This review was written by Blackwell’s Bookseller Eris Young at Blackwell’s Edinburgh
Record of a Spaceborn Few is the latest (but not the last!) in Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series. It follows a handful of humans as they struggle with questions of mortality, community, relationships, home and life beyond the horizons of what we call home.
The lives of the characters interweave loosely in this one, and only touch on the events of the previous two novels, such that initially I found myself hoping characters from the previous books would show up in this new context. But it wasn’t long until I fell in love with the new characters as well: as multilayered, flawed and vulnerable as any of Chambers’ protagonists.
The story, too, takes place largely on a single space station – a tiny geographic area considering the previous two books literally spanned planets. And it’s this limited scale that ironically brings brings home just how expansive and intricate the world of Wayfarers really is. As loosely as the stories told in this book lace into the previous ones, this is unequivocally a Wayfarers novel: it’s told in Chambers’ earnest, “up-lit” style storytelling that is uplifting but never saccharine, and the scale of the story feels utterly organic.
This scale was one of my favourite things about the book. Rather than culminate in a giant dramatic space gunfight, as is the wont of so many books these days, the conclusion to Record of a Spaceborn Few is much more introspective. The biggest, most violent event in the book occurs in the prologue, and sets in motion expanding ripples of internal development for each of the point of view characters. The individual plot arcs are all internal, and the conflicts grow out of what the characters themselves find important and difficult: human connection, community, home, individual fears rooted in past trauma.
This may be a different kind of storytelling than today’s readers are used to, recalling the stories of Ursula le Guin more than, say, Star Wars or Star Trek, but it is, I think, a necessary one. So often the sci fi stories we are told are so wrapped up in large-scale conflicts, wars, ecological disasters, planetary destruction, and so obsessed with glorifying imaginative technology and flashy effects, that we lose sight of the human struggle, the everyday detail and collateral damage of the progress humanity has made in these tales. But these stories, for me, are the more interesting ones.
Record of a Spaceborn Few tells a small story rooted indelibly in a larger world and a collective invented history spanning generations. Chambers once again proves herself a keen student of language and culture, deftly and tenderly portraying the complex and often fraught relationships between her characters, in a book that left me feeling deeply contemplative and ultimately hopeful.