In her new novella, Sunday Times best-selling author Becky Chambers imagines a future in which, instead of terraforming planets to sustain human life, explorers of the solar system instead transform themselves.
Ariadne is one such explorer. As an astronaut on an extrasolar research vessel, she and her fellow crewmates sleep between worlds and wake up each time with different features. Her experience is one of fluid body and stable mind and of a unique perspective on the passage of time. Back on Earth, society changes dramatically from decade to decade, as it always does.
Ariadne may awaken to find that support for space exploration back home has waned, or that her country of birth no longer exists, or that a cult has arisen around their cosmic findings, only to dissolve once more by the next waking. But the moods of Earth have little bearing on their mission: to explore, to study, and to send their learnings home.
I always thought I hated hard sci-fi but this…..this is hard sci-fi and I absolutely loved it. Hard sci-fi with a ton of heart. Becky Chambers is not only exploring the universe here but doing what she does best–exploring the human condition.
Let me start with saying I loved the voice of this. I’m not talking about listening to it, but the voice of the narrator and the way the story is told. It’s part mission report, at the very beginning, and then just a tale of these four explorerors, astronauts and scientists, as they both go about their mission and live their lives. In some ways this is very slice of life, even though we’re dealing with exploring new worlds and finding new life. But that’s really no surprise because a lot of Becky Chamber’s other works have moments that are slice of life or are almost entirely slice of life (Record of a Spaceborn Few, for example). I love how this gives us insight into the characters. There are little things, little moments sprinkled here and there, that tell us so much about these people, who they are, and what they stand for. It’s really lovely.
Now, as far as plot, it does meander a bit. But again, that’s due to the slice of life stuff and also the nature of their mission. Sometimes there is more action and sometimes not much is going on for a while. But the basic plot is the mission and also a bit of a mystery, trying to figure out why this message is being sent, and with the preface included. Why is it important that the people back on Earth understand what the astronauts have gone through? What is being asked of us, the readers of this message? At some point during the story I forgot these questions being asked of us because the things the astronauts going through are so interesting to me. Each world is different and brings a whole new slew of experiences and the astronauts moods shift accordingly with how things are going. They both soar to new heights and sink to new lows. And through it all they carry their humanity with them and we get to see both the fragility and the strength, everything that we are.
One of the things I love so much about Becky Chamber’s stories is their overall hopefullness. Even in the face of very bad things happening, there remains a thread of optimism. And that’s how this story leaves off. I thought the ending, when the puzzle has been pieced together to the best of the astronauts ability and they’re faced with a decision that will affect all of their lives, they choose hope. 5/5 stars.