Book Review: The Galaxy and the Ground Within, by Becky Chambers

I’ve owned this book for a while but despite absolutely loving Becky Chambers’ every book I’ve read so far, I was not starting it. I think because it’s the last in the Wayfarers series, which made me really sad. I could honestly read 20 more books in this universe, I dream of a sitcom set in it.

The Story

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.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Becky Chambers is the master of slice-of-life science fiction. Not low stakes particularly, but focusing on the life of a few people who would be insignificant background characters in most other novels, and how the wider universe affects them. I’ve loved all her books I’ve read so far, and this one was no exception.

Think of it as a cozy huis-clos. I know that’s antithetical but that’s basically what it is. A few strangers stuck together and some clear sources of anxiety and conflict… but make it cozy! There is cake! There’s a spa! A teen-curated natural history museum! It’s absolutely adorable.

The only previously known character so far is Pei, Ashby’s partner from Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, but having read the other books would only give you a few extra tidbits of context and enjoyment, I don’t think it’s at all necessary to have read the others to be able to follow this one.

There were also heavier subjects, of course, like ostracization, war and its origins and what can justify continuing to wage it, and political refugees. I really appreciate the tact with which these subjects are brought up, and at the same time despite being about some aliens in the distant future, on a distant planet, it felt very contemporary, which is what I love most in a scifi book – how it can relate to your own experience of the world.

Like all Chambers’ books, this one is about community, and learning to work together – and even build friendships – despite what seem like unreconcilable differences. All the characters are likeable and yet still complex. And unlike the other books in the series, this one has no human, which makes for interesting conversations and narration. I always enjoy a book that gives you the perspective of an alien species with a completely different body and needs, and this gives you aliens’ perspectives on each other, as well as on humans (with the most hilarious conversation I’ve ever read on the concept of cheese!). It’s a deeply moving, fun read full of humanity – for lack of a better word – and it’s cemented my idea that I would read any books Becky Chambers writes.

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Bookshop UK (affiliate link) | Portal Bookshop | Kenny’s | or listen to it on Scribd (affiliate link)

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