Cover Image: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

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As a long-time Becky Chambers fan and Wayfarers series lover, it was a no brainer to request the fourth book. And while this isn't my favorite book in the series, it's a beautiful story with emotional arcs, lovable characters, and tender moments throughout. It made me so happy to spend time with Pei again and see her relationship with Ashby from another point of view! and the new characters introduced were quick to find a place in my heart. I loved Speaker and Tracker's sisterly bond and the exploration of division among different species. However, I did find the story slower than the other books in the series, so it took me a while to get into the swing of things. But I love every Wayfarers book and this one definitely belongs with the previous ones.
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The Galaxy and the Ground Within is the fourth - and seemingly final (according to the acknowledgements) - book in Becky Chambers' Hugo Winning "Wayfarer" series of novels, which began with A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.  I've said on this blog many times before how much I prefer character-focused novels to plot or idea-focused ones, and the Wayfarer novels take that to an extreme: they feature practically no overarching plot, but instead stories of characters in a scifi world in which humans have left a devastated earth and met a mostly peaceful coalition of alien races.  It's an optimistic setting, and the first three books have all been tremendous, especially the first book and third (Record of a Spaceborn Few), so when this fourth book showed up on Netgalley, I requested it immediately and didn't dare hope to get a copy....and was extraordinarily excited when I did.  

And for the first time, I found myself not really thinking a book in this series actually worked.  The book has perhaps even less of a plot than its predecessors, and Chambers does an excellent job with the four main characters - this time around, there isn't a human among them, so we're dealing entirely with alien species and personalities here.  As usual, the book is pretty much a stand-alone exploration of these characters, something Chambers usually excels at.  But this time, Chambers attempts through one of the characters to also cover important issues of oppression, colonization, and the aftermath of it all and the attempt to touch on those themes clashes with the otherwise optimistic tone and it doesn't work at all.  It results in a a major misstep which for me almost overshadowed everything else.  


 ----------------------------------------------Plot Summary----------------------------------------------
The Planet Gora contains nothing of value...except for its location in the Galaxy, which allows it to serve as a hub for interstellar travelers with many different destinations.  So when three alien travelers - an Aeluon, a Quelin, and an Akarak, come to a resting stop on the planet - one run by a Laru and her child - they expect to do little more than stretch their legs or other appendages, stock up on fuel, and then depart.  

But when an accident causes a catastrophe in Gora's orbit, the five of them find themselves stuck together and forced to truly discover how their own perceptions of the galaxy and the races within it, not least of all their own, may not truly be accurate.....
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Yeah, this has to be one of my shortest plot summaries ever, because as with other Chambers books, there really isn't one other than seeing four/five (four point of view characters and one child) characters from different backgrounds - in this case alien races - mashed together in the same location and seeing how they interact and change from the experiences.  The biggest obvious difference from the other three books in this series is that none of the characters are human - we've met all four alien races before (and indeed, we've met one of these characters before - Pei, the Aeluon, is a minor character from book 1 who was the romantic partner of that book's captain Ashby), but never got to see any of this world from their own perspectives.  

And again, Chambers is excellent at showcasing the perspectives of these very different people/species.  You have Speaker, the most interesting of the characters, who is a member of a race in Akaraks who were once enslaved by another race and now no longer have a planet of their own and, due to being methane based, are forced to wear mecha-suits to coexist with other species.  They're also so short lived that each member of their species is forced to specialize (Speaker specializes in speaking to others) in their skills, and cannot take time for granted.  Then you have Roveg, the exiled Quelin whose race exiled him for daring to even hint that their xenophobic approach to the galaxy, blaming everyone else for their ills, might not be right.  Then there's our returning character Pei, who is both at comfort within her species' hierarchy and at the same time not at all due to her human lover, which puts her at odds with her species' taboos.  And you have the host Ouloo, a Laru who took up her job so she could teach her child that even other species deserved to be called family, not just other Laru.  All of these characters are well done in their personalities and in one particular common aspect - their clash with the cultural/racial norms of their species and their own desires (with one exception I'll get to in a second).  

And yet, despite the extremely good character work, for perhaps the first time in the series, the characters don't actually all have any particular character arcs...or when they do, they're not even particularly interesting.  Pei's arc is the most clearly defined - her species' biology forces her to make a choice between a cultural emphasis on reproduction and going to meet her human lover for a vacation (which readers may recall from the end of book 1).....but it's such an obvious choice that she's going to make, and while Chambers writes the conflict within her well, it's kind of a retro internal conflict (To have a child to meet the standards of a community vs to not have a child and to live with whom one wnats) that feels like something out of a book from 30 years ago?  Meanwhile, Roveg and Ouloo don't really have character arcs other than learning to like the other aliens and learning that their understanding of the galaxy isn't quite accurate, as evidenced by Speaker, whose race which is frequently stereotyped as untrustworthy and violent and cannot breath the same air as any other sentient race in the galaxy.  But Chambers still imbues these characters with such life that it still almost works as well as her other books.

And then there's Speaker, the best and yet most frustrating character, which is where Chambers' magic just stops working.  Don't get me wrong, Speaker is great as an individual character and easy to care for.  But Speaker's story is very much that of colonization and post-colonization and oppression, a darker subject and more difficult subject that has been previously handled by the series.  And the book portrays the devastation of that oppression of Speaker's race, the Akaraks, very well through Speaker's POV and a few excerpts from other documents (one in particular is tremendously quotable in this regard): they were conquered by another alien race and their planet made inhospitable for them with their unique methane-based way of life (instead of oxygen based) and even when freed, they have no home planet to go to....and the GC, largely controlled by those aliens, keeps finding reasons to not give them full status or another planet, all the while giving such recognition to other species such as humanity.  Speaker herself, who is an expert in communication with other races, finds that she has to censor herself slightly in how she speaks, so that she is always making everyone else feel comfortable.  It's an uncomfortably real and, for this series, uncharacteristically negative part of this universal setting, which has mostly before been portrayed positively, even if not utopian.  And it's a negative real world problem without answers that conflicts with the series' optimistic tone.  

This tonal dissonance leads to the book's big misstep, which for me at least overshadows everything.  I read this as an e-ARC so I won't quote anything, but Pei and Speaker have a conflict over Pei's support for the Aeluon war effort, in which Aeluon's defend border colonies from another species: from Speaker's perspective, while the other side is wrong, so are the Aeluons for taking "unclaimed" planets for themselves just because they got there first - from Pei's perspective, they were causing no one harm by taking the planets and their own homeworld almost killed them long ago in an ecological disaster, so their expansion was necessary.  Speaker is clearly right here (after all, why should the Aeluon's have such planets when they have plenty already, while Speaker's race is forbidden from having any planets they can live on) but the book never has Pei recognize that fact.  Instead, the two are forced to cooperate chapters later due to a crisis* and the book basically just moves on as if the conflict isn't as important as everyone having individual moments of happiness thereafter, which just...no.  It's made even worse by Speaker concluding that she can never be comfortable with what Pei does/believes - even if she believes Pei means well, because ignoring the issue just "allows problems to persist. - but then still acting as if she's friends with Pei anyhow (although Pei clarifies them as being "not friends")  

*A crisis which feels near identical to one from a prior book in the series, to make it even worse* 

This brings to mind events in our current world, in which certain people argue that we should respect or try to be friends with people of opposite political views....except that many of those political views feature those others absolutely believing that other people don't have the right to live.  And so Chambers' plot seems to both be recognizing the impossibility of such a coexistence/friendship and yet....also creating a situation where it happens anyway, even if the conflict isn't quite so personal as much as one over colonization.  This doesn't work, and the fact that it just gets forgotten in the conclusion just makes it stand out more (and I think this book might be the shortest in the series, making it harder to ignore).  And all over a conflict in which Speaker's side is clearly correct, which is never actually acknowledged by the other protagonist!  Like there's no ambivalence to be had here, and yet this is what we get.  And again it all results in the book basically dropping pretty much all dealing with the themes of oppression for the sake of happy individual endings, and just....that doesn't work.  The book is trying to have it both ways - to be the same optimistic sweet character based story as the prior books and to tackle the unanswerable issue of oppression, and it just can't pull it off.  

In a book where plot is irrelevant, and the important things are the characters, their arcs, and the themes, having a tonal conflict resolve like this just makes the whole thing not work, since there's little else left in the book other than character arcs that are a bit heartwarming, but otherwise insubstantial.  If this is truly the last book in the Wayfarer series, it's a shame, because while Chambers' craft is still clearly there, her message is for once muddled to the point where it all ends not on her usual moment of heartwarming, but in disappointment.
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I really enjoyed this book, but I think it would be even more enjoyable if you've read the previous books, which is totally my fault. Chambers is a great storyteller and the world building of the universe in this series is complex and entertaining.  

This route 66 style road trip is relatable and remarkable despite the uninhabitable planet. As the three travellers are stranded and forced together we see what total strangers can be to each other.
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Another fantastic book from Chambers - very character driven, with her always-excellent world & culture building. Loved it.
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This is the fourth book in the Wayfarer series (the books are only loosely connected, and can be read as standalones). Just like the other books this one is very character driven. But this book differs from the others in a big way. All of the books in the series have multiple alien species thrown together in a “found family“ situation. In the other books that found family was by their choosing, and for the most part everyone gets along great. But in this book they are FORCED into close proximity, and this brings conflict. Guess what? Not every species likes every other species. This brings about fighting, and questioning your preconceived notions (while also questioning the not so great parts about yourself). This twist brought a certain realism to this book that the others in the series don’t have. Yet another job well done by Becky Chambers!

Thank you to NetGalley and Avon & Harper Voyager for this advanced reader copy. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.
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Fans of Becky Chambers will not be disappointed. This is another sci fi novel with a positive tone that is focused more on species coming together and solving a problem then starting a war. I loved this story and found that it was everything I needed at the moment. It does connect to past books in the series, in many small and a few big ways. The ending brought tears to my eyes and I'm not afraid to say so. If you're not a fan of Becky Chambers then you're seriously missing out.
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This title was recommended as a "ray of hope" on a recent episode of the Beacon Podcast at https://mainebeacon.com/its-pouring-and-maine-shouldnt-hoard-its-rainy-day-fund/
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Yelling about how much I love Becky Chambers is basically my hobby at this point. The first book in this series ranks in my top 3 of all time. So when I was able to read an early copy of the fourth (and final) book in her Wayfarers series, I basically fainted. And thankfully it was just as good as I was hoping. It’s not action packed, but is more of a meditation on what it means to be and exist without other people, or in this case, species. Three spaceships are grounded at what amounts to a galaxy rest stop — that’s basically it as far as plot. But reading it felt like I was a kid again, remembering how to imagine. It just made me so happy. Thanks to Harper Voyager for my advanced e-ARC!
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What a lovely end to a series, but it makes me so sad as well, since it's the end!! I'm conflicted. 

If you're expecting twists, turns, plots galore, excitement everywhere, space opera/Star Wars...this is not your book. This is a really "chill" book in the sense that there really isn't action or real plot themes going on. I would describe this as a very relaxed, slice-of-life space novel. 

It's absolutely beautiful and definitely among my favorite reads easily - I heartily recommend the series. 

Thank you to NetGalley, the author, and publisher for providing an ARC copy of this book.
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The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is like a season of Great British Bake-Off: the stakes are incredibly low, descriptions of food are plentiful, and the experience ultimately a beautiful, touching expression of our better natures. And I cried.

Three sentient beings, all from different ships and different species, are unexpectedly stranded on the waystation planet Gora. There's Pei, the beautiful Aeluon cargo runner we originally met in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Roveg is an exile from his home world with an urgent deadline. The final travel is Speaker, a member of the planetless Akarak species. As they're trapped together, they learn about each other's differences… and an emergency brings their similarities into focus.

So obviously, no space battles here. No real villains. Just people— some have 22 sets of legs, some are furry all over, some breathe methane, and some communicate using colors. My sole complaint: I keep falling in love with Chambers' characters, and I'm so sad we don't see more of the ones from the first Wayfarers book here along with the new stellar crop. I'm really glad Pei is part of this one.
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This was an amazing end to an amazing series, but let's be honest: I would have happily read many more installments. 

This was such an interesting slice-of-life story about people of different species who all end up together stuck in the same place by circumstance and they have to make the most of it. This turned into such a heartwarming, friendly book that fits perfectly in the most comforting sci-fi series I've ever read.
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this book was a fitting end to the series. it didn't grab me as much as the other ones did, but I did like the idea of such a disparate group being stuck together. and getting to see characters from older books was great. overall, I think this one had less to say than the others. books one, two, and three all had really clear themes to me and this one just seemed lacking in that respect. but becky chambers' writing is good enough to definitely make this worth the read for me. can't wait to see what she writes next.
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Thank you to Netgalley and Harper Voyager for providing an E-ARC for review!!
	The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is the fourth and final book in author Becky Chambers’ acclaimed science fiction series Wayfarers. The book shows us 4 main characters’ points of view, all from “alien” species (there is no human character with a point of view in this book, as there were in previous novels in the series), as they get to know each other while dealing with an inconvenient situation that is placing stress upon all 4 as they try to get to their destinations.
	The main cast, as previously mentioned, has no humans amongst them: the characters are (for those who’ve read prior books in the series) Aeluon, Akarak, Laru, and Quelin. I very much enjoyed the characters in this book, and especially liked getting to see points of view from species’ we have not seen much of in prior books. Chambers also uses this as a way to diegetically explain aspects of the universe, as some of the characters are not as familiar with those same aspects, and as such act as a bit of a conduit for the readers’  learning. One of the main characters is also a side character in the first novel in the series (A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet), who I enjoyed getting to spend some new time with as well.
	This is usually the place in a review where I’d talk about the parts I didn’t like as much, but truth be told there would not be much to add here beyond little nitpicks. I do, however, want to add a warning for those who have not read other books in the series and are trying to start with this one (not recommended in my opinion, but all the books are fairly standalone). This is not a sweeping, Star Wars-esque action/adventure space opera; even though there is galactic conflict mentioned, this is very much a character-focused book, one that zooms in on character interaction instead of action scenes like some other sci-fi. The characters gradually reveal their motivations and backstories throughout the book, either through internal monologues or with conversation between characters, and the cozy, personable feeling is one of the things I love most about this series. I’m sad to see it go, but I’ll be thinking about these books for a long, long time.

4.5 stars, rounded up to 5.
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Bittersweet ending to a wonderful, delightful, near perfect series. Chambers finished this quartet with a strong, compassionate, beautiful story. It epitomizes why I fell in love with this series to begin with - it's a beautiful look at family (found and biological), the choices we make, the ways we communicate, and the different ways we can show up for each other. Deeply, deeply human (especially for a book that doesn't have any human characters). Left me in tears at the end. Stunning.
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Unfortunately I felt the same about this series from beginning to end: bored. There is very little plot in the books and this one may have had the least of all of them. They are overall too nicey-nice for my liking and conflict, when there actually is some, is too easily resolved. Overall the world Chambers created feels extremely unrealistic, especially for space exploration. I suppose it is fiction so anything is possible, but I as a reader prefer more realism. Also, this series has never truly felt like sci-fi, regardless of its lack of grit or plot.
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Everything Becky Chambers writes has such a rich philosophical weight to it. I know many people were disappointed with the way the Wayfarers series went after Long Way, but it really was a natural progression towards exploring the themes and tensions of the setting, if not following a single narrative. The series asks what it means to be a good person, how to be part of a community, how to make choices that are true to yourself vs those around you vs the world at large, and the friction between those groups and those choices. It asks what to do when there is no right answer, but with such endless care. This is less a series than a group of related works that ask the reader to meditate on how to be a person, and that's not going to be something everyone enjoys (especially since Long Way gives a taste of what the series is to become, but I don't think is representative of the series' goals and triumphs as a whole). 

In this book particularly, it really crystallizes what Chambers has been working up to through the whole series. There's such a breathtaking care given to every character-- complex motives, difficult choices, heartbreaking backgrounds, and exploring what happens when those characters brush up against one another in uncomfortable but necessary ways. It also feels extremely timely-- I appreciate the sheer respect shown by each character to everyone else, despite the sometimes unconquerable differences between them.

This book is going to be polarizing, I think. It doesn't have much of a plot-- only two major incidents happens, and although they affect the story, they're not the main focus. It's really a character study that draws the questions the series has explored up to this point to their natural conclusion. I thought it was brilliant, but people going in expecting a return to Long Way or ever something resembling other popular Sci-Fi series are going to be disappointed. If you instead go in expecting those tropes to be used to hold a mirror to ourselves, I think you'll be quietly pleased.
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Three travelers from three different species get stuck at a refueling station and have nothing to do to pass the time except explore their host's home and each other's differences. If this sounds like the perfect book to read while COVID-19 ravages the US, you're correct. 

I will sing Becky Chambers's praises from now until the sun goes down and then I'll start again when the day dawns new. Her books are fun, funny, hopeful, delightful, and queer af. This book felt like a balm to my soul, especially after the stress and uncertainty of 2020. If you're looking for a light-hearted yet deeply-sincere, low-stakes romp through space, this is the book for you. Even if you're not looking for that, I'm willing to bet this book is for you. The characters in this book (and all the books in the Wayfarers series) will climb inside your head and heart and will not move out.

Endless thanks to NetGalley and Harper Voyager for providing the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review. Publishes April 2021.
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My god, this was just beautiful.

This book is so deeply human. It's poetic that there are no human main characters in this book; there didn't need to be for me to immediately understand that Chambers is examining what it means to be human. I should have expected the deep philosophical core to this book, because all of the Wayfarers books have this bent. But I wasn't expecting HOW FUCKING HARD this one would hit me, and how much I needed to read this book. Perfect to finish out this terrible plague year.

I am in awe of Chambers. I'm in awe of these books. I will carry them around with me, in my heart, forever. I've already re-read two, and I know I'm going to be re-reading again and again and again.

[I can't believe this is the last one. I was hoping this series would go on and on and on, like many space opera series. (hide spoiler)]

Thank you to the publisher and to NetGalley for the ARC.
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I rave about Becky Chambers’s books to everyone, and this one is no exception. Part of her Wayfarers series, this follows a handful of aliens of different species and backgrounds when they find themselves stuck while traveling on difficult missions. They’re cared for by a warm and caring host and her child, both of whom are completely endearing and serve more books about them and their business and guests. Political differences flare up, friendships are made, and extraordinary events occur. Like all of Chambers’s books, this is space opera at its most beautiful, full of kindnesses and learning and understanding and helping. It’s the healing read you need right now.
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A somewhat slow plot, with lots of alien cultural/species digressions. But it's all so interesting and well-written that I don't mind a bit.
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