REVIEW | The Galaxy, and the Ground Within | Becky Chambers | Wayfarers #4

War was nothing more than an argument in which no one had landed on a better solution than killing each other.

I got the rest of the Wayfarers series for Christmas 2020 (late to the party, I know) and ended up reading them all over the course of a few days. So I was really excited to get a review copy of The Galaxy, and the Ground Within. I highly recommend the audiobooks for this whole series, they’re excellently narrated and such comfort listens.

Rating: 4 stars!

Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for the eARC of this book. It has not affected my honest review.

About the book:

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.

What did I think?

This wasn’t my favourite of the Wayfarers series (that’s Record of a Spaceborn Few, closely chased by To Be Taught, If Fortunate) but by the end of The Galaxy, and the Ground Within I was still predictably weepy. Once again, we have a standalone novel, though I think this one more than any of the others would benefit from having read at least the first book in the series – if only so you know who Ashby is when he comes up in one of the POVs. Still, the way that the worldbuilding is integrated feels comprehensive enough to be clear to a new reader without bogging down the story for anyone who has read the whole series. I listened to the audiobook of this, as I did with the rest, and I highly recommend the audio as a way to consume these stories. Patricia Rodriguez does a fantastic job with the narration, and each of the characters is as distinct in voice as they are in personality.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t completely sold on this one to start with. It started slow, and took me a while to get into properly. The characters are complete strangers, stranded together at a rest stop due to an accident and are forced into close quarters while they wait for it to be resolved. By the end I absolutely adored it, because I’d fallen in love with each and every one of them. Once again we have the light hearted interaction of different species and the mish-mash of cultures that makes Becky Chambers’s books so endearing. They’re comfort reads to the core, and I was teary eyed by the epilogues. The Galaxy, and the Ground Within felt like the most intimate of the series, just watching a handful of characters interact naturally over the course of a few days, and it worked really well.

I absolutely love the alien species throughout all of the Wayfarers books. None of them fall into the sci-fi trap of being human-lite, nor does the series hold humans up as some kind of bastion of power and goodness. They’re all hugely different in biology, culture, personality and experience and it makes for a fascinating read as they interact from their totally different world-views. It also lets them delve into things that might not be natural for a group of the same species to discuss, and it’s those conversations that are the heart of this book. One in particular, and I’m being vague to avoid spoilers, hit home with me and I wish everyone would read it because these ‘alien’ attitudes are incredibly applicable to even our boring human lives. I actually really liked that The Galaxy, and the Ground Within didn’t have any human characters as part of the main cast. Humans were mentioned in passing, and that’s all. It meant I could really bury myself in the Galactic Commons before having to say goodbye to the series.

This is a quiet novel in a quiet series, focusing on character driven fiction in a queer-normative, alien world. It’s not action packed and busy, but instead you get to slowly fall in love with Chambers’s writing and characters both. I know I’ll come back to these audiobooks over and over again to rediscover these characters and worlds. If you like sci-fi and slice-of-life books, you’ll find a perfect mesh of both in The Galaxy, and the Ground Within.

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Release Date: 18th February 2021

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