Here we go, the third and (as far as what’s been published to date) final book of the Wayfarers trilogy. If you’ll recall, the first on The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was the first space opera I had ever read and is now one of my all-time favorite novels. I literally could talk for hours about how amazing it is. Check out my review, if you want an idea of my feelings. Then, last year, I read the second book, A Closed and Common Orbit, which was so very different from the first, and yet had all the same phenomenal insights into humanity through alien eyes (like truly, how does Chambers do it?!). Again, I loved it. So here we are, with me closing out my experience with this universe…and yet again Chambers delivers.
“From the ground, we stand. From our ships, we live. By the stars, we hope.”
This third installation takes place primarily in the Exodan ships. Now, if you’ll recall from the first two, the Exodans are the remnants of Earth’s human population that escaped the planet’s destruction and have been living in space ever since (they’re Spacers, as it were, having never lived planetside). Anyways, as with all the rest, this novel is told from multiple perspectives. Isabel is an archivist, Kip is a young teen trying to find his path/future (either in orbit or planetside), Tessa is a mother and basic laborer, Eyas is a caretaker of the dead, Sawyer is a young human living planetside who chooses to try and revisit his roots/restart his life as an Exodan, and Ghuh’loloan is a Harmagian scientist spending some time living among the Exodan people to write an anthropological study of their lifestyle. Although they all lead different lives/experiences, they are all brought together with the same questions about the realistic-ness of the Exodan fleet’s existence in a world where there are now better resources/opportunities available and, at base, the purpose for/meaning of life and the roles of tradition, practicality, sentimentality and memory in that purpose.
This third novel took place in a much smaller scope than the first two (much smaller) and yet still Chambers managed to infuse it with philosophical questions and explorations of the future, technology, integration with others and what all that means for a particular way of life (as well as how those outside influences can, in some ways, irrevocably change a way of life and, in others, not touch it at all) in a deep, meaningful and masterfully communicated way. It was truly fascinating to read more about the background and history of humans in space and the role they play at the bottom of the metaphorical intergalactic totem pole. The way we are now, the most powerful and intelligent species in the world we inhabit, it takes great imagination to convey what things would be like if we were the least evolved/experienced. It was a very thought-provoking exploration that, while it’s presented in an interspecies way, carries lessons that we could (and should) take away and apply to our current social/economic/race based hierarchies…and it really draws attention to the fact that, as humans, we have far more in common than we have differences. Overall, a very thorough sociological (and opposite-colonial) exploration of humans as a species.
I also liked the look at the way a true system of equality (or, traditionally speaking, socialist utopia) could be possible. Now granted, the conditions of it’s founding were extreme, but still, it was super interesting to read the logistics/specifics of it. To that end, the background Chambers gives of Exodan history and the way their traditions developed and function is equally note-worthy. I particularly loved the idea of human composting as a funerary practice (so creative and, actually, quite cool) and the place/respect for jobs that are, in our own world, looked down on, like sanitation and sex work. And really, the entire look at death and mourning, how it is so culturally based and individually specific, what it means (or could mean) and how those left behind deal with it, is captivating. And I am not really someone that is usually into reading deep philosophies behind death/the meaning of life, etc. – Chambers just writes it all so uniquely and accessibly.
As with her first two books, the interpersonal relationships are complex, fully rendered, and, after the world building, the highlight of these novels. Even with so many narrators, each one still felt real and nuanced and multi-dimensional. They faced their personal demons or challenges and worked through, often with help from the others, the best path for them to follow, even (and especially) when best is not synonymous with easiest. Although there were some tough moments to read, I have to say that I loved the way each of the characters ended up, too. Each of their endings were perfect for their stories and development and spot on sentimentally. Personally, I think Eyas’ self-realization was probably my favorite, but I also really loved the way Isabel and Kip ended up, both separately and together. Last, and I have no idea where to say this, so I’ll add it here, I love the section titles and how they all add up to a greater statement: “From The Beginning. We Have Wandered. To This Day, We Wander Still. But For All Our Travels. We Are Not Lost. We Fly With Courage. And Will Undying.” SO. COOL.
Overall, this book, like the others, was just chock full of intergalactic awesomeness. If I’m being honest, I think this was my least favorite of the three Wayfarer’s novels, but even then it far surpasses most other sci-fi/fantasy that I’ve read. Chambers’ ability to create such depth and reality in both the universe and the characters she has created is something so special. And her ability to deal with such complex topics like race, gender, sexuality, status/hierarchy, etc. in a completely foreign setting, but still in a way that is so perfectly recognizable/applicable to our own world here on Earth, is, for me, unmatched (so far, anyways). It’s the perfect mix of escapism and making you think about your own reality. I just have so much love for Chambers and this series, I cannot even tell you.
Since you know by now that there’s no way I could read something by Chambers and not have a ton of pull-quotes/passages to share:
“Perhaps none of us can truly explain death. Perhaps none of us should.”
“We’re meant to go. And we’re meant to stay. Stay and go, each as much as the other. It’s not all or nothing anymore. We’re all over the place. That’s better, I think. That’s smarter.”
“We destroyed our world and left it for the skies. Our numbers were few. Our species had scattered. We were the last to leave. We left the ground behind. We left the oceans. We left the air. We watched these things grow small. We watched them shrink to a point of light. As we watched, we understood. We understood what we were. We understood what we had lost. We understood what we would need to do to survive. We abandoned more than our ancestors’ world. We abandoned our short sight. We abandoned our bloody ways. We made ourselves anew. […] We are those that wandered, that wander still. We are the homsteaders that shelter our families. We are the miners and foragers in the open. We are the ships that ferry between. We are the explorers who carry our names. We are the parents who lead the way. We are the parents who lead the way. We are the children who continue on.”