Tessa is considering leaving the Fleet with her family. Do you think she will? If so, do you think it’s the right call for her to make?

I think Aya would like to leave the Fleet – I think it’s a given that she will at some point – but I think Tessa’s considerations are driven more by her relationships with her family (her Dad’s eyesight, her husband’s frequent absence, her daughter’s PTSD) than how she personally feels about her home. She seems thoroughly grounded in the Fleet and – frustrations with her boss aside – happy with her life.

On the other hand, I’m a fairly big believer in trying new things – especially when you have a clear route back home if they don’t work out – so I don’t think it would be the wrong choice to go live on a planet for a while if she chose to.

Kip takes a big step forward in his personal growth after the smash incident, by taking to heart the feelings and the dignity of others instead of only thinking of himself. How much of this change in him do you think will stick, and what are your feelings about Ras after their ‘conversation’ about what to do?

I don’t think Kip has ever been a bad kid at heart. He’s got the usual teen hormones and frustrations, which gives Ras ample room to lead him astray – but underneath it he has generally seemed to have a good heart.

But I was proud of him for responding so strongly and positively to the overheard conversation, and for ignoring Ras’s urge to just forget about it. I appreciated that his driving concerns were how the people on sanitation would feel finding a dead body, and worry that whoever killed Sawyer might kill someone else. He may have itchy feet and be uncertain where he belongs, but Kip is a child of the Fleet, isn’t he? So I don’t think this is a temporary thing – I think this is Kip showing his true colours.

…as is Ras. Let’s face it, Ras has always been self-involved, buoyant with his own easy capabilities and guaranteed future. Ras does as he pleases, and he pulls Kip in his wake – we’ve never seen him be considerate per se, so it was no surprise to me that he’d just try and pretend nothing had happened. He may grow up to be a fine person, but he’s a bit of a shit right now.

Isabel and Eyas have also been presented with the possibility of significant change, in their respective stories within this story. Isabel has an opportunity to open doors for the Fleet within the larger galactic community, while Eyas finds herself opening up emotionally in ways she perhaps had never done before (with Sunny, and later when she grieves for Sawyer). What further changes do you see all of this bringing for their own community on the Asteria, and for the Fleet in general?

I think we’re visiting the Fleet on the cusp of change. Record is just that – an account of a lifestyle that may be about to vanish. It has a bittersweet tang to it; there’s so much to like, but you can completely understand why some people leave. To be sustainable long term, it needs to change – but change is scary. I think the Fleet needs to make its peace with that and embrace it. I’m not a big believer in clinging to the past. Respect it, learn from it, but don’t be afraid of the new. And I’m stopping right there before I segue into a rant about real-world politics!

Discussion Schedule

We’re in Lisa’s hands for this read-along! Discussion prompts can usually be found on the Goodreads group midweek-ish.

  • Friday 8th November | Prologue and Part 1
  • Friday 15th November | Parts 2, 3 and 4
  • Friday 22nd November | Parts 5, 6 and 7