Hodder & Stoughton | 2018 (24 July) | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book
The Exodus Fleet left Earth centuries ago. Its goal is to find the perfect planet on which to settle, to continue life as it was lived on Earth but with new found hope for the future. But this mission is now almost a meaningless myth. Many people have left the fleet to start new lives and colonies on other planets. For them the journey had reached its end. But still the Exodus Fleet sails on, now become the stuff of legend. Colonists feel nostalgia for it. It has a Utopian quality – life aboard the Fleet is by no means ideal but everyone is fed, housed and nurtured, all a far cry from the quality of life on some of these frontier worlds.
Tessa’s brother Ashby left the Fleet years before, becoming captain of that most famous of vessels, the Wayfarer, but Tessa has stayed behind on the Fleet to raise her children, one of whom lives in absolute dread of what might happen if the very small shell that protects life inside from the cold vastness of space outside should crack. Isabel is an Archivist, whose role is to induct new spaceborns into the ways of life aboard the Fleet. She also confers with the Hermagian, fascinated alien observers of humanity who can intermediate between humans and the other species of the Galaxy so that one can be at ease with the other. And then there are the youngsters: Sawyer whose ancestors left the Fleet generations ago and who now wishes to return, to be cared for and accepted; and Kip who has lived aboard the Fleet all of his life and needs to try something new. Eyas’ life aboard the Fleet is an extraordinary one – she lovingly turns the corpses of her fellow travellers into compost so that life will be renewed and the Fleet will never need to stop.
We spend time with each and more of these wonderful people, whether people or alien, in Record of a Spaceborn Few, the third novel in Becky Chambers’ extraordinary and gorgeous and immensely loveable Wayfarer space opera series. The stories are loosely connected in time and with the occasional crossover character (Tessa’s brother in this case) but each novel stands alone while throwing yet more light on this stunning universe.
If you’ve read The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and/or its follow up A Closed and Common Orbit, then you don’t need me to tell you how fantastic Becky Chambers’ writing is, equalled only by her imagination and storytelling genius. Record of a Spaceborn Few continues the trend and is at least as fabulous as Small Angry Planet.
Once more we’re in a spaceship environment but it’s grown here to become a world of its own, allowing Becky Chambers to explore grand themes about the nature of space exploration itself, of the future of mankind, of the relationship between the generations, the role of humanity in a larger community of space travelling species, and, most poignantly, whatever it is that ties people to their homeworld Earth. And when is it time to stop and feel solid ground beneath one’s feet once more, or perhaps for the very first time?
There is such warmth and compassion here. We’re presented with the stories of so many memorable people, the chapters moving between them, and we care deeply. There are moments of great sadness, of action, of danger, and love. I cried and I smiled. This novel, just like the two that preceded it, is a book to savour, to relish every page and every person who gives it life. I can only hope that there is more to come from the Wayfarer universe. It’s a place where I want to spend much more of my time.
We are the Exodus Fleet. We are those that wandered, that wander still.