Book Review

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

Genre | Science Fiction
Page #s | 336
Publishing Date | April 2021

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.

Goodreads

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is the fourth and final book in Becky Chambers’ sci-fi Wayfarers series, and it is either my favorite or second favorite of them all (other potential favorite is The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet). Like all of her books, this is a story about characters and cultures more than action-driven plot, although there is a crisis near the end that catapults our characters into action.

What I love most about this novel in particular is that it’s all aliens, all the time! Although humans (and human-alien relationships) are discussed, we focus on inter-alien relationships as members of four different species are trapped in a single transit hub in a spectacular bottle episode.

By this point in the series, we have grown to have certain opinions of the Galactic Commons and different species such as the Aeluons; this book creates even more nuance and offers a darker perspective to this largely utopian sci-fi vision through the character of Speaker and her oppressed/neglected species. Even when I say “darker,” that so misrepresents this book, because the heart of it is showing how people can connect and understand each other across ignorance and opposing opinions. This book is a master class in engaging with cultures other than your own and how to navigate uncomfortable conversations with empathy.

As always, Chambers’ view of the future is expansive when it comes to gender, which is on full force in this book. One of the main characters is Tupo, a non-gendered pre-teen whose species uses xyr/xym pronouns until they are old enough to decide which gender fits them best. By offering us glimpses of different cultures’ approach to gender, Chambers opens up our current understanding and normalizes seeing gender as a journey.

I’m sad that I’ve now finished the Wayfarers series, and I’m eager to read whatever Chambers writes next!

Who Do I Recommend This Book To?

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is a great book to recommend to a sci-fi fan whose favorite part is the world building.

Check out our Queer Lil Library for more book recommendations and reviews!

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