I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Wayfarers, #4) by Becky Chambers
Representation: Secondary nonbinary character
on 18th February 2021
Published by Hodder & Stoughton Genres: Sci Fi
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.
~natural history can be rocks
~a truly excellent bathhouse
~DESSERTS FOR EVERYONE
As delighted and honoured as I felt to get approved for an ARC of this, it’s kind of hard to imagine that any book of Becky Chambers’ needs pre-release hype. Surely it’s enough to just announce that she’s written a new book, and it’ll fly off the shelves like the spaceships she made her mark with? I mean, do we even need titles or pretty covers or blurbs at this point??? If it’s by Becky Chambers, we’re going to read it and love it, yes?
By which I mean, yes, The Galaxy and the Ground Within is utterly perfect.
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is to the reader what it is to the characters: an enforced pause to rest and breathe. It’s reflective and a little bit dreamy; gently exploratory; focussed on people and the relationships between them rather than big, galaxy-changing adventures. It’s quiet and soft and so perfectly soothing: exactly the kind of book so many of us have been craving.
Or, like some of the characters, maybe you don’t think or realise that you need a little quiet time. But I bet giving your mind a break within this book will still do you good.
Although it stands perfectly as a standalone (like all the Wayfarer books), Galaxy does circle around somewhat to book one, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet; it feels like a kind of companion to it, maybe a mirror. In Long Way, we encountered Pei, the Aeluon in a secret romance with the Human Ashby, who was one of Long Way‘s main characters; in Galaxy, it’s Pei’s turn to shine, as she becomes one of the PoV characters. The other main PoV characters are Roveg and Speaker, who both come from species we have only known until now from the negative interactions we had with them in Long Way. You can absolutely read Galaxy without having read Long Way (although why are you denying yourself the pleasure of more Wayfarer???) but Roveg and Speaker very much serve to – forgive the term – humanise species that we had a poor impression of before.
So Galaxy does bring us back around to the beginning, in a way. It closes the circle, neatly and gently, on what has been one of my favourite, and one of the objectively best, series ever.
I’m struggling to describe the plot to you, because it’s built out of so many quiet, personal, normal moments rather than any big drama. Yes, there’s an accident that grounds hundreds (thousands?) of ships while it’s sorted out, but we’re not up there in the atmosphere with the people dealing with the difficult, exciting part; we’re on the ground, seeing how this delay, and the forced break from their lives, affects the characters. Which is not to say that it’s one long flatline of serenity; Roveg is incredibly anxious that he not be late for a very important appointment; Speaker is unable to contact her sister, who is still in orbit with a chronic health condition; Pei is restless and wrestling with the life-changing choice she’s promised to make; and Ouloo, their incredibly sweet host, is immensely distressed that there’s a problem for her guests that she can’t smooth away.
But these are all…personal, intimate problems. Kingdoms won’t rise and fall by what Pei decides; governments won’t topple if Roveg doesn’t get to where he’s going; and even if Speaker’s sister dies, people die every day, and the universe keeps going.
So it would be easy to dismiss all of these as…uninteresting, I guess. But Chambers has always had the magic of making the reader care about ‘small’ problems. Where other storytellers look at the big picture, Chambers zooms in on the small one…and shows us how beautiful it is. How delicate. How intricate and interesting, made up of so many tiny parts, all of which are infinitely valuable in different ways. And Galaxy, even more than the other Wayfarer books, is very much all about how much the small picture matters. About remembering to care about yourself, and others, not as players on a galactic stage, but just as people.
It’s also, beautifully, about how people come together during times of stress, of emergency. It’s about unexpected kindnesses and confronting your own ignorance or beliefs about others; it’s about different kinds of love and different ways of being; it’s about how fast and deeply you can form a bond with someone who’s gone through a scary thing with you, even if you were strangers before.
It’s about delicious desserts, and just wanting people to be happy.
And I’m tearing up a bit, because this is the end of the series and that makes me sad. But I’m happy too. Because Ouloo is very, very good at her job of taking care of people, and after closing Galaxy, I feel like I’m leaving the Five-Hop One-Stop after receiving the best possible care.
And I can always come back and visit again, just by opening up the pages.
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is out on the 18th of Feb in the UK, and 20th of April in the US. I heartily recommend you make sure you get a copy!