Audiobook Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers, #3) by Becky Chamber

Title: Record of a Spaceborn Few
Series: Wayfarers, #3
Author: Becky Chambers
Narrator:  Rachel Dulude
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication date: July 24, 2018
Print length: 368 pages
Audio length: 11 hours, 36 minutes
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Brimming with Chambers’ signature blend of heart-warming character relationships and dazzling adventure, Record of a Spaceborn few is the third standalone installment of the Wayfarers series, set in the sprawling universe of the Galactic Commons, and following a new motley crew on a journey to another corner corner of the cosmos—one often mentioned, but not yet explored.

Return to the sprawling universe of the Galactic Commons, as humans, artificial intelligence, aliens, and some beings yet undiscovered explore what it means to be a community in this exciting third adventure in the acclaimed and multi-award-nominated science fiction Wayfarers series, brimming with heartwarming characters and dazzling space adventure.

Hundreds of years ago, the last humans on Earth boarded the Exodus Fleet in search of a new home among the stars. After centuries spent wandering empty space, their descendants were eventually accepted by the well-established species that govern the Milky Way.

But that was long ago. Today, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, the birthplace of many, yet a place few outsiders have ever visited. While the Exodans take great pride in their original community and traditions, their culture has been influenced by others beyond their bulkheads. As many Exodans leave for alien cities or terrestrial colonies, those who remain are left to ponder their own lives and futures: What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination? Why remain in space when there are habitable worlds available to live? What is the price of sustaining their carefully balanced way of life—and is it worth saving at all?

A young apprentice, a lifelong spacer with young children, a planet-raised traveler, an alien academic, a caretaker for the dead, and an Archivist whose mission is to ensure no one’s story is forgotten, wrestle with these profound universal questions. The answers may seem small on the galactic scale, but to these individuals, it could mean everything.

Argh… again with a misleading synopsis blurb! Why does whoever writes things keep coming back to a “motley crew”? That is SO not what this book is about! Anyway…

Record of a Spaceborn Few is the 3rd installment in the fabulous Wayfarers series, and it leaves me in absolute awe of author Becky Chambers and her vision of this sprawling fictional world. Here, she moves the story to a place we’ve heard about but not seen — the Exodan Fleet.

Many generations earlier, humans left Earth as it became uninhabitable, creating a fleet of homesteader ships that headed out into the galaxy with no idea of an endpoint or destination. Eventually, the human fleet encountered other sapient species, much more advanced in technology and in the social complexities of cross-species relations. After some time, the humans were accepted into the Galactic Commons (kind of like a UN for alien species), and many of the humans of the fleet sought out new homes on already established worlds or set out to colonize new human habitations on unsettled planets.

Not all, though. Many remained with the fleet, where their ancestors had lived already for centuries. Among the ships of the fleet, a shared community of sustainability, common interest, respect for the past, and well-ordered social expectations had been built over time. For the Exodans who stayed with the fleet, they were no longer on a journey — the fleet was home.

Within this setting, we follow the lives of several very different characters — some lifelong residents of the Asteria homesteader ship, some newcomers, some alien visitors. Through each, we learn more about Exodan life, their rituals, their beliefs, and the reality of their day-to-day.

The action starts with an unprecedented tragedy — one of the Exodan ships is destroyed in a freak accident. For the rest of the fleet, this is not only a human tragedy with countless deaths, but also a stark reminder of the potential danger and precariousness of their own homes. As the story moves forward, we see the ripple effect on the different characters, some of whom question their commitment to the fleet and wonder about other options, and some of whom reinvest in making sure that the fleet society has a future.

It’s all quite fascinating. In some ways, life in the fleet reminds me of a traditional kibbutz — communal life, with all jobs valued, each giving back to the community through labor, with shared communal living spaces balanced with family spaces, and a shared responsibility for daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and childcare. I was also intrigued by the deeply ingrained ethos of reusing and repurposing. When resources are scarce and the world is a closed system, everything serves a purpose, and nothing can be wasted.

The characters themselves are unique individuals, each with their own interesting lives and sets of joys and worries. These include an archivist, who tends the collective memories of the fleet; a newcomer seeking new meaning after growing up planetside and without connections; a caregiver whose job is to lovingly tend the dead through carefully established rituals; an alien sociologist spending time on the Asteria to study this example of human society, and a teen who isn’t sure where he’s meant to be or what his purpose is. They’re all wonderful, and I can’t say there was any one storyline I preferred over the others.

Record of a Spaceborn Few is loosely connected to the first book in the series, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, as one of the characters is the sibling of the ship captain from the 1st book. Otherwise, this is a stand-alone story within a shared universe. I love how each book in the series opens up a new aspect of life within this fictional universe, broadening our understanding of what life is like for these future humans — among the stars, on a planet, or on a homesteader ship.

While these books are science fiction, there are no raging space battles or chases or high-tech weaponry. The series is about a society, about what it’s like to live in a galaxy where one’s own species is both a novelty and a minority, dependent on the tolerance and generosity of others species. The characters we meet, the choices they make and the dilemmas they face, are far more important to the overall tone and themes of the books than the details of water recycling, propulsion system, or the mechanics of keeping a spaceship working for centuries.

It’s all fascinating, and a remarkable creation. I’ve been listening to the audiobooks — narrator Rachel Delude gives an incredible performance, voicing so many different characters, keeping them distinct and identifiable, and bringing emotion and humor whenever needed. It’s been a terrific listening experience.

I can’t recommend this series strongly enough! Each book is a delight, and each one adds new dimensions to our understanding of the world of the series.

Next in the series: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

I have one book left in the series — The Galaxy, and the Ground Within — and can’t wait to keep going (although I’ll be sad to finish). After hearing about this series for so long, I’m so glad that I finally made it a point to dig in! I’m just sorry that it took me so long.

Audiobook Review: A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers, #2) by Becky Chamber

Title: A Closed and Common Orbit
Series: Wayfarers, #2
Author: Becky Chambers
Narrator:  Rachel Dulude
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication date: October 20, 2016
Print length: 365 pages
Audio length: 11 hours, 29 minutes
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Embark on an exciting, adventurous, and dangerous journey through the galaxy with the motley crew of the spaceship Wayfarer in this fun and heart-warming space opera—the sequel to the acclaimed The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in a new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet introduced readers to the incredible world of Rosemary Harper, a young woman with a restless soul and secrets to keep. When she joined the crew of the Wayfarer, an intergalactic ship, she got more than she bargained for—and learned to live with, and love, her rag-tag collection of crewmates.

A Closed and Common Orbit is the stand-alone sequel to that beloved debut novel, and is perfect for fans of Firefly, Joss Whedon, Mass Effect, and Star Wars.

Beware the misleading synopsis… this book is definitely not a “journey through the galaxy with the motley crew of the spaceship Wayfarer”. In fact, A Closed and Common Orbit has almost nothing to do with the Wayfarer spaceship or its crew, except as a point of origin and connection for its characters. But that caveat aside, let’s talk about what this book actually is.

A Closed and Common Orbit picks up after the events of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Spoiler for those who haven’t read book #1 — the Wayfarer’s sentient AI, Lovelace, ends the first book by being transferred to an illegal body kit by the mechanic Pepper, and the two of them depart on their own adventure.

Book #2 picks up soon afterward, as Pepper, her companion Blue, and Lovelace travel back to Pepper’s home in Port Coriol, where Lovelace faces the daunting task of trying to act like a “normal” human. Inhabiting a high-quality artificial body that appears real, Lovelace adopts a new name, Sidra, and settles into life with Pepper and Blue. But Sidra misses the expanded senses and awareness of being a ship’s AI, and despite the unexpected ways she finds to explore and enjoy using her physical senses, she feels out of place and harshly limited by only being able to experience the world using the “kit” (as she refers to her physical manifestation).

In alternating chapters, we also get Pepper’s backstory. Now a tech wizard who can fix just about anything, Pepper got her start as a child slave in a factory policed by robotic “mothers”, a girl whose entire life consisted of sorting scrap on a planet mainly used as a junkyard. After escaping the factory at age 10, Pepper (then known as Jane) survived by finding shelter in an abandoned shuttlecraft, thanks to the guidance and nurturing of that ship’s AI, Owl. Over nine long years, Jane scavenged the nearby junkheaps and slowly repaired the shuttle until it was finally ready to take flight and escape.

For both Sidra and Jane, learning to be a person presents a huge challenge, as each has been denied human companionship and experiences in key ways. Though their sitations are very different, each must learn how to navigate their new realities and to rely on their own sense of self for survival, and each must ultimately figure out their own purpose in the new worlds in which they end up.

When I started this book, I was a little disappointed that the characters from book #1 wouldn’t be part of the story, but ultimately, I did get very caught up in Pepper/Jane and Sidra’s stories. I loved how some of their experiences paralleled one another, and found their explorations of their respective worlds really fascinating.

While the synopsis describes this book as a stand-alone, I wouldn’t recommend reading it without having first read book #1. The worldbuilding is too complex to fully appreciate without the grounding provided by the first book — there are planets and government entities and alien species to sort out and become familiar with, all of which are introduced in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. That said, this feels in some ways more like a bottle episode of a TV show — set in a familiar world, but with a narrow focus on just a few characters. Like good bottle episodes, this story illuminates more intricacies of the Wayfarers universe than previously seen, and at the same time provides a deep and meaningful interlude in the lives of the characters it focuses on.

I’m curious to see where the series goes next, and plan to continue just as soon as my library hold for the next audiobook comes in. (Side now: As I mentioned in my review of the first book, the narrator here is excellent!)

I’m so glad that I finally got around to starting this series — which has been on my TBR for way too many years. Well worth the wait, and highly recommended.

Next in the series: Record of a Spaceborn Few

Top Ten Tuesday: Top ten books on my TBR list for winter 2022/2023

snowy10

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is about our winter reading plans.

So many books to choose from! This time around, my list includes a mix of upcoming new releases and books already on my shelves. My top 10 priorities to read this winter will be:

New releases:

1) Episode Thirteen by Craig DiLouie: I’ve loved every book I’ve read by this author so far, even though they’re always super disturbing. (release date 1/24/2023)

2) The Magician’s Daughter by H. G. Parry: I don’t know much about this one, but it looks good! (2/21/2023)

3) Lost in the Moment and Found (Wayward Children, #8) by Seanan McGuire: If it’s January, it must be time for another Wayward Children book! (1/12/2023)

4) The Stolen Heir by Holly Black: I’m beyond thrilled that there’s a new book in the world of Folk of the Air on the way! (1/5/2023)

5) Backpacking Through Bedlam (Incryptids, #12) by Seanan McGuire: Another series by Seanan McGuire that I love! Of course I’ll read the new book as soon as possible. (3/7/2023)

6) A Sinister Revenge (Veronica Speedwell, #8): This series continues to be so much fun. (3/7/2023)

And books I already own:

7) Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: Although I didn’t completely love Gideon the Ninth, I’m interested enough to want to keep going.

8) A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers: On the other hand, I did love the first book in this series, so #2 is a must!

9) The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal: I bought this right when it came out, and I love everything I’ve read by this author… and I’ve ended up saving this book to read when I can savor it (which hasn’t happened yet).

10) Akata Woman by Nnedi Okorafor: I really enjoyed the audiobook of the first two in this series, so if my library has this one available via audio, I’ll probably go that route… but otherwise, the paperback will do just fine.

What books will be keeping you warm this winter? Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

Audiobook Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1) by Becky Chamber

Title: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Series: Wayfarers, #1
Author: Becky Chambers
Narrator:  Rachel Dulude
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication date: July 29, 2014
Print length: 432 pages
Audio length: 14 hours, 23 minutes
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.

Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.

Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.

The Wayfarers series has been on my to-read pile for far too long, so I’m thrilled that (a) I finally read book #1, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, and (b) I loved it!

Rosemary Harper is our entry point to the world of this book, although once introduced, she’s just one of many characters whom we follow. The cast here is the crew of the Wayfarer, a tunneling ship that hires out its services to bore tunnels — wormholes — to link far-flung points in space. It’s dangerous, complicated work, but absolutely necessary in an expansive universe in which humans are a minority species without a planet to call home.

Centuries earlier, humans left Earth due to planetary failure — some colonizing Mars, but others, known as Exodans, setting off on generation ships to permanently wander. Eventually, humans were allowed to join the Galactic Commons, the governing body that unites in alliance (sometimes uneasily) the various species who work together to keep the peace and provide structure to the greater world of sapient beings.

The plot of The Long Way takes place on and around the Wayfarer ship, as Rosemary (and we readers) become acquainted with the crew, their personalities, roles, conflicts, and desires, and prepare for the biggest job they’ve ever had. There are romances, secrets, and dangers, but the people are all wonderful (except for one jerky algaeist, but even he gets slightly more tolerable eventually).

The storytelling is very episodic. While there’s an overarching plotline concerning the big, dangerous job the Wayfarer takes on and its aftermath, this is more of a background element for much of the book. Instead, from chapter to chapter, we spend time with the different crew members in different scenarios, learning about each of their backgrounds and what brought them to the Wayfarer, as well as placing them in settings and seeing them go through different experiences.

Because of this episodic approach, there isn’t a lot of building tension throughout the book. Somehow, though, that’s okay. From time to time, there are a few big action sequences or big emotional encounters or high-stakes threats, but the main focus of the book is on the characters themselves and their relationships. The tone overall is, believe it or not for a space adventure, rather cozy… and I liked this approach! We really get to know the characters, so when there are moments of high drama, we understand the stakes and the why and how of different people’s reactions.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Rachel Dulude, and thought it was wonderful. I’ve had experiences of struggling with science fiction audiobooks in the past, where I’ve found it challenging to absorb the tech and details of a complicated sci-fi setting and its world-building. Here, though — perhaps because of the focus on the characters themselves — it simply flows. The narrator gives distinct voices to the characters, even the non-human ones, so there’s never any confusion about who is speaking or what they’re feeling. The narration is crisp and dynamic, and I enjoyed it so much that I’ll probably choose audiobooks when I’m ready to continue the series.

Overall, I really and truly enjoyed The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. It wasn’t what I expected, but I loved what it was! I’m eager to continue with the series — just waiting for book #2 to come in at the library.

Sometimes when I read a book that I’ve been meaning to get to for a long time, the end result is a let-down. Fortunately, The Long Way surprised me in lovely ways and was worth the anticipation. Highly recommended.

Next in the series: A Closed and Common Orbit