Thursday, August 2, 2018

Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers #3), by Becky Chambers

Harper Voyager, July 2018

Chambers' Wayfarers stories are set in the Galactic Commons, a galactic federation of intelligent species, most of them significantly older than the newcomer humans. Each has looked at a different part of life in the Galactic Commons. This one is set in the Exodus Fleet, the fleet carrying the descendants of the last humans to leave Earth, fleeing its environmental collapse.

They're a distinctly different culture from the humans who settled Mars and the outer planets prior to that final collapse. Originally, they were looking for an Earthlike planet to start over on, and they wanted their descendants to be prepared for planetary life. In addition to their quite functional food- and oxygen-producing farms, they have decorative oxygen gardens, theaters that show nature videos of Earth, murals on the walls that, functionally, don't need to be anything but bare metal.

They also guard against the development of the competition and divisions that helped destroy Earth. Everyone has windows onto space in their living quarters. Everyone is guaranteed "if we have food they will eat, if we have air they will breathe, if we have fuel they will fly." Their economic system is barter.

And membership in the Galactic Commons has brought changes, changes that can disrupt this system.

Tessa is a supervisor in salvage operations--managing and sorting what comes in, sending it on to where those materials are most useful, making sure nothing goes to waste. She has two children, a husband with his own ship and work that takes him and that ship out of the fleet for extended periods, and an aging father. Her husband, George, is earning the Galactic credits the Exodan fleet didn't need before joining the Galactic Commons. Her father has failing eyesight and needs an eye replacement that is Galactic tech, not fleet tech--and which will need those credits George is earning.

Those credits, in larger context, may also be about to buy AI technology that will eliminate the job Tessa has been doing for twenty years, and which she loves. If it happens, she'll find other work, and the security of her family won't be threatened, because this is the Fleet, but...it's making her uneasy, and restless.

Isabel is an archivist. This means the obvious keeping and preserving of records, but it also mean being the officiant at weddings, births, and funerals. She has a love of history and knowledge; she corresponds with scholars outside the fleet. One,  a Harmargian, a member of a species that was distinctly divided on whether humans should be admitted to the Commons, has come to visit and observe.

Eyas is a caretaker; she prepares the bodies of the deceased for composting and return to the soil that helps the fleet live, and counsels the families of the deceased. It's work she loves, finds meaningful, and always wanted to do. Yet she fells there's a piece missing, something more she could be doing as well.

Sawyer is a young man descended from a family that left the Fleet, to settle on a planet. They moved around, never really staying on one planet, and then an epidemic struck for which Galactic medicine didn't yet have proper treatment for humans. They developed it quickly, but Sawyer was the only survivor. At 24, he's decided to go check out his family's original home, try something new to him. He meets Eyas, who impatiently gives him a little advice about how to start fitting in with the Exodans. And he meets a man who connects with with job salvaging materials from a wrecked ship.

Kip is a teenager feeling restless and dissatisfied. He has no idea what he wants to do, he's not sure he wants to stay in the fleet, and he has a friend with perhaps more intellectual firepower (not that Kip isn't smart), but perhaps not as good judgment or concern for others.

They're all trying to find their way, all being affected by the changes that are coming to the fleet, now that they're part of the Galactic Commons and have been settled, not on planet, but around an otherwise unused star. Their culture is surviving, but also growing and changing. This is a story about how they cope, how they adapt, what they feel and think and do. It's about decent people trying to make the right decisions, for themselves and those they care about, in changing circumstances.

For me, that makes it the best kind of story. Chambers makes these people you can care about, and want good outcomes for.

Highly recommended.

I bought this book.