Welcome to the second of our SciFi Month Read-alongs! I am so excited to share thoughts and feelings about this book with fellow nerds, so let’s get to it, shall we?
NOTE: SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR PROLOGUE & PART 1.
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 is forced to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened.
Kip, a 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.
And 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?
I’ll be hosting the Goodreads side of this Read-along, while my co-host Jorie (@joriestory) handles our weekly Twitter chats (Fridays at 8am EST/1pm UK time) – but don’t worry if you can’t keep tightly to the schedule. We’re a relaxed lot around here! It’s fine if you want to tweet/post a bit later, just remember not to spoil future chapters for your fellow readers! The reading schedule is here, if you’d like to join in/catch up.
OK, let’s discuss Record of a Spaceborn Few.
As with the previous Wayfarer books, this one is driven more by characters and ideas than by high-energy/high-action plot, despite that prologue. If you’re new to the series, is this approach one that surprised you, and what do you think of it so far? If you have read the books before, is it something you appreciate?
I wanted to start with this question because it touches on something I’ve seen a fair bit of commentary on regarding these books. They get a massive amount of love, to be sure, but I’ve seen plenty of people talk about how they were a bit surprised to find it less actiony and more ideas-oriented than they thought, particularly in regards to the first book (The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet). Books 2 and 3 take this deviation, if you will, even further by focusing more intently on characters and ideas than on plot. Perhaps more so even than the second book, this one doubles down on that again. So it’s probably fair to say that this series will not appeal to everyone, even if they get a lot of love and appreciation.
That said, I absolutely love and appreciate these books. Where Record is concerned, I’ve wanted to reread it ever since my first readthrough, though I confess this is largely in part because I was stubborn/foolish enough to try to power through it while half exhausted from a long train journey. So this will be my first clear-headed reading of it, and so far it’s giving me quite a bit to think about!
Sticking with first impressions a bit longer – what do you think of Exodan life (and all that history), and of the way Becky Chambers presents it to the reader, ie. specifically through the lenses of these characters?
There seems to be a connecting thematic tissue throughout these books, of change and/or transformation, of death, and of what it means to be alive. To live, rather than merely existing. When I say that this book doubles down on the ideas raised by its predecessors, that’s what I mean: death and inescapable change stares all of these POV characters in the face, not least in the aftermath of a tragic accident that wipes out a Fleet ship and nearly everyone on board. And let’s not forget that the prospect of extinction is what drove humanity to form the Exodus Fleet in the first place. For them, life and death go hand in hand in many ways. Sometimes harmoniously, sometimes not. But it seems you can’t examine one aspect of their culture without acknowledging, even embracing, the other. Exodans have learned to do both, and it makes that culture incredibly fascinating.
I mean, Exodans recycle bodies. How many people do we really know who are so at peace with the idea of death that they will incorporate it into their very life cycle, their means of survival?
Coming back to the question, the handful of POV characters that we meet seem to reinforce this cultural significance, though they do it in vastly different ways: Tessa, whose brother (hey, Ashby!) chose to leave the Fleet while she stayed behind; Eyas, who is well aware that outsiders view her strangely because of her work as a caretaker of the dead; Isobel, who finds her perspective shifting when faced with the task of educating a visiting colleague on Exodan life; Sawyer, who is himself an outsider, but one who has Exodan ancestors; and Kip, who is by far the youngest of them and also by far the least impressed with the weight of his heritage. The Fleet and its way of life is important to all of them in some way, shape or form, but no two of them see it precisely the same way. This makes each of their perspectives all the more interesting, both separately and when considered as a whole. So I think of what we have at this point in the book as some disparate threads which have yet to be wound together, but the winding of which is inevitable.
And that’s all I’ll say because I’d rather not spoil the chapters ahead!
In addition to the personal perspective on Exodan life, we do get some perspective from ‘outside’ sources, namely Sawyer and, to a lesser extent, Ghuh’loloan. How do you feel about their particular perspectives on the Exodan Fleet, and do you think these views in particular are important ones to share? If so, why? (Or why not?)
I think their perspectives are very important, at least partly because they bring an element of balance to the story. Varying perspectives can offer us more information, more insight, and a deeper understanding of the subject at hand. Or at least present more viewpoints for us to consider.
In particular, I think these two characters and their views of Exodan life are interesting because they both want something from the Fleet, and in a sense they’re both romanticising life within it. Sawyer wants a place to belong; Ghuh’loloan is charmed and intrigued by its ‘eccentricities’ and oddities compared to other space-faring and planet-dwelling races. It doesn’t take long for issues with these attitudes to arise, but those issues also serve to highlight both the tight-knit nature of a community like this, and the inherent flaws within it. It’s admirable to be open and welcoming to all, but at the same time it’s understandable to be protective of personal space, and a little prickly at the perceived intrusiveness of outsiders who don’t understand what they’re walking into yet. There is so much history and baggage implied, let alone unpacked, by the inclusion of these two characters in the overall story, that I can’t help being impressed with how deftly they seem to be woven in, even if they don’t quite ‘fit’.
Politics, technology, gender identity… As before, this is a book that’s all about relationships. How they begin, how they stand now, and how they might progress. There’s a lot of today’s unfurling potential in how Chambers writes her stories and builds her world(s), but notably without a lot of our conflict. Do you think this is a world we can build, or does it feel too good to be true?
Yes, and … yes, I suppose. Depending on your perspective. But as I noted above, it’s understandable to want the first but to be wary of it on account of the second. History teaches us some damned harsh lessons, and it can be hard to forget them. At the same time, though, history can also teach us that wonderful things happen when we work together to achieve them. Those roads are never easy, but then they’re not supposed to be, are they?
So yes, I think it’s possible to build a better world. But it takes all hands to build it, and we’ve got to get to that place first. But if these books remind us of anything, I think it’s that there’s always hope for humanity.