The Galaxy, and the Ground Within
by Becky Chambers
With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop.
At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.
When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.
I received an eARC of The Galaxy, and the Ground Within from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
An Akarak, a Quelin, an Aeulon and a couple of Laru walk into a bar—wait.
I have officially finished the Wayfarers series and, while I’m a tad heartbroken, Chambers has brought this series to a close beautifully, in her usual quiet, hopeful way. She writes gentle sci-fi, and I’m so excited to follow the rest of her writing career.
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within takes place on Gora, a planet used as a stopover for travelling ships—a sci-fi service station, if you will—where a Laru named Ouloo runs the Five-Hop One-Stop with the help of her child, Topo. The day that Speaker, an Akarak, Roveg, a Quelin, and Pei, an Aeulon who appears in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, arrive at the Five-Hop is the day that a technological fault grounds them all on the planet together. What ensues are a number of days in which these people learn about each other and, in the process, learn more about themselves.
This book feels like such a fitting end to the series because of the way it hearkens back to the first book, which is still one of my all-time favourite novels. Not only is one of the main characters a side character in that first book—I loved seeing Pei again—but it’s another sci-fi novel that explores how making the universe a welcoming place for everyone is a choice we all have to make every single day. It’s not until the others meet Speaker, for example, that they realise just how little they know about her people and their history.
One of my favourite things about this novel is that we don’t follow a single human character. It felt like such a lovely response to the previous book in the series, Record of a Spaceborn Few, which focused solely on a human community and made me realise how much I’d love to see more sci-fi novels like this. Sci-fi so often follows humans and our relationship with the universe, but I loved the experience of following four completely different species with four very different cultures. There are often times when they all find each other a little strange, but it’s their choices to learn more about each other despite those differences that makes this book such a heart-warming one.
For me the most powerful relationship was the rather tense relationship that developed between Speaker and Pei, who both have very different opinions about the war Pei is fighting in. Chambers manages both their points of view beautifully, neither of them are either right or wrong because nothing is so black and white in warfare, but it’s the discussion they have around parenthood that I found most powerful. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to spoil anything, but one of the conversations they have is a turning point for Pei and I have to applaud Chambers for writing it.
I loved this book, I loved this whole series, and if you still haven’t read it then I can’t recommend it enough—especially if you’re a reader yearning for more hopeful stories when you reach for SFF.