Review: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We have reached the end of the Wayfarers series. As has been the case throughout the series, this is less about a specific plot than it is about getting to spend time with the characters that inhabit Chambers’ Wayfarers universe. As soon as I heard the prologue (for I was listening to the audiobook version) I had a strong suspicion this was going to be a Closed Circle plot. This suspicion was strengthened when it was revealed that we’d have a bunch of different aliens that, if it WAS a Closed Circle plot, would be stuck depending on each other and having to work past each others’ differences.

Chambers has always included a tie to one of the previous novels even though each of these are basically standalone. This time we have a direct and an indirect tie in to the first novel. The direct link is the fact that Pei is one of the travelers that is at the hotel.. The indirect link comes from one of the other guests being an Akarak (the species that were the cause of a very tense chapter in the first book).

In a way, this is the most different of the 3 books because each of our protagonists is isolated at this inn (for plot reasons anyone they traveled with were not on the planet with them). So they don’t have the usual Chambers found family to support them. This allowed for a slight bit more antagonism than in the other novels. That said, everyone was very polite most of the time for reasons that made sense for each of the characters. The plot of this book (besides the Closed Circle aspect) reminded me very much of Golden Age Science Fiction like Asimov or Arthur C Clarke’s works. The characters are mostly sitting around discussing and debating cultural differences among the species. They’re mostly delighted or baffled at the differences and, except for one exchange, stay polite about the differences. We also have the character of Tupo, a young Laru, to allow for blunt questions to be asked on behalf of the reader.

Chambers has had species metaphors in each of the books in this series and in this one it seems that the Akaraks are meant (at least partially) to be analogous to various colonized peoples, with strong similarities to First Nations tribes in the Americas. That is to say, the galactic government seems to have found every reason to break prior agreements with the Akaraks. Additionally, mirroring some of the conflict we have now between the Global North and Global South (previously known as the First and Third World) in that the Global North got to pollute their way to economic prosperity and now is telling the Global South they can’t do that. (This isn’t the place to go into my opinions on the matter, but it’s a fitting analogy with what’s happening to the Akaraks in this novel)

Being the fourth book in a series, you probably already know whether you like Chambers’ “Cozy SF” style. I will say, as the books are fairly standalone, there is a chance that you didn’t like one of the previous books and might like this one. As I said before, it’s less of a “cozy” and more of a Golden Age debate class. Because the characters are stuck until the plot reasons are resolved, there isn’t much to do but talk. So if you enjoy that about those old SF books, you might like this one. If you hate that about the old books, then you’ll probably hate this one.

Even though we didn’t stay with the same characters the whole time, I’m a little sad that (from what I’ve seen online) Chambers is done with the universe. I enjoy the worlds she’s created and would love to spend more time there.

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