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Record of a Spaceborn Few, Becky Chambers 28 May 2019

2018 science fiction, stand-alone continuation of the Wayfarers series. Five inhabitants of the Exodus Fleet live parts of their lives.

That's a very vague plot description, but this really is a slice-of-life novel more than it's about major events. Things certainly happen, some of them quite important things, but there's no single overarching plot driver as there was in A Closed and Common Orbit; it's more like The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet, but rather than each character having their Big Moment neatly in turn, here they're all interleaved, and some of them aren't Big Moments at all. (Well, it shouldn't be a surprise that Chambers has matured as a writer; but some writers don't.)

Bigger than any of the characters is the consideration of what the Exodus Fleet is for. When it was built, it was the way to evacuate humanity from the dying Earth; but generations later, it was contacted by the Galactic Commons, and humanity is now part of that and living freely on lots of planets. So… what's the point of keeping it up? What does the Fleet mean now, and does it still have a purpose? What does it mean to be an Exodan?

And while there's something of a single answer, each of these viewpoint characters will have to find their own, which will include considerations of why they should be in the Fleet, and indeed whether they should. At the same time we see the adaptations of culture that come with generations of shipboard life: everything is mended or broken down and reused, including corpses, but that doesn't mean it has to be done without dignity.

For that matter, the Exodans are primitive compared with the rest of the Commons, who've had a lot longer to get good at technology. How much should they take from outside? Is there virtue in making do and mending? They're happy enough with artificial gravity… and what about the use of the outside credit, when the ships' internal economy has run on barter and free provision of basic needs (with a huge side order of social pressure)?

This book isn't about Important People setting out to Change the World; it's about people changing their own lives, and how that has an effect on the world. Slice of life isn't usually my thing, because all too often it means nothing happening at all, just observation; but here it works, partly because there are some things happening and there is a light sense of plot and progress; but more importantly, because the people are interesting even if their problems are mundane ones.

(This work was nominated for the 2019 Hugo Awards.)

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Previous in series: A Closed and Common Orbit | Series: Wayfarers | Next in series: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

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