Record of a Spaceborn Few

by Becky Chambers

“Here, at the Centre of our lives, we carry our beloved dead. We honour their breath, which fills our lungs. We honour their blood, which fills our hearts. We honour their bodies, which fuel our own.”

After the second book in the Wayfarers series focused on just a couple characters, I was hoping this one would zoom back out. And it did, in a way: Record of a Spaceborn Few is about the Exodan Fleet, a group of 32 homesteader ships that left the dying Earth generations ago with no destination in mind, knowing they might never find another home planet. This book is about that group of humans who decided, even after being contacted by a friendly alien civilization and admitted into the GC, to continue living aboard their generation ships and carrying on their way of life.

And that way of life is described in great detail: From the organization of the living spaces on the ships, to the mostly money-free barter economy, to their unique funerary practices. That last part is a central theme of the book, as one of the main characters is a “caretaker” named Eyas — she is responsible both for conducting funerals and recycling the composted remains of the deceased. In a closed system like the ships of the Exodan Fleet, every resource is precious: water is reclaimed, fabric is reused, tech is fixed, and scrap metal is smelted and recycled. The people who live there have an understanding — a promise — that when they die, their bodies will be used similarly to help sustain future generations. It’s kind of beautiful, actually.

That said, of the three Wayfarers books published to date, I enjoyed this one the least. I won’t say it dragged, but it would have benefited from some more action and a wider lens. Aside from an initial tragic event that sets the stage for the rest of the story, and another toward the end of the book, nothing much happens, certainly nothing that impacts any of the non-human species that live outside the fleet. This is primarily a story about a handful of characters, and their struggles and frustrations living on relatively primitive spaceships. And while some of it is fascinating, I still felt mildly claustrophobic. It’s a book set in a multi-species galaxy-spanning civilization, but it may as well have taken place in a large apartment building.