The Galaxy, And the Ground Within is the fourth (and final) book in Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series. You can read my reviews of the others here: Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, A Closed and Common Orbit, and Record of a Spaceborn Few. The publisher sent me an ARC via Netgalley with a request for early reviews, so here it is! The book is published 18th Feb in the UK, a couple of months later in the US.
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Wayfarers #4)
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. [goodreads]
This is the fourth of the outstanding space opera series of the century so far, as far as I’m concerned. But, given that most of the space ships in this one are grounded, the term space opera is arguable. Since it has all the wide-ranging emotion and vistas expected of an opera, I reckon it counts.
Right from the start, the unemotional snippet of technical communication suggests something is going to go wrong. It does. The rest of the book belongs to the people marooned at one ‘bubble’ on the Gora surface. Each wants to be somewhere else in the galaxy, with someone else, without delay. What Chambers does is create a microscopic examination of aliens in duress, shoved together in an unwanted emergency situation, where their lives and motivations are examined.
it’s gently gripping
I read this on consecutive evenings, swinging between desperation in finding out each person’s hidden secrets–or agendas–and admiring the depth of worldbuilding. Each species has a full, well-rounded history, not only that we’ve understood from the previous books, but how an ordinary citizen responds to their own history, the politics of their species in space, and their interactions with each other. Personal tragedies unfold. Inter-species arguments erupt. Unlooked-for friendships develop. It’s like a team-building exercise gone galactic. Indeed, I noticed the classic phases of team building over the arc of the book, which made it all the more real for me.
the responses of aliens in lockdown are remarkably familiar
Becky Chambers writing is, as always, subtle, rich and fragrant. The device of language through colour, with no conceptual relationship to the sounds others make, is bewilderingly brilliant. Her ability to convey differences in entire physiology amaze me. The description of the double-layered language of the arthropod/crustacean provides a thing of beauty. What you find here is not up-and-at-em space battles. You get the reflections of people who have been in space battles and who are now grounded. You get the PTSD, if you like. It feels so real, much more so than the technology of space. And that’s what makes Becky Chambers’ books so very special. The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, is a marvellous conclusion to the series (if it really is the last…)