Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers (SF novel, 2018).
This author’s third SF novel mostly takes place during the final events of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. In this universe, humans long ago fled an environmentally destroyed Earth in a fleet of enormous generational ships. This is by no means a new idea, as such. But while most such books concentrate on the near-endless sub-light wanderings of such craft and the stresses thus encountered, Chambers focuses more on what happens AFTER the Exodus Fleet encounters advanced aliens (many helpful, some hostile) and find potential new worlds to inhabit (whether unoccupied ones, or ones where they will live alongside aliens of the Galactic Commons–a sort of UN of space-going species).
Another difference here is that, in contrast to most such stories, the humans aboard this fleet have mostly abandoned the destructive habits and impulses that ruined the homeworld. Instead, they’ve created a mostly gentle and positive, largely cooperative new culture. And a good number of them prefer to stay aboard their aging (but familiar) ships, rather than take on the new-to-them challenges of planet-living. With no reason to keep wandering, the Exodus Fleet has for many years been in an extended orbit around the star their alien benefactors gave them.
To tell the stories of a number of Exodans (as citizens of the Fleet have come to call themselves), Chambers brings in an interested alien observer. Ghuh’loloan studies foreign cultures professionally and comes for an extended visit. Each sub-section of the novel begins with one of her reports home, where she remarks about her discoveries and impressions of the Fleet’s way of life. These are written in first person, though with a formalized yet conversational style unique to her super-polite species’ way of expressing itself.
The rest of each section is written in third-person, comprised of individual chapters dealing with each of several humans our alien observer will, in one way or another, interact with. These include the archivist who is Ghuh’loloan’s host and friend, a caretaker for the dead, a directionless teenager, a mother whose destiny may lead her (and her family) to one of the colony worlds and, conversely, a man who leaves the grubby world he knows for the hope of belonging with the Fleet, only to meet a fateful and disturbing destiny of his own.
A fascinating look at a well-thought-out and compelling culture (human yet believably unlike our own), with characters you’ll enjoy mostly spending time with and come to care about, this is high-class space opera–adventurous with a positive but not sappy attitude, both entertaining and smart. A good read and more!