With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop.
At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.
When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.
Thanks much to the publisher for providing a copy of this for review purposes. This did not affect the content of my review in any way.
I don’t know how Becky Chambers does it but literally every book is better than the previous one. Of course I loved this one, it’s Chambers–she could write the phone book and I’d be impressed. I’m always amazed at the raw edges of humanity she’s able to explore, even when there’s not a human among the characters. She never fears to dig into the heart of the matter, and this is why I love her work.
The Galaxy, and The Ground Within is very much like most of the other Wayfarer books in that it’s slice of life in space. Our characters (except for a mother and child) are all strangers to one another at the start of the story and would have remained so except that due to a failure of technology they’re all stranded together at this pit-stop for an extended length of time with little to no communication as to what’s happening other than they must remain in place until things are cleared for launch. The group all come from very different backgrounds and are moving through this port for different reasons. The various members of this group are all worried about different things–will they make it to where they’re going on time, what about their loved ones, is everything okay on the rest of this planet? To alleviate some of that worry the hostess of the stop decides to try and bring the group together and make everyone comfortable. Left with little to do other than to get to know one another, that’s exactly what they do.
Now, this is where Chambers writing really comes to life. Each of these characters is lovely in their own way. They all have very distinct backgrounds and back stories, motivations and what not. And they’re all good people at the end of the day. But that doesn’t mean they won’t have conflict with one another, even with the effort each of them makes to be polite to one another within the context of each of their species. You have the hostess who tries to make everyone comfortable and accommodate everyone but still sometimes makes mistakes. But she tries and she’s willing to learn. And no one condemns her for getting things wrong because she’s trying. And then you have two characters arguing over a war and who is in the right. (Turns out war is complicated.) You have a character exiled from his homeland. You have a character that everyone fears because their species isn’t understood and is marginalized, left to the fringes of this galactic society. All of these people with their stories coming together makes for some great conversations and leaves the reader with a lot of food for thought.
I think the message at the heart of this book is that we would all be far better off if we understood each other more and took the time to do that. Let’s have extended conversations instead of drive-by twitter posturing. You don’t have to always agree with each other but it’s important to at least understand someone else’s point of view and by listening maybe you can learn something. The characters in this were forced to slow down and interact with each other due to circumstances, but maybe we should all take some time out of this fast-paced world to stop and get to know each other more. Maybe the world would be a slightly better place for it. And that’s why I loved this book and all of Chambers’ writing–she imagines how the world could be better. 5/5 stars.