A Review of The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers
Remember that time you were stuck somewhere for an extended period of time with a bunch of strangers and you all became best friends? So much fun, right? Becky Chambers takes this Gilligan’s Island type of concept, in what appears to be the final installment of what is being called “The Wayfarers” series ( including The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, A Closed and Common Orbit, and Record of a Spaceborn Few). Chambers, who includes lots of anthropological details about the societies of the members of the various races which comprise the “Galactic Commons” throughout the series, gets even more ethnographic in The Galaxy and the Ground Within.
The protagonists are all GC- outsiders in some way, and Chambers focuses on some of the less- described races from the first three books including the Laru, gregarious, long-necked, furry, and flexible, the Quelin, beetle-like, officious, and arrogant, and the Akaraks, short-lived, birdlike, and xenophobic to undercut all of these stereotypes and reinforce the general Chambers ethos of people are people and to to say, once again, let’s be nice to each other.
The characters of the Wayfarers series are all interconnected, if sometimes in the most tenuous and tangential ways, but here we see the return of Captain Ashby’s secret girlfriend, Aeluon warrior and supply-runner, Gapei Tem Seri, an important if somewhat secondary character from The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. This time “Pei,” as she likes to be called, is stopping for fuel and relaxation as a quick layover on a small, unimportant, and extremely friendly planet called Gora. She’s between jobs and on her way to spend a little time with Ashby and the crew of the Wayfarer. But when some incompetent satellite techs crash (literally) the planet’s communications network, Pei and her fellow her fellow visitors to the Five-Hop One-Stop are grounded on Gora and forced to spend several eventful days having breakfast dates, massages, and impromptu garden dance-parties.
Readers are introduced to and get to know, as well: Roveg, a simulation designer who has been exiled from the Quelin Protectorate for speaking his mind (apparently not a super-Quelin activity), Speaker, an atypically non-violent Akarak with an atypically Akarakian interest in other races and an attendant ability to speak other languages, and the Laru hosts on the Five-Hop One-Stop, Ouloo and her moody teenagery child, Tupo. Lots of learning happens and despite an argument here and there and some embarrassing and scary medical emergencies, there’s an incredible amount of niceness happening here. If you like Sci-Fi, but don’t necessarily need heapings of death and destruction in every story, you and I, dear reader, and Becky Chambers as well, have found some common ground.