Review: The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

“I’m not telling you that everything will be all right,’ he said. I’m telling you I understand how horrible it feels to be able to do nothing.”

And here we have reached, the end. The end of the story of those across the Wayfarer books. If you’re one of the (smarter) people who doesn’t follow me on social media, you might not know that the only reading goal I had so far this year was to reread and finish this series in January. Quick bacground, I read The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet almost half a decade ago and while I grasp a lot of detail when I finish books, this was a bit further back (and I reviewed them all here since as well.) So we end, quietly and softly, like the series began.

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.

This is a feeling of finishing a series that I haven’t felt before. There was this calming sweep of feelings came over me as I read the last pages of this book. And a feeling of peace mostly. For these characters and their story. We start off the story with Ouloo as she prepares for her incoming travellers for the day and tries to wrestle her very teenaged child, Tupo, into some form of sociable. I loved the set up here, Ouloo is such a mother character. She’s even described as such later by another character, Pei, and it’s really the best summary I can use for her character. Her caring attention to detail to accomodate the various species she shes at the Five-Hop, along with her stern side with Tupo when they are being unruly was very comforting.

Of course this being a Becky Chambers novel, we have far more than just Ouloo and Tupo. The one familiar character is of course Pei, who appears in The Long Way to a Small Angry planet. She is an Aeulon and captain of a cargo runner ship. There’s also Roveg, a game (or ‘sim’) designer exiled by his people the Quelin and then there is Speaker, a Laru. Her and her sister, Tracker, being the closest thing to a descriminated species this series gets. So none of these are human, the types of alien I will leave you to discover yourself but as this bunch get’s stuck on Gora, the conversations and scenarios that play out are excellent.

There isn’t much plot here other than that, and the worldbuilding is lesser than it has been in the previous too. Where in the previous books Chambers took the reader to a planet, the fleet or to a different time in the GC history, she is now taking us to the very heart of these 5 different people. And she really turns a mirror on them. What I loved about each interaction was it felt real but also not so cynical about the people it presented. Scifi has a habit of being overly cynical at times but I think we all know at this point to learn to know and grow, we have to accept our ugly bits too.

Some of the best character work was, for me anyway, between Pei and Speaker. As a species, they clash. By nature of their vocations, they clash. Pei brings supplies to a hostile border to help people ousted by war. Speaker literally speaks for all her people, her role is to communicate. I liked the contrast of both being dedicated to their professions but being similarly wearied by it. Pei’s does tend to come from her relationship with Ashby but Speaker, just by being her race, is strongly expected to mind her words. To essentially as she puts it, make it easier for others;

‘I can’t always speak my mind, not if I want to get the things I need or go places I need to go. Everything I do, every word I say, is calculated to make people comfortable. To make them respect me. None of it is a lie, but it is an act, and it’s one that gets very, very tiring.’

The main discussion around this entire story is at the heart, prejudice and overcoming the barriers imposed on us by history. I’ve found each book to cover a theme at heart and this seems to sum up The Galaxy and the Ground Within. As I mentioned in a few places, this is the first series I have encountered that ended how it does. Not with sorrow, though I will miss all these lovely darlings, but with hope, kindness and a whisper.

Thank you to Netgalley and Hodderscape for the digital copy of this for review. And thank you all for checking in, happy reading!

★★★★★/5

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