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.
It’s hard for me to articulate just how much I loved this book. I mean, I know that’s my purpose as someone who reviews books on a blog, but Becky Chambers always leaves me a little bit speechless with her writing. Her books are like warm hugs that I never want to let go of.
This is the third book in her Wayfarers series and it focuses on a few characters who live in The Fleet, several huge generational ships that were built by humans to leave the planet behind and look for a home elsewhere in the universe. Only instead of finding a new planet, they got a new star to orbit around and the ships became their new planet, so to speak. Many of the Exodans have since left the ships and settled elsewhere, but some have stayed and they try and stay true to their ideals and way of life aboard the fleet. But everything changes eventually and as more and more people leave the Exodans find themselves having to adapt and be willing to open their doors to the outside, allowing for immigration so that they have enough people to sustain the ships and all the various jobs that need to be done to keep things running.
The entire culture of the Exodans is super interesting. Because of the unique living situation, purposefully designed in such a way, they’ve developed their own culture that very much revolves around sharing with each other and equality. Even when it comes to jobs, there are some that all have to take turns at so as not to make any one person do the things that no one wants to do and become resentful. Living on board a ship for such a long time the Exodans knew that they’d have to minimize things like envy, jealousy, and inequality among the people living there. They also, by nature of having no natural resources, reduce, reuse, recycle everything. This has also shaped their culture, even when it comes to dealing with death and how to handle the deceased. On Earth, many cultures buried their dead, but that isn’t possible on board a space craft. An entire new ritual has formed, and respect for the process which outsiders may find weird.
The thing I loved most about this book is that it’s very slice of life. There honestly isn’t much of an actual plot to focus on here. And you know what? It totally works. We have these people and their individual lives and through them we get a picture of what the fleet is like, what life is like, what people like and dislike about being a part of it and their roles within the community. And though there is some little bit of overlap in their stories, it’s still very much individual stories that paint this overall picture. I thought this was such a wonderful way to tell this story. So far each of the Wayfarer books have been a little bit different in the way the stories are being told, and I appreciate that. The commonality is the sense of overall decency of our main characters, even when faced with tragedy, that they are good people and man, I really love stories about good people doing good things. I won’t talk much about the individual stories that lie within except to say that they’re all excellently written and it’s easy to connect and empathize with these characters.
Overall this left me feeling hopeful, if a bit bittersweet. I don’t know why but change always feels that way to me and you can see that The Fleet and their way of life is perched on a precipice here and the only way to move forward is to embrace those changes. But then you have a good bit about preserving the history. You realize that even though there may be changes, even though people come and go, even though they pass on, there will be records of them and it’s all still there, preserved. Loved this book, especially because it made me cry at one point. 5/5 stars.