Review: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

I’ve been recommending Chambers a lot lately, even to my husband who has pretty different science fiction tastes. This is surprising because I didn’t like Chambers’ first book, A Long Way to a Small, Dark Planet even though most people raved about it. I found it a bit contrived and self-conscious. But, in my eyes at least, Chambers has grown tremendously as an author with each book in the Wayfarers series, plus her two Monk & Robot novellas. I was a bit sad to see this series end, although as a frequent abandoner of long series, I very much appreciate when an author closes out a series after a few books and turns to something new.

The Wayfarers series is really a set of mostly unconnected novels set in a future time and world.  It’s the closest thing I’ve read to Star Trek, which is probably why I keep finding myself recommending it — space travel, exploration of new worlds and different types of beings, but without a lot of technology.  Chambers is very deliberate about exploring characters with different abilities and sexualities, so like Star Trek her books are often making points about diversity and tolerance rather than just telling a space adventure. And where I did find the first book a little too deliberate, she’s gotten better with each one.

This final book won’t appeal to anyone looking for a lot of action, but it will appeal to readers who like the idea of a space “waystation” where different beings are forced to interact (I skipped Deep Space Nine but maybe it’s a bit like that). A space catastrophe leaves a number of travelers stranded and without external communications. A Quelin, and Akarak, and an Aeulon are all travelers on personal missions who become grounded at the Five-Stop One Hop, a quirky “rest stop” run by an enthusiastic Laru and her surly teenager.  While grounded, they try to help each other but also run into political and communication conflicts and it takes some work to understand each other.

It’s not a perfect read, it’s a little feel-good at times but I did enjoy it. Like Star Trek, Chambers shows how different languages, senses and physical expression can keep people from understanding each other.  One of the characters feels primarily in colors, for example, and another characters can’t breathe the air so has to be wearing a mask the entire time. 

Since this is a very loosely connected series, there wasn’t much to indicate that this was a conclusion other than Chambers’ acknowledgements. So you won’t be sad to lose these characters or the ones from the previous books, and maybe they will show up in whatever Chambers does next. 

I’m counting this for the Backlist Reader challenge, since it’s been on my TBR since 2021.

  2 comments for “Review: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

  1. Sally Jane Smith, Travel Author
    January 22, 2023 at 2:35 pm

    First books are often just a teeny bit awkward when compared to later works. Terry Pratchett’s books are a case in point – the first two in the Discworld series, as well as his earlier sci-fi books – just don’t quite hit the mark (although they’re still worth a read, for die-hard fans like me 🙂 )

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