The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Book Review)
by Becky Chambers
Wayfarers Series #4
5 / 5 Stars
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is an absorbing and optimistic exploration of family, culture, and the assumptions we all make about one another. And aliens. It’s all aliens. My type of novel.
The story is simple. Three aliens are trapped at an intergalactic rest stop when the satellite array above the planet is damaged and under repair. As they are unable to take off in their ships, they are forced to mingle with one another to pass the time. This seems like a mundane problem that anyone who has travelled has endured, but I’d argue it’s the perfect place for this type of story. Gas stations and rest stops are liminal, transitory places where you don’t expect to make any lasting memories, let alone any connections. To set this story in such a place already gives their characters a sense of security, in that such a place is a stopping ground, a place where one is relaxed and calm because you don’t expect anything of interest to happen as the places are designed to be accommodating but not permanent. But I could talk about liminal spaces all day, so I’ll stop. An extremely character-driven novel, The Galaxy, and the Ground Within revitalized my opinion on the Wayfarers series. I was dissatisfied with the third novel and only found one half of the second to be engaging. Yet, the first, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, is one of my favourite novels; this one is a close second. As someone who loves reading novels about alien species and their cultures (if the job existed, I would be a xeno-anthropologist), this fits the bill completely. This novel is an exploration into four different alien cultures, as seen by four outcasts.
You have Ouloo, the lanky, fur-covered proprietor, who has chosen to live on the barren rock that is Gora, with her teenaged child Tupo. You have Roveg, the insectoid in exile. There’s Pei, who is featured in The Long Way, an upstanding citizen who has a secret affair going with a human. And there’s Speaker, a bird-like alien who lives in a mech suit, who is treated like a criminal due to assumptions and stereotypes about her people. The novels bring these characters together in ways that allow them to grow, learn, and self-reflect. It’s a quiet, calm novel that is at the same time fascinating. As I mentioned before, I love alien-culture novels (Alan Dean Foster’s Commonwealth books, for example, as well as Tanya Huff’s Confederation series. I’m actually wrapping up my own trilogy that features five aliens races), so if this is also of interest to you, and you like “slice of life” stories, you will enjoy this.
It loses a few points for a lack of the pew-pew-pew, but the character, writing, readability, and setting are all amazing.
If you’re looking for a galactic war type of novel, or even one with any sort of action, this is not that (but mine definitely is, so perhaps join my mailing list?). Instead, it’s an exploration into assumption, prejudice, and friendship. It's fantastic.