"We destroyed our world and left it for the skies. Our numbers were few. Our species had scattered. We were the last to leave. We left the ground behind. We left the oceans. We left the air. We watched these things grow small. We watched them shrink into a point of light. As we watched, we understood what we had lost. We understood what we would need to do to survive. We abandoned more than our ancestors' world. We abandoned our short sight. We abandoned our bloody ways. We made ourselves anew."
Science fiction novel, the third in the "Wayfarers" series, written by Becky Chambers and published in 2018. This book was preceded by 2014's "The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet" and 2016's "A Closed and Common Orbit."
This book's focus is on the Exodan Fleet, the home of a large population of the human race. Several centuries ago, when Earth became too contaminated and wrecked to continue to sustain life, humankind built a fleet of generation ships to carry them to a new home. When they eventually encountered the Galactic Commons, the series' primary organization of allied alien worlds, they were, after some rigorous debate, granted membership among the many species of the galaxy. They were given a new star to orbit around and a few gifts of technology to allow them to survive -- and to lift the relatively primitive humans up closer to the standards of the rest of the GC. Some humans have chosen to leave the fleet and live on other planets among alien races, but many continue to live as members of the Exodan Fleet.
The book follows a variety of different viewpoint characters, including:
- Tessa, a woman caring for her two kids and aging father. Tessa's husband has a job on a spaceship and only makes it home a few times a year. Tessa is questioning whether she and her family still have a place in the Fleet or if they should move to a proper planet;
- Kip, a teenager struggling to find his place in the world. He can't find a job he wants, his best friend is a terrible influence, and he'd desperately like to get away from the Fleet and his family;
- Sawyer, a newcomer who's come to the Fleet trying to reconnect with his roots. He's trying to forge a place among people who don't trust outsiders, and his inexperience and trusting nature could get him in serious trouble;
- Isabel, an older woman working in the Archives to preserve human history. One of her most treasured duties is Naming Day, when new babies are officially given their names and entered into the Archives' records;
- Eyas, a caretaker for the dead and counselor for mourners. She knows her role is desperately needed and loves caring for those lost and those left behind, but she also craves companionship with people who will see her as a whole person;
- and Ghuh'loloan, an alien visiting to document life among the Fleet. Her journals sent back to the rest of the Galactic Commons help build understanding and sympathy for the Fleet, but also bring attention and charity that may not be welcomed.
Much of the book is fairly plotless as we follow these people through their lives and experiences, though the story opens with an unprecedented disaster for the Fleet and later hits the characters with a more personal but far-reaching tragedy.
"We are the Exodus Fleet. We are those that wandered, that wander still. We are the homesteaders that shelter our families. We are the miners and foragers in the open. We are the ships that ferry between. We are the explorers who carry our names. We are the parents who lead the way. We are the children who continue on."
The greatest joy of this book is the outstanding characters. Our lead characters are all very different people, and all are brilliantly realized, from Kip's aimless and angsty teenager to Isabel's wise elder who still manages to learn new things, from Tessa's often harried domestic frustrations to Sawyer's naive idealism, from Eyas' passion and compassion to Ghuh'loloan's diplomacy and childlike awe. Even the supporting cast is full of fascinating and true-to-life characterization.
It's also great to have a book that's so positive and so open to diversity of all kinds. The "Wayfarers" universe is incredibly vast, and there's room for everyone inside it. There's a variety of pronouns and races -- it's such a hopeful idea that humankind could eventually grow past the prejudices and petty hatreds of the present day. And it's beautifully written -- often heart-wrenchingly beautiful -- and it may make you feel even closer to the species you were born into.
And the book doesn't neglect that there are other problems that'd come up, too -- there are questions of how advanced technology can cause people to lose jobs, that a society built around barter would struggle to deal with the ways currency could upset the balance that's been built. There's no question that humanity is in a better place -- but not all challenges have been cleared away yet.
If you love hopeful, positive, diverse science fiction, you should definitely pick this book up -- and every book in this series, too.
"From the ground we stand. From our ships, we live. By the stars, we hope."