May 2, 2019
Hugo Reading 2019: "Record of a Spaceborn Few," by Becky Chambers
I'm a fairly serious reader of SFF (science fiction and fantasy). I haven't read all the classics, nor all the SFF published today; that's impossible. But I don't often run across a science fiction novel that I could properly describe as "warm, fuzzy and plotless." This book is exactly that.
It does have its charms, to be sure. It's a deep character study, focusing on six characters (five human, one nonhuman) with intertwined stories. One of the human characters dies midway through, which is one of the few things that actually happens in this book, providing a catalyst for the other characters' growth. What little action there is is character-based, with no overarching goal or threat. This leads to a notable lack of suspense and tension throughout, which must be made up for by the reader's investment in the characters. Your mileage will vary on this one. I struggled to finish this book, and it's already fading from my mind. It's nice as far as it goes, but "nice" is not "award-worthy." Especially when I've already read books this year that have well-drawn characters and an actual plot, and rising stakes. You can have all these things at once, people!
Look, if this is your cup of tea, hop to it. Just be aware that you'll get about as much "plot" as a typical literary novel (without any subsequent higher quality of writing; the writing here is more meat and potatoes--adequate for what it sets out to do, but not outstanding). Maybe that's your thing. It unfortunately is not mine.