The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

Oh no, this isn’t the last in the series, is it?!

The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky ChambersI mean, it’s not a bad way to end it, but there’s still so much more to explore of this amazing sci-fi universe. This installment tells us a bit more of the Rosk war, and further explores the cultures of the Quelin and Akarak introduced as antagonists in prior books. In fact, two of the viewpoint characters here are of those species, with Roveg being a Quelin in exile and Speaker being an Akarak linguist, whose paths cross when they’re forced to stay moored to a habidome of the arid planet of Gora after a catastrophic accident litters the skies above them with debris, making it impossible to leave or even communicate with anything outside of atmosphere.

Fortunately, they’re berthed, more or less, at the Five-Hop One-Stop, a modest but thoughtfully equipped habidome rest facility run by Ouloo, a genuinely hospitable Laru, and her adolescent child Tupo. With them as they first resupply then while away the hours until they can get back on the road (or space lane, rather) is Pei, the Aeluon captain introduced in the first book of the series. She’s already feeling pretty ambivalent about the way she’s been hiding her relationship with Ashby, Human captain of the Wayfarer, but her time at the Five-Hop will find her questioning herself even more about her priorities and her obligations to her culture, which frowns on interspecies romance.

The way these five personalities connect and clash and come together again over the course of their stay at the Five-Hop is a wonderful examination of cultural assumptions, anti-war sentiments and the meaning of home. The first, especially, is the overarching theme of the book, as the individual characters struggle with both their own species’ expectations and the baggage of how other species see them. I felt the most empathy for Roveg, whose attempts to undermine the worst of his culture cost him so much. I was also sympathetic to the plight of the Akarak, and was absolutely fascinated by Speaker’s anti-colonialism stance. And as someone who’s currently raising a pre-adolescent, I was so taken with Tupo, who’s one of the most realistic sci-fi teenagers ever depicted. Finally, the bits about bodily autonomy — whether in terms of parenthood or disability — were so wonderfully and sensitively written.

Which is par for the course for Becky Chambers’ writing throughout those wonderful, thoughtful novels. Gosh, I hate thinking this is the last of the Wayfarer books, especially since I kinda hated the first novella in her current other series. I do hope she considers revisiting this universe again in the future, even if she feels that there isn’t anything left to say about it at this point in time.

Anyway, The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is a more than worthwhile read, and while it didn’t unseat Ryka Aoki’s Light From Uncommon Stars as my favorite for the Hugo for Best Novel this year, it’s still a worthy contender.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers was published February 18 2021 by Hodder & Stoughton and is available from all good booksellers, including

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