The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet made me fall in love with Becky Chambers’ writing and with her imagination. I enjoyed the next two Wayfarers books even if my excitement wasn’t always as high and my awe as all-encompassing as with that first book. Chambers’ writing is precise and meticulous, perfectly suited to world-building, with the right amount of details to feel complete without being dull or overwhelming.
Besides the fascinating universe Chambers has created, another aspect of her books continuously delights me, and that’s the characters. Every single character feels whole and they all still live in me months or years after I’ve read the book. Pei is one of those characters. She may not have been one of the main characters in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet but I remember her very well, which, as you know if you’ve read my reviews before, doesn’t happen often. I loved the idea of getting to know her better and Chambers didn’t disappoint. The best part is, all the other characters were just as captivating and I enjoyed every second with each of them.
The premiss of The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is pretty simple: basically, it’s strangers stranded together “on a nothing planet in the middle of nowhere” (to quote Pei). Gora wouldn’t even register as a planet (its name means useless in Hanto) if it wasn’t perfectly situated between more interesting places. Think of it as a truck stop for spacers waiting in line to access the wormhole they need to get through to reach their real destination. One of the places where they can dock and rest, refuel and do whatever they need to do before getting back on the road – so to speak – is the Five-Hop One-Stop, operated by Ouloo and her non-binary child Tupo. All Ouloo wants is for her guests to be happy so when a technical incident stops all traffic, she’ll work twice as hard to make sure their stay is as comfortable as possible. Over the course of a few days, the hosts and their three guests will learn a lot about each other but also about themselves. They’re all different species: Ouloo and Tupo are Laru; Speaker is an Akarak with weak legs, whose sister Tracker stayed on the ship while she took the shuttle to Gora; Roveg is an exiled Quelin; Pei is an Aeluon, on her way to spend a few clandestine days with Ashby, the captain of the Wayfarer and the common denominator to all four books.
There aren’t any humans in this story, and it feels like a perfect choice to end the series, especially as book three, Record of a Spaceborn Few, was all about humans. It brings perspective to the universe and while reminding the reader of how tiny each of us is in the grand scheme of things, it’s also fascinating to realise how relatable these characters are. One might argue that Chambers failed to make them diverse enough, considering they’re all different species, but I like the idea of common emotions and reactions regardless of how dissimilar they are in other respects. Their bonding over their shared confusion as to humans’ love of cheese is probably the funniest scene of the book.
As I wrote before, there’s a deceptive quietness to the stories Becky Chambers tells. Stuff happens but most of it is not at the forefront. What matters isn’t so much events as how the characters react to them. The narrative may seem slow but there’s nothing boring about it. Chambers’ words envelop the reader whose only job is to let themselves be carried away. There’s something very poetic about the world(s) Chambers describes but – and that’s what I mean by deceptively quiet – that element doesn’t hide any of the ugly nor of the glorious.
The message I got from this fourth and final book is one of agency. Which is true for the whole series, come to think of it. (Re)claiming one’s power, whether it be on one’s body, one’s mind, one’s story. Deciding for yourself, making your own choices in a way that, in the end, benefits everyone.
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within doesn’t feel like an ending. I’m not sure if it’s a bad thing or a good thing, whether it should feel more final. I’ll let the optimist in me take over: if Becky Chambers was to change her mind and add more books to the series, they could fit seamlessly.