Becky Chambers’ Record of a Spaceborn Few is the third of what I guess they’re calling the “Wayfarers” series. It’s not a direct sequel to either of the other books (though it has some character links to the first, and events that happen there are referenced here).
It’s sort of a weird book, because structurally it doesn’t seem to work at all. It’s about a bunch of characters having very disparate stories, and while they do come together in some ways—it’s not just a half-dozen short stories all interleaved—their stories never really cohere into a tight plot. They’re all just kind of circling around each other, interacting without converging. And really, the story that they circle around isn’t particularly complex or interesting.
But and so, a thing I’ve said before is that I sometimes wish TV shows could be just the setup part, before it gets into the big action-packed plot, where it’s just a bunch of people going about their lives. And it’s not quite accurate to say that’s what Chambers is doing here…. but it’s not totally inaccurate, either. Because fundamentally, what the book is about isn’t the specific plot events, it’s not some central man vs. whatever conflict that gets raised up and resolved.
What it is, really, is a kind of meditation about what makes a good society, the nature of happiness, the tension between preservation and evolution, and what it means for a place to be home. And despite its unconventional structure, it actually does work—by coming at these themes from different angles and loosely-connected perspectives, it somehow ends up feeling tied together in an almost improbable way.
This isn’t the sequel I expected from Chambers, after reading her two previous books, but it’s good stuff. And now I’m even more curious about what her next book will be.