Record of a Spaceborn Few is the latest instalment in the Wayfarers universe and simply put, it’s incredible. I was pleasantly surprised to see it revert to the style of A Long Way with a large cast of POV characters rather than just the two in A Closed and Common Orbit. In the slice of life genre, characters make or break a novel and thankfully Wayfarers continues to make.
In fact, while all the POVs (except one) are human, there’s a huge range of main characters with a diversity in age and attitude that the prior two books didn’t touch upon. Chambers produces them all with sophistication: from the bored teenager, Kip, who can’t wait to leave the Fleet because ‘anywhere else is better’ to the polar opposite young man, Sawyer, immigrating to the Fleet because it has to be better life currently. From Eyas the caretaker steeped in tradition to Tessa (sister of Ashby from A Long Way) who wonders if it might be better to move on and go planetside. However, my favourite was easily Isabella. Elderly people are so rarely main characters that it was refreshing to see her point of view and every scene with her wife was utterly adorable.
The entirety of the novel is set aboard the Exodus Fleet – a collection of spaceships that house humans that left the Sol system when Earth became uninhabitable (bit didn’t join alien worlds). The Fleet is a fascinating concept and it’s interesting to see how Chambers created its customs. One of the more novel concepts was how to dispose of the dead. The easier route would have been to just have them send ashes into space but instead people known as caretakers reuse the Fleet’s remains, turn them into compost. It could easily have been a pretty morbid addition but is portrayed respectfully. The caretakers are revered by the Exodans (so much so that it is sometimes to Eyas’s chagrin) – the whole process is described in detail, it very much feels like a non-deity-based religion.
Whenever people ask for cosy or optimistic SFF, Wayfarers is always one of the first recommendations and Record of a Spaceborn Few is no execption. It’s probably the darkest of the three (though that’s not really saying a lot) what with the catastrophic loss of life that jumpstarts the novel. But even with that event (and others), Chambers manages to keep the mood upbeat throughout. It’s such an easy read throughout that the reader can just fly through the book.
The only problem I had is that sometimes it felt a bit too exposition-heavy. During the novel’s timeline there is an alien Harmagian documentarian that is visiting Isabella (the historian) on the Fleet. Chambers uses this trip as its very nature to relay cultural and structural explanations. While this is a clever way to infodump on the reader, it’s an infodump all the same. It feels a bit tiresome as it doesn’t further develop either the plotlines or the characters and is a copout-y way to expand the setting. The exposition also bleeds into Isabella’s chapters since she spends a significant amount of time with the Harmagian.
One thing in particular I really liked in Record of a Spaceborn Few compared to its predecessors was its conclusion. I loved the previous two but they both end a little jarringly, both could have gone on a little longer without a doubt. In this book, Chambers employs lots of time jumping at the end to fully conclude each story, giving the reader proper closure for every character – something that the other books, A Long Way in particular, were missing.
Ultimately, reviews of this book aren’t really needed. And I have a feeling this is the case for any future Wayfarers novels. If you liked the previous two, any aspect – the hopeful tone, the worldbuilding, the happy and friendly characters, it’s guaranteed you’ll like this one too. Becky Chambers has combined the many POVs of A Long Way with the more concrete interweaved storylines of A Closed and Common Orbit, perfecting her slice of life style. Chambers has dropped so many little ideas about the universe, it’s ripe for exploration and I can’t wait to see where the series goes next.