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

Book Review: The Galaxy and the Ground Within, Wayfarers Book 4, Becky Chambers

 

The Galaxy and the Ground Within, Wayfarers Series Book 4, Becky Chambers

Science Fiction: The Galaxy and the Ground Within, Wayfarers Book 4, Becky Chambers

Hugo Award winner for Best Series

 

The planet Gora is essentially a truck stop for weary travelers across the galaxy. Devoid of native life, absent an atmosphere and missing any valuable minerals, it’s only value to sapient beings is its location. It happens to be a convenient crossroads for several wormholes to other places, making it a useful spot to refuel, perhaps rest for a short time, and then continue along the journey. It is hardly a destination itself, but like certain massive waystations in desolate areas of the American west, it does the best it can for the travelers who come its way.

 

The Five-Hop One-Stop is a nondescript refueling rest area on Gora. Run by a Lalu mother and child, it offers fuel, snacks, showers, and brief respite to travelers from around the galaxy. On any given day, guests may include an exiled artist on his way to an appointment, a cargo runner for a military force, and a member of a fringe species who cannot breathe oxygen. On one specific day, those three travelers are trapped when a freak accident destroys the local satellite matrix and makes leaving the planet impossible for several days.

 

Becky Chambers’ fiction is very different from that of most other writers. She delves deeply into her characters, none of whom in this book are human. Of course we have no idea what the mindset of another sapient species would be. It’s hard enough to understand other humans, and we have made no headway entering the minds or understanding the perspectives of other intelligent species on earth such as dolphins or octopuses or parrots. Still, Chambers writes with a keen sense of the “other.” What might bring certain species together? Affection toward children? Desire to connect with others? Just as importantly, what might keep them apart? Would a species who leaves their children to be raised by specialists have any understanding of the bond between mother or father and child? Would a species bent on expansion to other planets have any connection with a species that has been forced to live solely in space for generations? Can a species which reaches maturity after twenty-five years of age relate to a species that only lives for about twenty-five years? These are questions that get explored in this warm and engrossing book.

 

We don’t know the answers. We can’t even know whether these are the right questions. But of course, Chambers is not really trying to explore the mindset of aliens here. She is using aliens to shine a light on humanity. How do we deal with “others”? What is a home? What is a family? Can we understand and relate to people who are unlike ourselves? In this book, a found family is created through crisis and shared experience. But the foundation for that is laid in the mindset of those individuals who have come together: a mother eager to expose her child to the wonders of people different than her own species, an artist so defiant of the xenophobia on his home planet that he has been exiled, a woman in a secret cross-species relationship that would end her career, a being whose purpose in life is to be the “Speaker” connecting her species to others. Ultimately, Chambers gives hope that with a modicum of good will, a willingness to listen and to become vulnerable, and the knowledge that we are all in this together, we may just find a way to live together on this or any other planet.

 

The only disappointing thing about this book is that it is said to be the end of the series. If that is the case, I am sorry to see it go. However, Chambers has left us with a universe that has a place for any person (of any species) who is looking to find — or create — their family.

 

Also see:

Book Review: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Wayfarers Book 1, Becky Chambers

Book Review: A Closed and Common Orbit, Wayfarers Book 2Becky Chambers

Book Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few, Wayfarers Book 3, Becky Chambers

 

The Galaxy and the Ground Within, Wayfarers Series Book 4, Becky Chambers

Book Review: The Galaxy and the Ground Within, Wayfarers Book 4, Becky Chambers

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