ARC received from the publisher, Hodder & Stoughton, in exchange for an honest review.
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: Wayfarers (Book 4 of 4)
Genre: Science fiction
Published: 18th Feb 2021 by Hodder & Stoughton & 20th April 2021 by Harper Voyager
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within concludes Becky Chambers’ wonderfully charming science fiction series with another heartwarming story that is so characteristic of all the Wayfarers books.
This final volume harkens back to the themes that I’ve read and loved in the very first book, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. In most science fiction stories, there’s always some form of study of the human condition as humanity is flung into circumstances which at this point only exists in the imagination of what-ifs and possibilities of what’s to come. What Chambers did in her series is to shift that into an even more exaggerated form by giving us multi-species interactions in a space-age era with galactic-level governments and politics. Just imagine, even though our world has begun to feel a lot smaller with globalisation and technological advances, it is at the same time still fragmented as differences in races, religions and cultures remain as barriers between people.
Apply this concept into the universe, across species and galaxies, and that’s what you get with the Wayfarers series, which was felt most keenly in the first and last book of the series. However, humans are still physiologically the same despite the differences I’ve mentioned above. By extending this to multi-species, where some aliens don’t even breath the same air or reproduce the same way, the barriers are magnified manifold. Somehow Chambers managed to make it work wonderfully in her stories, which are just narratives of these characters (with all their past history, cultural heritage, and even career choices) interacting with each other and learning how to tolerate, accept or even welcome the differences. Given these strong themes of acceptance, LBGTQIA representations are important in these books.
In The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, we have three different alien species stuck on the planet Gora after a freak accident took out all the satellites in orbit. The danger of the space debris resulted in them having to stay grounded at their rest stop, the Five Hop, One Stop, run by a mother and son (Ouloo and Tupo) who were also of another type of alien species. The entire story played out as they all got to know each other, sometimes much more than what could be deemed as comfortable. One of these characters, an Akarak called Speaker, is the one that fascinated me the most as her species was probably one of the most misunderstood amongst them all.
The character interactions are the best part of the book (and series) for me. Those who have read this series before would already know that these books do not centre its narrative around a plot. They are just stories about people and aliens. Stories that explore the condition of being alive, or what it means to have a place to call home or someone totally different to call a friend or even family. Warm and fuzzy feelings abound when I read this book, although it still wasn’t as good as the first one for me. That one made me cry as my heart felt close to bursting.
The Wayfarers books are connected only in the barest sense of an arc and through its worldbuilding, and each could entirely stand on its own. Having said that, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is still the best entry point into this series as there are threads which flow into its immediate sequel and this final instalment. I find it most unusual to consider The Galaxy, and the Ground Within as a conclusion as there really isn’t anything to conclude upon. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and felt satisfied with the ending. I also found it to be a good book to be read together with another title; the lack of any real plot or tension means that it doesn’t have that unputdownable quality but it sure made me feel good whenever I was reading it. This is cosy science fiction at its best.