The Galaxy and the Ground Within, Becky Chamber – Book Review

Hello Humans! Welcome to the review for one of my MOST ANTICIPATED books of 2021. I’m grateful to whatever benevolent deity (or…you know…publisher) who decided to publish this in February as I can’t imaging having to wait a moment longer to experience the sheer delight of Becky Chambers’ writing.

So how does the fifth work in the Wayfarers series pan out?

Goodreads Summary:

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.

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I’ll say this right at the start so no-one is confused: order yourself a copy of this book now you will not regret it. If you’re one of the three people left in the known universe to whom I have not recommended this series…suffice to say I am incredibly envious that you get to read them for the first time – you are going to read them right?

I’m going to assume from here on out that you have at least a sense of what the other books in this series are about even if you haven’t managed to read them yet. I do think reading in publication order is the best way to read these, but you could in theory read this book first if for some reason it fell into your lap. (For reference, the only books I would say it’s best to read in any particular order are books one and two).

This book follows on from the previous books perfectly, reflecting that majestic tone that I’ve only ever found in Becky Chambers’ writing. It’s a strange mixture of hopeful, melancholy, triumphant and poignant that cuts a straight line directly to my feelings. I’m being dramatic yes but I was in tears from around page 50 through to the end and that’s not too common an occurrence for me. Those who have read the previous books and loved them will not be dissapointed.

I think part of the reason this book works so well is the characters. While one character has featured as a side character in previous books the rest are totally new. This has never been an issue in previous books and it wasn’t here – I adored each and every one of these ‘aliens’ and I would gladly read more books from each of their perspectives. I look forward to hearing who everyone’s favourites were (I am an Ouloo fan myself).

One thing that I think a lot of early reviewers are picking up on is the fact that there are no human characters in this book. While that’s not a brand new thing for science fiction and Becky Chambers has never shied away from non-human storylines it is nonetheless a really interesting perspective – particularly if one considers that the last two works in the series Record of a Spaceborn Few and To be Taught if Fortunate were quite human focussed (albeit not ‘humans dominate all’). There are a couple of amusing alien observations on humanity but for the most part this is a story about completely different species and cultures with their own identities, needs, political crises etc. I think that part of the beauty of this book is that we learn just enough about each character – there isn’t oodles of world building for each culture we just get a surface level look at the bigger picture while delving deep into the characters’ individual emotions. I wouldn’t trust anyone but Becky Chambers with crafting something like this and she does not disappoint.

This story has moments of tension enough to make my heart race while simultaneously ‘just’ being a story about some strangers meeting at what is effectively a motorway service station in space, if it had any human characters I would call it gloriously human. I suppose ‘wonderfully sentient’ feels a little clinical. If we ever did meet aliens I would have to thrust these books at them and say ‘look – this one person figured out we could consider things bigger than ourselves’. It’s one of those books where for days (weeks) afterwards you find yourself remembering other moments from within the story in a ‘oh yes the part with the museum’ kind of way. It’s one of my hallmarks of a great book, the way it stays with you after the final page. It’s been a few weeks and I’m still stuck on this one.

That’s a lot of waffle to say – I loved this. I think A Closed and Common Orbit is still my favourite of all of the books because it speaks directly to my soul – but this might be a close second…

My rating: 5/5 stars

I received a free digital review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley – all opinions are my own.

The Galaxy and the Ground Within is out February 18th!

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