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.

To say that my heart is broken would be an understatement. I don’t want to believe that The Wayfarer Series is officially over after only four books. While these beautiful stories have kept my heart warm on cold nights, I selfishly want more of them. I’m not content to say goodbye to the incredible universe that Becky Chambers spent years crafting and pouring over, but I unfortunately don’t get a say in that matter. While I believe Chambers likely had at least a few more good stories left in her for this saga, I respect her desire to end the series on a positive note.

Chambers has produced a lasting impact on my life, and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for her. Impressively she is finishing one series and beginning another in the span of only a few months. I have her next book, The Psalm for the Wild-Built, preordered already (because of course I do). This next story sounds like it will bring all of the compassion, understanding, and mature conflict resolution that can be expected from Chambers. I’ll read it as soon as it comes out just like I did with The Galaxy, and the Ground Within. But it should be noted that even if the different series come from the same author, none of her future works will be able to recreate my raw, emotional first encounter with The Wayfarer Series. There is always a book that starts your love for a favorite author and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was that book for me. 

Chambers proves time and time again that even through conflict, we can have compassion and express understanding towards those different than us. The universe can still be a bright place full of good people and future friends even if horrible things happen sometimes. She gives a reader hope where other science fiction stories, though sometimes amazing, provide little more than war and depressing dystopian futures.  Don’t get me wrong, the characters don’t all end up as friends in the end or see eye to eye, but they show respect for the other characters’ perspectives. That is so much more meaningful than a cheesy ending that’s all sunshine and rainbows.

Just like with her other books in the series, there are no repeating character perfectives from past novels, and each story is stand alone. Chambers usually finds unique and clever ways to nod to her previous works without being obvious. Someone could pick up this book, even as the fourth installment in the series, and understand what’s happening from beginning to end. But the nuance would be lost on them, and the nuance is what adds the flavor. Everything in one way or another ties back to the first novel and the Wayfarer crew which is an endearing stylistic choice. Of course, I would highly recommend that any sci-fi fan read these books but start from the beginning. It’ll make so much more sense.

While I recognize that her second book A Closed and Common Orbit was not my favorite and is the only book in the series that I didn’t give 5-stars, I’m just going to chock that up to “they can’t all be winners.” Why? Because even if that novel wasn’t my favorite, I still find myself thinking about it a lot, which speaks more to the amazing world-building than the need for every character to be perfect. That’s part of their charm. None of the characters are perfect, and that’s why I love them. 

Overall rating: 5

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