Record of a Spaceborn Few: Wayfarers 3

This hopepunk space adventure (368 pages) was published in July of 2018 by Harper Voyager. The book takes you to a fleet of sheets in outer space. Melissa read Record of a Spaceborn Few and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

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Record of a Spaceborn Few

Wayfarers 3

Becky Chambers

Welcome to the future. Humans destroyed the Earth, and centuries ago, survivors boarded massive ships called the Exodus Fleet and set off for space.

Some of their descendants live aboard ships permanently, always orbiting; others have settled among the various species that populate the Milky Way. It’s been centuries since the Exodans fled Earth, and the Fleet is not the bright, shiny habitat it once was. This is the story of how a handful of characters live among the stars and wrestle with questions about where they belong, physically and emotionally.

But this is no dystopia. Author Becky Chambers is an enthusiastic proponent of hopepunk, a sci-fi movement that posits hope is an act, not simply a feeling. It’s a resistance against cynicism and a recognition that it takes bravery to sincerely care about something.

In this book, those tenets play out in a plot that puts feelings front and center, with diverse characters striving to be better, happier, and smarter and to help other people along the way.

Our ‘spaceborn few’ include a compassionate archivist who lives and works on the Fleet. Among other things, it’s her job to welcome newborns to the world with a speech that says, in part, ‘We are those that wandered, that wander still. We are the homesteaders that shelter our families. We are the explorers who carry our names. We are the parents who lead the way. We are the children who continue on.’

There’s a young man from planet-side whose curiosity leads him to emigrate to the Fleet. He’s living in orbit for the first time, and we experience this strange new world at his side, as he careens from excitement to loneliness and back.

We meet a caretaker — essentially a mortician — tasked with reverently transforming the dead into compost to grow the food that sustains the people aboard the ships. And we meet an alien from the Reskit Institute of Interstellar Migration. Powerful, wealthy, and intelligent, this species is a shapeless blob the size of a dog, speckled yellow, with wet skin, tentacles, and a pair of retracting eyestalks. This particular alien is an ethnographer visiting the Fleet to research the Exodans.

Much of this story is playful, an opportunity to wander around in Chamber’s imagination. She takes us on a roller coaster-like shuttle ride through space, to a raucous dinner thrown in the visiting alien’s honor, to the petty and profound conversations inside the hex (the communal living spaces aboard the ships).

We also get a peek at what the world could be like if humans led with empathy and a responsibility to each other. Aboard the utopian life in the Fleet, every inhabitant, citizen or not, is given air, water, food, lodging, and complete health care. There’s no compensation for work; everyone simply performs the jobs that suit them and is provided with everything they need to live.

This is a gentle, mostly quiet book punctuated by a handful of dramatic, surprising, heart-wrenching events. It’s soothing to imagine a future that faces head-on the problems caused by messy humans and is infused with kindness and good intentions anyway. And what a world it would be if that approach was more than a flight of fancy.

Dinner had been chaos, as per usual, and at one time in Isabel’s life, this would have aggravated her. She would’ve wanted to put on a good face for an academic guest, particularly an alien one. But Isabel loved the nightly feeding frenzy, and at this point, she wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. They hadn’t done anything special, not even shifted the cooking order. Ninth day was her cousin’s family’s night to cook, and cook they did (albeit with some quiet instruction from Isabel, who’d sent them a list of common ingredients Harmagians could not digest — heavy salt being the trickiest one). There had been kids running around everywhere, a misunderstanding about how gravy worked (namely: not as a drink), a broken dish, a few translation errors, a bombardment of questions in both directions, and three dozen people tripping over themselves to look good in front of a fancy visitor. It was real. It was honest. It was so very Exodan. — Becky Chambers

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