Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is the fourth (and last?) book in Becky Chambers’ wonderful Wayfarers series. Each book has been set in a different location in her vast and imaginative galaxy, featuring different people, and has tackled different aspects of (human) experience from AIs right to a self, to finding a place to belong. The latest isn’t an exception.

The book is set on a small rock of a planet that has no life of its own, but—as Tupo, one of the characters says—even life that is introduced on a planet is life. Gora is a hub of space travel between several wormhole jump points, a place to rest and refuel for a day or two while waiting for a place in the jump queue. Life is contained under large domes, and the only thing connecting the domes is the power grid.

One of the domes is Five-Hop One-Stop, a rest-stop run by Ouloo and Tupo, her child. They are Laru, a species that resemble long-legged and necked dogs or maybe Alpacas; they’re furry and four-legged, with front paws acting as hands. It’s a matter of pride for Ouloo to make each and every traveller feel like home when they visit, whether it’s offering them particular food, accommodating different bathing habits, or finding a suddenly fertile Aeluon the closest place to procreate.

On this occasion, she’s visited by Pei, a female Aeluon, a mostly humanoid species who communicate with colours on their skin; Roveg, a Quelin male who are basically large insects with exoskeletons and multiple legs; and Speaker, a female Akarak, a small species who cannot use oxygen and therefore only exit their ship inside a mechanical armour. Accommodating such different guests isn’t easy, but Ouloo does her best. And then a disaster strikes, stranding them into her dome for days with no way of communicating outside.

Like all the books in the series, this is very much character driven. We follow each character as they try to adjust to a change in their plans, their worries for what they might miss or what awaits them once they reach their destination. Each character has their own story and reason to travel. And for the first time for most of them, it’s a chance to get to know species they find alien. They do this in a respectful manner and with minimal strife, which has become the hallmark of these books. While nothing much happens externally, each character changes through these interactions and by the time they are able to leave, they have made new friends. The epilogue sees everyone to their happy places, the private conflicts solved.

This was a wonderful, happy book that left me warm and fuzzy inside. If this truly is the last one, it’s a great ending, but I wish the series would continue. It’s been imaginative and positive, with great detail and thought put to the biological and cultural differences of the various species, and I’m sure there would be dozens of stories to tell. I for one could read many more Wayfarer books.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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