Record of a Spaceborn Few (2018) is the third book in Becky Chambers’ WAYFARERS trilogy but it can stand alone. You don’t need to read the previous books and reading my review will not spoil any of them for you.
Record of a Spaceborn Few follows several future humans living on the Exodus Fleet, the spaceships that left a ruined Earth centuries ago. Kip is a teenager who is exploring himself and his world in the ways many teenagers do. Tessa is a mom who’s worried about her brother and trying to raise her kids while her husband is away for his job. Isabel is an archivist, recording human history in the fleet. Eyas is a caretaker — she recycles dead human bodies by composting them. Sawyer, who has no family, is visiting the fleet and hoping to find a home there.
So many people love Becky Chambers’ WAYFARERS trilogy and all three books have been nominated for several awards. After reading the entire trilogy, it’s clear that it’s just not for me. I thought The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was a cool-sounding title, but the story was “like watching Barney & Friends while eating cotton candy.” I liked A Closed and Common Orbit even less, finding it dull and unchallenging. Both novels have very little plot or tension, but they do contain heart-warming scenes and sweet messages about cooperation, diversity, and other nice things.
Record of a Spaceborn Few has the same problem, but magnified. We get vignettes of all those people’s lives, but very little actual plot. We see Tessa tending and composting bodies, Kip and his friend trying drugs and a brothel, Sawyer looking for a job in the fleet. The characters eat, have conversations, go to doctor’s appointments, bury people, tend gardens… We see Chambers’ imaginings of what a future humanity may look like, but we don’t get a story.
Obviously I’m a minority (based on the nominations) but I did not find Record of a Spaceborn Few at all interesting or challenging. I think the body composting was supposed to be challenging since there was a lot of discussion about it, but to me it seemed practical and obvious for people living in a closed system on a spaceship.
I have to conclude that Chambers’ work (or at least this trilogy) just isn’t for me. I’m glad that others have found such joy in it, though. It is well written, and the audio versions by Hodder & Stoughton are nicely done.