The Galaxy and the Ground Within is the fourth and final book in the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers. I love this series; the books are creative, and warm without being treacly. I don’t find her optimism unrealistic, which is a neat trick in this day and age.
This book takes place at the Five-Hop One-Stop, the equivalent of a truck stop on a small planet at the meeting point of a few different wormholes. It’s a place to restock supplies, get more food, fuel up, stretch your limbs. There are three shuttles – one being per craft – docked when a satellite catastrophe happens: one satellite breaks, its parts break off and hit other satellites, causing them to break, and on and on until the sky is a mass of bits and pieces of metal and no one can talk to anyone and everyone is stuck.
Hence the meat of the book starts. Who are these folks? Where are they going? Where are they coming from? How will they band together or not when push comes to shove?
She has a great interview on Imaginary Worlds that I would recommend where she explores how different species would interact with each other, assuming that one isn’t simply trying to annihilate the other. Those are the questions she starts with; this locked-in-a-room plot is how she chooses to explore them.
The Galaxy and the Ground Within is the last of these books and I will miss this universe. She is moving on to write solarpunk; I am excited to read those stories. The world needs more practical optimism, and Becky Chambers strikes me as the perfect person to write it.
Becky Chambers writes charming science fiction novels that are primarily about all of the forms that love and family take, and Record of a Spaceborn Few is no exception.
Humans have long since left Earth and been integrated into Galactic society, but there are people who still live on the ships they first set out on, constantly improving and working on and changing those ships so people can continue to live comfortably on them. (And in a great touch: those ships are built from dismantled skyscrapers and other buildings and city structures from Earth – the Golden Gate Bridge or the Chrysler Building could be part of any ship.)
The plot comes from the fact that humans are relatively poor and technologically backwards and the Fleet is essentially that small town every teenager wants to leave for the big, exciting city. But there is also at least one person looking to come back, looking for a place to belong.
“All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” – Tolstoy
(Not that the book is on par with Tolstoy, but the quote is relevant here.) Record of a Spaceborn Few is the story of the town and the people in it, full of warmth and love in many different forms. Definitely recommended.
Shortly after finishing The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, I decided to see if Becky Chambers had any other books – A Closed and Common Orbit is the sequel (and there’s a third! coming out sometime next year! I’m excited!).
A Closed and Common Orbit has strong themes around parenthood, specifically motherhood, and about what it means to be human. There are two parallel storylines. First, in the past Pepper is one of many human girls who clean up trash for reuse and recycling, at least until she escapes; how she makes it off the world she lives on, who takes care of her, all of that. Second, in the present day, Pepper is doing something highly illegal: taking an AI who’s meant to be running a ship and put it into a human (robot) body. Her name is Sidra; how Sidra perceives the world and interacts with it and adjusts, that’s this story.
The chapters interweave, letting you see how both are forming who they are and how they react to their very different worlds. This is different form than the essentially short-story collection of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, and it works.
This is a universe I love, and you so rarely get good science fiction that focuses on women. It’s all the more precious for that.
I have a sneaking suspicion that somewhere in Becky Chambers’ creative process for this book she thought, “I really miss Firefly.” This isn’t a criticism, and The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet doesn’t read as fanfic. But there is some shared DNA.
Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer as a clerk, running away from something, we don’t know just what. Along the way we get to know her and her crewmates as they journey across the galaxy to create a wormhole from their destination back to civilization. It’s not set up as a series of short stories, but that’s the book’s structure – each interlude tells us something new about one of the crew or the relationship between the everyone. We get to see where everyone shines and what their flaws are.
And it’s also about getting along – and not getting along – with each other. We are different, we come from different cultures, we like different things, but in the end we’re all just trying to make our way in the world. A little understanding goes a long way.
I ended up listening to the audiobook, despite the fact that I’d bought the paperback. I’m glad I have both – I walk a lot, and The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet was good company. But I also like being able to go back and pick out the particular story/chapter I want to re-read in the physical book.