Record of a Spaceborn Few: Third time’s not the charm

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsRecord of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsRecord of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Record of a Spaceborn Few (2018) is the third book in Becky ChambersWAYFARERS 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.

Published in 2018. From the ground, we stand. From our ship, we live. By the stars, we hope. Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat. Tessa chose to stay home when her brother Ashby left for the stars, but has to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened. Kip, a reluctant young apprentice, itches for change but doesn’t know where to find it. Sawyer, a lost and lonely newcomer, is just looking for a place to belong. When a disaster rocks this already fragile community, those Exodans who still call the Fleet their home can no longer avoid the inescapable question: What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination?

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. Paul Connelly /

    I stopped after the first one. It seemed kind of retro, but not in a fun way, and the story was pretty insubstantial. I guess the series has been a marketing success though, which is more what the numerous become-a-self-published-Internet-sensation articles focus on. Passes the bar for that.

  2. Lee Ann Rucker /

    You *can* have a discussion of body composting in a closed space-based system that’s relevant to the plot – Lois McMaster Bujold did so in “Ethan of Athos”.

    I’m sure there are people who like candyfloss, but after 3 times bouncing off them as a conscientious awards voter, I’m done.

  3. Lola Montez /

    Just such bad books; Kat Hooper, you are FAR too kind here.

    We should be able to “call a spade a spade” here and admit that these books and their appalling success (THE HUGO? really? I guess the Hugo is dead to me now) is due 100% to the LGBQT agenda espoused in them — and the author’s views on things like sexuality, gender, socialism, ecology, etc. They tick every popular modern box, at least for millennials — but NOVELS should not be polemics or tracts on “how to think and behave in a PC way” — they have to have characters, plot arcs, conflict and resolution, etc. They can’t be made up entirely of descriptions of the author’s ideal society — and where other books ARE like that, they are typically huge borefests. (Heinlein was very guilty of this in his later work, though he got away with it on the strength of his imagination, original ideas and just plain good writing — all absent in Becky Chambers works.)

    On top of that, I have a hard time imagining an author so clueless and naive about human relations as to think that you could have easy and emotion-free sex with PROSTITUTES and that this works perfectly as way for people to satisfy sexual urges — and there’s no downside at all — no violence, no pimps, no STDs, no sex slavery, no coercion whatsoever — it sounds like a hippie commune fantasy of the late 60s and god knows, these things were TRIED and in modern times, and have always always failed. Is it possible Chambers believes she’s the first person to ever think this up? REALLY?

    I’m not a huge fan of Lois McMasters Bujold, but compared to Becky Chambers… Bujold is Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald wrapped in one.

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