Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers (Wayfarers #3)
“Our species doesn’t operate by reality. It operates by stories. Cities are a story. Money is a story. Space was a story, once. A king tells us a story about who we are and why we’re great, and that story is enough to make us go kill people who tell a different story. Or maybe the people kill the king because they don’t like his story and have begun to tell themselves a different one. When our planet started dying, our species was so caught up in stories. We had thousands of stories about ourselves – that’s still true, don’t forget that for a minute – but not enough of us were looking at the reality of things. Once reality caught up with us and we started changing our stories to acknowledge it, it was too late.”
A common criticism of the Wayfarers books is that they are “lacking in plot.” I think a more accurate statement is that the narrative is deliberately personal and focused on emotions and relationships; the society-wide, epic plot that another author would center is still there, but it’s in the background except when it matters to our viewpoint characters.
I absolutely love all three books. Chambers excels at building and exploring cultures while keeping the story intensely personal; this is the first book tightly focused on a human culture and it’s tempting to call it utopian fiction, but that has an implication of advocacy which I don’t really feel here. Exploring the communist, pacifist Exodan society is interesting, but it’s presented as a society that fits some people rather than the society that is best for all humans (let alone all sophonts.)