There are plenty of science fiction books that tell stories of people voyaging to a new beginning, filled with intrigue, dystopias and subjugation. Relic and Record of a Spaceborn Few don’t tell those stories. Perfect for fans of both science and literary fiction, both books deal with what comes after humans have found their place in the stars.
Alan Dean Foster’s Relic tells a thoughtful story of survival. Once a midlevel administrator on the planet of Sebaroth, Ruslan is now the last of his kind. Homo sapiens—a species that had once settled countless worlds—has been destroyed by a disease of its own making, the Aura Malignance. Alone and miraculously disease-free, Ruslan has been given a new home by the Myssari, tripedal aliens whose enthusiasm for “human studies” is only outweighed by their politeness. When Myssari scientists decide they wish to clone Ruslan to reestablish his species, Ruslan is given a choice. While the aliens will not stop the cloning program out of deference for Ruslan’s feelings, they do want his willing cooperation. In exchange for the willing donation of his genetic material, the Myssari agree to look for humans’ ancient home world, a place called Earth.
Foster’s book reads like a slow, methodical mystery, building to something that isn’t quite clear until the last pages. While the discussions of Ruslan’s continued existence and the intricacies of his relationships with the blunt, three-gendered Myssari could have been tedious, Relic is anything but. It is nuanced, with a surprise lurking behind every shadow, making it impossible to put down. Foster’s story also strikingly echoes our own world, where we fight tooth and nail to avoid losing species, even if it means those species live out the rest of their days in dreary captivity. Ruslan’s experience asks, if it were us, would we want the same? Relic will not just keep you entertained. It will keep you thinking.
Becky Chambers’ Record of a Spaceborn Few, the third installment in her Wayfarers universe, tells the story of an entire fleet, as opposed to Relic’s solitary survivor. Hundreds of years after humans left Earth to find a better home, the Exodus Fleet has settled in a new solar system, locked into orbit around a new star and been accepted into the greater galactic community. Most Exodans have left the Fleet, determined to make their homes planetside. Record of a Spaceborn Few tells the stories of a few people who chose to stay in the Fleet, torn between integrating into greater galactic life and preserving the only way of life they have ever known. When an accident destroys one of the Fleet’s homesteader ships, its remaining residents are forced to struggle with what it means to still be an Exodan now that the Exodus is over.
Chambers’ characters are beautifully drawn, and they seem like they could be people next door as much as they could be people from a galaxy away. Her writing allows the reader to inhabit those nuacned characters with feeling, but without maudlin sentimentality or forced emotion. The result is an experience that will leave lovers of both science and literary fiction wishing they had just one more chapter to go back to.