Years ago, I remember hearing buzz about Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, things like what a different approach to science fiction this was and that it was super inclusive story.
This was in the back of my mind as I started Record of a Spaceborn Few knowing that this would be a “different” sci-fi story, but I didn’t really know what that meant. I enjoyed this book and will probably read more of Becky Chambers work at some point, but am left with mixed feelings about this first reading experience.
Things I loved: the characters, the genuine thought and consideration of the question of “well, how would a bunch of humans survive in space?”. I love the anthropologic curiosity and approach to all these different races, but especially to the born-in-captivity Exodans.
Things I didn’t not like, but wish I’d understood about the book going in: this book is slow. The plot is very barebones, and the actual big, inciting incident happens two-thirds of the way through the book. The description on the back of the book kept describing a big tragedy, but I didn’t even notice when that tragedy happened. The book begins with a tragedy, obviously, but then there’s something else “big” later in the book which starts the “plot” rolling, but to me, the tragedy in the prologue felt so much more moving and shocking than what came later. This is a quiet story, which I didn’t really understand before. The danger and suspense comes almost entirely from character’s internal mechanisms. I don’t not like it, because I do like the characters, but it’s also been a few days now since I finished Record, and I still feel like what I actually just read was just a very long first act.
This is a different sort of post. I don’t know even know what to call it. A meditation, maybe? I’ve just been thinking a lot lately and chasing down my thoughts in circles, and I want to put some of it out there.
As a writer, I can divide my writing into “eras.” There are common themes, tropes, even similar characters that appear over and over again in every era. It’s like I’m constantly trying to work out the emotional knots in my brain. Repression has always been my response to trauma, and maybe that’s why all my anxiety and hurt gets channeled into my writing like this.
When my grandmother died in 2014, it was a trauma that took me three years to be able to talk about with anyone. It took another year and a half before I could acknowledge it publicly. But even as I kept my public silence, that grief found its way into my writing constantly. I had a “grandma” writing era.
I’m so proud of this poem — “Red Tides.” I’m so proud of verbalizing a grief that took me three years to accept. But still, I’ve never read this poem out loud. I’ve never performed it, never even shared it with anyone outside of workshop or my closest friends and family. There is so much symbolism layered into this piece. The idea of picking it up and saying publicly, “These are the things that haunt me every day of my life” feels so daunting.
And then there’s my “family dynamics” era. For the past three years, everything I’ve written can be traced back to an obsession with family sagas and dysfunction. I can’t stop trying to heal these fictional families and bring them closure.
Anyway, the main point is this. The first half of 2019 was rough. It felt like my life imploded in the spring, which is a very dramatic way to describe it, but there it is. My relationship ended badly, and a friend violated my boundaries, and both incidents — and the resulting gossip — left me reeling.
I didn’t love this one *quite* as much as I loved Practical Magic, but honestly, given how much I loved that one, that’s a pretty high bar. At any rate, this book has a lovely beautiful and believable backstory for the aunts, and I understand more why they are as they are in the original book. I think I would’ve liked to have seen more peripheral story, because this story does take place r an interesting time in history, but where history does enter, it’s always very meaningful and deliberate. I’m looking forward to rereading Practical Magic sometime with my new knowledge.