Book Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

‘Mom, can I go see the stars?’

Reviews of the previous two books can be found here and here.

Becky Chambers takes us somewhere else in her world. I am really enjoying the fact that she keeps writing in the same universe, loosely connected books that sometimes happen at the same time as each other. It feels like we get to stretch out across the world, and try things out from new and interesting perspectives. In previous books, the Exodus Fleet has been mentioned and one of the main characters in The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is originally from the Exodus Fleet.

This book is set (mostly) on the Fleet. It happens at the same time as TLWtaSAP, but elsewhere. The Exodus Fleet is mainly a human place – it is the fleet that left Earth after the rich people had gone to Mars with all the resources and abandoned the scarred planet. It is the fleet that took so long to build that those who conceived of it knew they would never see it fly. And it just went, out into the black not knowing if anyone would find it, if there was anything to find. I have a lot of feelings about the Fleet.

This book, even more than the previous two, is an ensemble piece. It is less a plot, more a snapshot of a culture at a particular time. Of various lives in and around the vast spaceships, how they are shaped by where they live and how they shape it. We have Tessa and Isabel and Eyas and Kip and Sawyer. Tessa, raising her children on the Fleet and worrying about her wayfaring brother. Isabel, an archivist (and also an adorable old lesbian). Eyas, who works with the dead (the dead are composted on the Fleet, because they need something to grow their food in, and it’s rather wonderful). Kip, disaffected teenager trying to find his place. Sawyer, descended from Exodans but raised elsewhere and hoping to come home. And Ghuh’loloan Mok Chutp, a Harmagian ethnographic researcher visiting the Exodus Fleet.

And it’s wonderful. There is so much to talk about here, and I found it all so touching. I don’t want to spoil anything, but this is another lovely book from Becky Chambers, different from the other two but wonderful.

I got very emotional over the culture of the Exodus Fleet, how much it had been thought through. The basic idea of ‘everyone has a home, and everyone is fed’ as the starting place of their culture, and working up from there. That in their culture, everyone is provided for. Resources are shared out, and then people barter for skills or extras. Everything is used, and everyone is meant to be cared for. And that this was a choice that was consciously made when they left Earth, because they had already been through so many alternatives. That jobs are not paid for, but about helping the community function. When you are asked what your job is, you are being asked what you do for the community. Terrible jobs, like cleaning sewers, are doled out on a lottery and everyone has to take a turn regardless. And it’s not perfect, not at all, but Becky Chambers made it very very believable and I had a cry because this is a thing we are told is impossible.

Increasingly, we are told that everything is a commodity. People are commodities, or resources, and we are meant to keep capitalism going and increasingly if the state cares at all it is only in terms of keeping us all going long enough to contribute to the machine. In the UK, our healthcare is being chipped away, and we are still in austerity even though it kills people and it is being made harder and harder to receive Benefits and they are being cut and cut and cut. If you are poor, nobody cares. And we are told that it is impossible for anything else to exist, that anyone telling you otherwise is lying or deluded. But we’ve had a health service for seventy years and it’s worked. In Finland, they trialled Universal Basic Income, and the results were good. I remember reading (though I can’t recall where) that the amount that poverty costs the state in terms of related health problems, desperation crime, benefits etc is far far less than what it would cost the state to just give people money. We live in a world where there is a bloke, the richest person in the world, and he could give every homeless person on the planet 100k USD and still be a millionaire (and there’s a petition here) Just take a moment to digest that. There exists a person who could single-handedly end homelessness and still be a millionaire. That is something that exists and is real. And people sort of just shrug. But try suggesting that maybe people should be given money because they are alive and they are people, and that fine, if this world is going to function on money then let’s distribute it, and watch people go red in the face telling you why that wouldn’t work and why it’s wrong and why, basically, certain people just deserve to suffer. Or watch people nod along right up to the point where they might have to do something. So it was a relief to read this book, to find something so enormously and simply counter to that attitude.

Rating: read this book – spin slowly through space.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Redhead
    Sep 23, 2018 @ 19:49:33

    “When you are asked what your job is, you are being asked what you do for the community” I love this!!


  2. robinpoet8
    Sep 25, 2018 @ 19:34:24

    I really must read this soon this is really exicting to know alternative societies have been fully imagined that puts caring after people because they are human at its heart, good riddance sordid old capitalist world forever!


    • Meredith
      Sep 27, 2018 @ 11:46:45

      The whole series is just such a brilliant world! My copy of the first book is lent out at the moment, but I think the library had it last time I checked…


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