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

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

Being part of the Galactic Commons is bringing changes to the Exodan Fleet, and change can be a scary thing. Sometimes you need a bit of perspective to know what’s good for you…

Welcome to the final week of our 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.

Ghuh’loloan’s offer of help to reach out to the galactic community in a different way speaks volumes about her thoughtfulness, and how well she’s truly learned during her time on the Asteria. What do you think of her suggestions for how to help the Fleet thrive, going forward?

Tamsin was quite negative after her first encounter with Ghuh’loloan in week one, but I felt that her harsh comments were unearned. Perception is everything of course, but it felt to me that Tamsin brought more baggage to that early dinner than Ghuh’loloan brought superiority or Harmagian privilege. Ghuh’loloan has seemed from the start to be genuinely – not just academically – interested in the Fleet’s culture and way of life, and while her essays home feel awkwardly lifestyle magazine to me (…they’re really not academic. It’s perilously close to gap year travel blogging) I’ve read them as an unasked-for PR exercise by her on behalf of the Fleet (inevitably a double-edged sword).

But I appreciated how much thought she had put into her suggestions now that she has got to know the Fleet rather than just know about it – and how she clearly recognises the possible perceptions within and impact on the Fleet. I also appreciated that she and Tamsin were able to make peace. Still, I have my own baggage, so the idea of corporate goodwill leaves me pretty uneasy as I’m tainted by our own modern capitalist context.

Tessa makes her decision, after receiving an unexpected gift of her own… What are your thoughts on her choice, and on her relationship with George now that we’ve seen more of him?

I rather like that Tessa’s response to the ongoing changes within the Fleet is to bug out and change everything; I relate to both her urge to say ‘fine get in the sea I’m doing something different’ and her internal conflict over making that decision (rather than an undefined urge) and communicating it to her loved ones. Lots of feels for me all the way down on this one, not least over the unexpected support from Pops.

I LOVE GEORGE. Well chosen, Tessa. He’s a lifemate – a friend and a partner, and I have no doubt that with a bit of perseverance he’ll be an amazing baker. Is he too good to be true? No, because he’s been an absent dad for ten years. He’s partly amazing because he wants to make up for that lost time. But I’m generally soft and gooey for positive portrayals of life-long relationships in fiction, so add Tessa!George to Anne!George (The Sparrow) and Elma!Nathaniel (The Calculating Stars). I’d read a book just about them and their life on Seed, happily. I don’t know whether the Santosos will ever return to the Fleet, but I think their lives are better – for now, at least – for leaving it. And the door is always open to go home; that’s the real joy of the Fleet for me.

Eyas and Sunny build a relationship of a different sort, first when she visits him at home and then when they come up with the outreach programme. How do you feel about this budding new relationship (yes this is a shipping question and no I’m not sorry), and would you visit somewhere like the Asteria if you knew that this help would be offered?

Yes, I’d love to visit the Asteria – with or without this help, but it makes the idea of living on the Asteria (rather than just visiting briefly) far less daunting.

And I love that Eyas and Sunny found another way to are for people – and to extend their care beyond their traditional flock. Their growing friendship is a joy: I was so happy to realise that Eyas hadn’t overstepped by visiting him at home. She has seemed so alone – and business relationships are all well and good, but sometimes you need someone you can go visit and eat cookies with. Whether they remain friends with benefits and business relationships, or whether their relationship deepens into something less formal and longer-term, I’m glad they found each other.

Time moves on, and Kip grows up, and my heart swells. What are your final thoughts about the changes in him, both before and after returning home to the Fleet?

SO MUCH CRYING. I bawled through Sawyer’s funeral, and then I howled through Kip’s first naming ceremony. Honestly, the Litany destroys me. It’s a non-religious ritual that carries so much context and weight and it’s so beautiful. Add in Kip’s journey from awkward disgruntled teen to socially-conscious, considerate young man to over-awed, willing apprentice and AAAAH FEELINGS OKAY.

It’s a lovely coming of age arc, and I’m so pleased he dumped Ras, who only ever doubles down on being a complete shit.

But there’s another aspect to his story that I want to reflect on as we finish our read-along: his newfound perspective on history and heritage, gained by leaving the Fleet, and the contrast with the attitude of his GC student cohort.

The trip to the museum presents us with a familiar paradigm: material culture is preserved for future study. Look don’t touch, and most certainly don’t try to fix something that’s broken. I studied archaeology and I can get quite overwhelmed by ancient artefacts (in a good way) – the idea of coming close to understanding our past through understanding them. Yet I instantly understood how weird that is from Kip’s point of view. And how very, very privileged, although I still maintain that it is a worthy investment of resources; that we understand ourselves by understanding our past.

And yet.

In the Fleet, history is all around you all the time, and the past is constantly reinvented to fuel the future. It’s an incredibly powerful metaphor for change and equally valid. Make the most of what you have, don’t hang on to the past just for the sake of it, make it work for you – and transform it to shape your future. Yes, okay, I’m crying again, stars above I need to get more sleep, but as we approach an election here in the UK where the country seems more divided than ever between ‘going back to how we were’ and ’embracing changes and growing in new ways’, I’ll be thinking about this a lot.

The Archives

Our read-along is now complete, but you can revisit our discussions (and add your thoughts in the comments) whenever you wish.