REVIEW: Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers

Record of a Spaceborn Few is the latest (but not the last!) in Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series. It follows a handful of humans as they struggle with questions of mortality, community, relationships, home and life beyond the horizons of what we call home.
The lives of the characters interweave loosely in this one, and only touch on the events of the previous two novels, such that initially I found myself hoping characters from the previous books would show up in this new context. But it wasn’t long until I fell in love with the new characters as well: as multilayered, flawed and vulnerable as any of Chambers’ protagonists.
The story, too, takes place largely on a single space station – a tiny geographic area considering the previous two books literally spanned planets. And it’s this limited scale that ironically brings brings home just how expansive and intricate the world of Wayfarers really is. As loosely as the stories told in this book lace into the previous ones, this is unequivocally a Wayfarers novel: it’s told in Chambers’ earnest, “up-lit” style storytelling that is uplifting but never saccharine, and the scale of the story feels utterly organic.
This scale was one of my favourite things about the book. Rather than culminate in a giant dramatic space gunfight, as is the wont of so many books these days, the conclusion to Record of a Spaceborn Few is much more introspective. The biggest, most violent event in the book occurs in the prologue, and sets in motion expanding ripples of internal development for each of the point of view characters. The individual plot arcs are all internal, and the conflicts grow out of what the characters themselves find important and difficult: human connection, community, home, individual fears rooted in past trauma.
This may be a different kind of storytelling than today’s readers are used to, recalling the stories of Ursula le Guin more than, say, Star Wars or Star Trek, but it is, I think, a necessary one. So often the sci fi stories we are told are so wrapped up in large-scale conflicts, wars, ecological disasters, planetary destruction, and so obsessed with glorifying imaginative technology and flashy effects, that we lose sight of the human struggle, the everyday detail and collateral damage of the progress humanity has made in these tales. But these stories, for me, are the more interesting ones.
Record of a Spaceborn Few tells a small story rooted indelibly in a larger world and a collective invented history spanning generations. Chambers once again proves herself a keen student of language and culture, deftly and tenderly portraying the complex and often fraught relationships between her characters, in a book that left me feeling deeply contemplative and ultimately hopeful.

Animate Prose and the Sculpture of Language: The Vorrh, a review.

Brian Catling’s The Vorrh (2012, Honest Publishing) has been on my radar for a long time. I’d never heard quite the right things said of it to make me take that last step into actually reading it, that is, until last month, when I found out Catling will be visiting Blackwell’s bookshop in Edinburgh. His visit will coincide with the release of the sequel to The Vorrh, The Erstwhile (in March, details here). Eager for the chance to go to an event for a book I’d actually read, I borrowed a copy from my flatmate and got to work. Continue reading

Painting With Broad Strokes: Grace of Kings, a review.

I picked up Grace of Kings (Ken Liu, Simon & Schuster, 2015) originally because I was enticed by the idea of an epic high-fantasy story not set in a thinly-veiled version of western Europe. The setting of Grace of Kings is a refreshing blend of ancient China and Polynesia, and the un-Europeanness of the story is apparent from the very first page, with an elaborate culture and social hierarchy laid out in clear terms, and sustained throughout the book. Continue reading

Don’t Kill the Messenger: The End of the Day, a review.

First of all, happy holidays and new year to all of you! I’m reading something new for the new year. I got this copy of Claire North‘s The End of the Day (Orbit, April 2017) from work, our fiction buyer handing it to me and saying “can you read this for me please?”. I was sceptical, usually the proofs that get fobbed off on me (with some notable exceptions) aren’t that great (simply by the rules of trickle-down economics, I usually receive the dregs). I’m happy to say that this book is another exception to that rule. Continue reading

Drifting Sand and Lurking Terror: The Ice Lands, a review.

I have quite mixed opinions about The Ice Lands (by Steinar Bragi, Macmillan, 2016), which is relatively rare for me: I’m normally quite good at picking books that I know I’ll like. This one I’d seen in the shop in hardback and thought it sounded interesting. I read a preview online and made a mental note to pick it up at some point. A couple weeks ago I found a proof copy in the staff room and just like that, it ended up at the top of my list, for better or for worse. A lot of my criticism of this book stems from the content and structure of the ending, so while I’ll try not to go into specifics, there may be a few spoilers near the end.
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Magic in a Woman’s Blood: Sorcerer to the Crown, a review.

This book has been on my radar for quite some time. If any of you know me and my taste in books, you’ll know that I was always going to read Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown at some point. It’s been compared to (among others) Temeraire, Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels, and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, three of my favorite sets of books, so it was really just a matter of time.  Continue reading

Ghosts of the Past lurk in the Snow: Thin Air, a review.

Miracle of miracles, a book I didn’t pick up solely for the cover (though that played a part). It was early November, and I’d been wanting to read more ghost stories since having read only one through the entire month of October. So I picked up Thin Air idly, intrigued by the fact that it was both a ghost story and an adventure story. I’ll try to keep this review fairly free of spoilers. Continue reading

The Architecture of Sex and Power: The Girl Before, a Review.

The Girl Before is the latest, it seems, in a cascade of similarly titled thrillers that have come out over the last few years. So I picked it up with trepidation, and didn’t expect very much. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised to find the book engaging and complex, with multilayered characters and an unpredictable plot. I’ve tried to keep this review free of spoilers.  Continue reading