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Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
Book Name: Record of a Spaceborn Few
Author: Becky Chambers
Publisher(s): Harper Voyager (US) Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Science Fiction
Release Date: July 24, 2018

If you’ve not read any of the three titles by Becky Chambers, I suggest you have a little word with yourself and seek them out immediately. If you’ve not heard of Becky Chambers, then where have you been?

Her first novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was the first book I managed to successfully immerse myself in following my mum’s death. I’ll always have an emotional connection to the book for that reason. For me, it was a bittersweet occasion – I’d found a book that could lift me from the darkest depths that my mind could pull me into, but I’d found something new I wanted to share with my mum.

The books, forming the Wayfarers series, detail various events that take place in the future; humans have abandoned the Earth and have been introduced to other alien races and the Galactic Commons. Through their new-found connections, they’ve gained advances in technology, new languages, new friends, and new adventures. All three books in the series are standalone stories; they aren’t sequels or prequels and there are no recurring characters.

Topping my list of favourite modern authors, Chambers hails from California, so I’d never considered ever having the opportunity to meet her.

Then it happened.

With the launch of her third title, Record of a Spaceborn Few, came a book-signing tour, and my local city of Norwich made the line-up. There was no question of whether I would attend or not; I would be there.

The book had a release date set just a couple of days before the signing. This wasn’t a book I was prepared to wait for though, knowing that other people would be indulging in the words before me, so I pre-ordered. To my delight, there was another advantage: those pre-ordering the hardback through Waterstones or Amazon were guaranteed one of the special editions that come with beautifully designed endpapers. The artist, Kiku Hughes, won a previous competition involving the Wayfarers series and her entry was loved so much that she was invited to design the endpapers.

The book arrived and I managed to squeeze in a couple of chapters before the signing. Just from the little I could read, I knew we were in for another well-planned story.

We turned out for the signing on a boiling day to be told by the Waterstones hosting the signing that their air-con had broken. Us hardy fans weren’t about to let that stop us. We sat patiently in a stiflingly hot room. My partner, who came with me, infuriatingly asked, “Is that her?” every time a woman walked into view – the bookish equivalent of, “Are we there yet?” – if only he’d read her work or done some research.

Throughout the event, Chambers lived up to the person I’d built up in my mind: an all-round decent human being. She was asked about the different themes in her work – right from sexuality and gender, to space travel in general. She paused to consider her response to the more difficult questions and didn’t rush in answering.

Chambers admitted that, right now, she hasn’t got a story in her mind that can feature the comeback of a character she’s already written about. But that’s okay, because the limitless world she’s created is full of opportunities. Kudos to her too, for not sticking with what could have been seen as the easy option by turning out well-known characters book after book.

She name-dropped science fiction characters such as John Crichton from Farscape and Commander Shepard from Mass Effect as heroic humans in sci-fi that have inspired her, and revealed that music without words is the background to her writing, particularly gaming soundtracks. She plays Dungeons and Dragons and other tabletop games to help her relax and let her mind wander to explore new story ideas.

The only awkward moment came when she was asked if a TV or movie deal had been discussed (I’ve popped her response at the bottom – take this as your spoiler warning!).*

I’d been toying with the idea all evening of whether I should tell her just what her first book meant to me. I didn’t want to be one of those gushy fans that authors probably become wary of. Then on the other hand, I thought maybe she’d like to know what a huge impact it’d had. But what about the pressure that might put on her? In the end, I decided to tell her. I couldn’t help it; I stood there, explaining briefly, not going into detail, thanking her for sticking with her work, and I cried. Oh, stars. I cried. I cried for my mum; I cried for the thing I’d never told anyone else before; I cried for the loss, the devastation, and the things that weren’t possible anymore. I apologised and told her I didn’t want to be weird. I was so embarrassed. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t full-on sobbing, but it was more than I’d wanted. She could have just smiled, signed my books and moved on. But she asked if I wanted a hug. I nodded before telling her I was sweaty. She laughed, said she was too and got up to hug me.

Sometimes people are exactly who we need them to be, just when we need them to be it.

So, onto the book itself: Record of a Spaceborn Few.

Told through the viewpoints of several characters, we see how life aboard the huge human ship, the Asteria, has adapted to its status in the Galactic Commons. A part of the Exodus Fleet that carried humans fleeing the Earth, it’s now a long-term home for generations of those that haven’t gone planetside or left to explore the galaxy. All but one of our narrative characters are human (we get the perception of a Harmagian, Ghuh’loloan Mok Chutp, through a series of articles she writes, reviewing her visit to the Asteria). It’s through her that we get the alien interpretation of human behaviour.

Whilst the story introduces what are initially unconnected characters, we finally see the very fine woven line that connects them; the impact of their own individual stories rippling through to affect outcomes for the others.

Through these characters, we learn more about humanity’s changing approaches to various factors of life: death, mental health, work, gender and sexuality. We question our own interpretation of certain values we have today. For me, the book is not just one that needs to be read; it has to be listened to. It doesn’t scream at you, but gently takes your hand to offer guidance and broaden your thinking.

Although Chambers does a brilliant job of worldbuilding, the story is kept to a personal level, allowing the reader to get to know the integral humans intimately, displaying their flaws and their fears. If you like fast-paced, action-fuelled doorstops, then this probably isn’t for you. But, if you want to sit back and let your mind query your preconceptions, then give it a go.

“From the ground, we stand. From our ship, we live. By the stars, we hope.”

– – –

*The Spoiler-y Bit*

*When our host asked Chambers about whether a television or movie deal had been broached, she replied that she couldn’t talk about it. We could see that her mannerisms had changed slightly, and she’d closed up a tad. Our host didn’t question her further but added that in a previous interview, Chambers had answered the question ‘no’ so it was interesting that she’d given a different answer… obviously alluding to something having changed on the topic that meant Chambers didn’t give an outright ‘no’ this time. I guess that means watch this space.


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