According to a note from the author in my ARC of The Galaxy, And The Ground Within, this book marks the fourth and final installment of Becky Chamber’s The Wayfarers. I have been a huge fan of the series ever since I picked up the first book (A Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet), and I count the third book (Record Of A Spaceborn Few) among my favorite books of all time – so this announcement left me a bit depressed. And yet, one of the beautiful things about Becky Chambers’ writing is her ability to infuse emotion into almost any person, place, or thing. Although I am sad this series is finally coming to a close after four books, I am also extremely excited to see what Chambers has in store for us next. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, because we still haven’t answered the questions at hand: Is The Galaxy, And The Ground Within a proper send-off to the Wayfarers? Yes, it is. Is it the culmination of the series and the best book of the four? No, it is not.
Let’s get this out of the way early, Galaxy is not better than Record, and that is absolutely fine. To me, Record will always be the ultimate expression of what this series is good at – taking small slices of life in a science fiction setting, layering them with profound insights into the human spirit, and weaving the slices together to create a beautiful cake that is so sweet and delicious it makes you cry repeatedly. However, Galaxy still has a lot going on for such a small package, and in true Wayfarer fashion, it is packed full of love and insight.
The Galaxy, And The Ground Within tells the story of characters who all get stuck at a galactic rest stop together. They were only meant to be there for a few hours at most when a catastrophic accident grounded all flights for a few days. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but each of the three main travelers are in an extreme rush for secret reasons that are slowly parceled out over the course of the story. Our travelers – Pei, Roveg, and Speaker – are accompanied by Ouloo and Tupo, a mother and child who run the rest stop. These five individuals more or less comprise our entire cast, and their story is a quick, quiet tale of coping with inaction when they want nothing more than to act. Although there are only five real characters in this story, it is very much a quality over quantity situation. All five of them are unsurprisingly wonderful and diverse. The book gives you a window into their pasts, the internal dilemmas that they are currently coping with, and how these factors shape their decisions as the book progresses.
There are a number of interesting themes throughout the story, but my personal favorite was Chamber’s dissection of perspective and circumstance. A large part of the book is devoted to the concept that you cannot impose blanket ideas/laws/judgements on people when their lives might be so different that they don’t apply. This theme is best personified in Speaker, who is a small, marsupial-like humanoid that has a lifespan of fewer than ten years. Galaxy brilliantly shows how its universe is extremely hostile and apathetic to a species that does not live their lives on the same literal timeline. It shows how the world can be so uncaring about people who have different needs, and how we need to do more than stand out of their way; it shows how we need to help them. It’s a very powerful message that is easy to connect to our own lives, and Galaxy did a wonderful job getting me to reflect on if I am doing enough for the people in my life who might need an extra hand.
Although it will hit you with a few heavy blows to the heart, Galaxy is a book best described as low key. The book is nicely paced, like a wonderful lazy river after a hot day in the sun. The characters are impossible to dislike. And the story is a perfect mix of breezy, warm, and thoughtful. I cannot think of a better book to end my journey through Wayfarers with, and I can’t wait for all of you to get your hands on it as well.
Rating: The Galaxy, And The Ground Within – 9.0/10