Author: Becky Chambers
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Reviewed by: Jalyn Powell
Record of a Spaceborn Few is the third installment of Becky Chambers’s award-nominated Wayfarer series that revolve around people living and working on a generational ship (a homestead). Spaceborn Few explores life after the ship has long-ago reached its destination and is now an orbiting relic of “primitive life.” Readers are witness to the citizens of homestead Astoria as they strive and struggle to find meaning living in a closed-system society that has outlived its original purpose. Perhaps this sounds boring? I assure you, it is absolutely not.
This being the third book in the series and having not read the first two, I spent the first fifty pages playing catch-up and getting my bearings in the setting. So Chambers didn’t grab me immediately, but I was slowly pulled in—no, sucked in—to the lives of Eyas, Isabella, Sawyer, Kip, and Tessa. I don’t watch soap operas, and I don’t read space operas. I’ve always thought stories such as those were too—small, maybe? That the day-to-day lives of half a dozen people couldn’t possibly be interesting or entertaining, but now I fully understand why “opera” is essential to the labeling of the genre. I cried at the end of Record of a Spaceborn few. I cried.
I can’t even tell you the plot because there barely is one. All I can say is that the homestead experiences a loss, a death, and everyone has a different reaction to what it means and whether it matters. Transcending the plot, this a novel that explores aspects of philosophy, culture, and society that reflect our own, granting us an opportunity to look in the mirror and decide if we like what we see. All that Earth is, we have created it to be. Are we happy with our creation? This is a novel that discusses rural life versus city life by contrasting homesteaders and grounders (people who left the homestead ships and settled on a planet); that examines the idea of life, death, and funerary practices—and what value we place on each; that shines a light on how we treat outsiders—and how they are even defined; that calls into question the importance of ritual and tradition; that humbles the very modern notion that being independent is better than sacrificing for the greater good.
Chambers does not provide any answers to the questions she raises. She does not close any of the doors she opens. She merely shows us the way, and then we must decide for ourselves what we find to be true, significant, and worthwhile. I am truly amazed at Chambers’ subtle writing style. Many of the scenes she chose to write are scenes of reflection after the event in question has occurred, and often we never see the event. In other words, the narrative focuses on the reaction of the characters rather than the action itself. Again, this might sound boring. We’re used to fast-paced stories, explosions, drama, clever quips, and epic battles, aren’t we? We demand constant entertainment, from iPhones to YouTube, to Netflix, to Instagram.
Chambers offers the opposite of that. She asks us to be calm, to be quiet. She leans in and whispers in our ear that the story is not found in what we see or hear; the story is in how it makes us feel. And this book if full of the feels. Bravo, Chambers. Bravo.