Book Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few
By Becky Chambers
Let me preface by saying that The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is one of my favorite novels. The second in the series, A Closed and Common Orbit, I also enjoyed, but not to the extent of the first. I was hopeful that this third novel would be more like the first, but I was disappointed. I generally enjoy stories with no consequence, where we follow people in their daily lives. I’m a benign voyeur in that way, but this book was boring. It feels like is should be book eight, or a side-story for those who are super fans of the series and want to know every mundane detail.
The novel deals with the Exodus Fleet, a ship where, centuries before, humans left earth to form their own community. They live solely on the ship, recycling bodies, water, everything. They trade with other races but have no permanent home – they’re nomads. The novel deals with four characters and their conflicts with living in this manner. Tessa is deciding whether to leave, Kip is a typical teenager searching for a life, and Sawyer is looking for a home. While there are conflicts and other thematic concerns, there really isn’t a continuous plot.
Unfortunately, the characters are quite bland and too many are given a perspective. Even by the end of the novel I had trouble distinguishing Eyas from Isabel. Sawyer’s story took a different turn than I expected, but I wasn’t emotionally involved enough with him to care. Kip was annoying, because he was clearly just a typical teenager trying to find himself, and Tessa was relatable but dull. Everyone was a nice person. It was boring.
The themes of collective grieving and home-building and finding a place in the universe were overdone to the point of being pithy. Perhaps I didn’t understand why anyone would elect to stay on an underfunded, resource-poor, space fleet when they could be visiting alien worlds. Institutionalization is not the right word, but it felt like that. Perhaps if the novel had focused on this with only one of the characters, while sending the others off to do more exciting things, I would have liked it better.
There are some parts of the novel I did enjoy. The Harmargin alien discussing the differences between her culture and Exodan was interesting, the gender-neutral use of “M.” to address everyone was logical, and the toddler was funny. The final chapters wrapped up all the characters’ trajectories, which gave it a sense of closure.
Becky Chambers is a good writer with a gentle, flowing prose – her imagination and attention to detail are fantastic and the universe she has built with this novel and the previous two is one I love to immerse myself in. I just don’t give humans enough credit to be able to live for centuries in a fleet without having a civil war over resources or difference in opinion. And, to be frank, that would be more interesting. Is it better to be part of a functioning insular community or live in a dangerous, exciting universe? Perhaps to live I’d pick the former, but to read about? Give me the latter every time.
Will I read another of Becky Chambers books? Of course. Angry Planet holds that much sway.