I’ve read the first two novels written by Becky Chambers; this is the third she has published, the third in her science fiction Wayfarers series, though it stands well enough alone. While a few details in the narrative call back to the first novel, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, it’s not necessary to have read that novel first. In fact, this might be the best entry point into the series as it’s her strongest novel yet.
Earth is abandoned to environmental collapse, and the survivors who do not colonize the solar system band together to form the Exodus Fleet. They create a tightly knit commune, strictly conserve all their resources and begin their long journey searching for a new sun, a new planet to call home.
This is all ancient history by the time the novel opens. Presently, the Exodan fleet, alone with the rest of humanity back in Sol system, has joined the Galactic Commons, a peaceable confederation of the spacefaring races of the galaxy. They now no longer wander, but orbit a star set aside for them by the grace of the GC. Still, the Fleet exists apart from many planets of the GC, and their ways are seen as quaint by many.
And that’s the novel. It is simple in its execution. It sets out to show how this community functions, and it does just that. The narrative is carried by the able hands of five characters whose paths barely and briefly intersect within these pages — unlike Long Way, none of the characters know each other, at least at first. I haven’t read such an (apparently) realistic demonstration of anarcho-communism since I finished Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, and this novel has hardly any of the latter’s philosophical pretensions. Chamber’s work is far more practical in tone. Indeed, her strength is not in recording great conflicts, demonstrating profound truths or creating showy, intricate plots (though this one is still excellently paced). She revels in quieter, domestic portraits, brief but memorable. If there is a weakness to be found in Spaceborn, it is in how neatly each character’s arc resolves in tandem with the others. Real life is rarely so cathartic, but then again, perhaps that is why we love stories so much.
This story is a good one, simple and well told. Pick it up.