Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Wayfarers #4), by Becky Chambers

Harper Voyager, ISBN 9780062936042,  April 2021

This is the fourth, and apparently final, book in Becky Chambers' wonderful Wayfarers series. The series is set in the Galactic Commons, a federation of sapient species in the galaxy, of which humans are one of the newest and least important members. 

In this book, as in A Closed and Common Orbit, humans are more peripheral characters. The central characters are two Laru (a marsupial-like species), a Quelin (arthropod-like), an Akarak (a small, bird-like species that doesn't breathe oxygen, and uses a bipedal environment suit), and an Aeluon (bipedal, scaled, bald, and communicate through color patches on their cheeks--somewhat analogous to cephalopods, who also use the ability to change color in various ways to communicate.)

Gora is a world with no water, only a thin atmosphere, no life, no valuable resources--unremarkable except for being at the nexus of five wormholes that provide transport to far more interesting places. It's a busy hub, and the main, or rather only, industry on Gora is providing hospitality, supplies, and maintenance to the crews and ships passing through. Few visitors hang around long, until an accident among the communication satellites in orbit around Gora.

With no communications, and no one able to take off safely due to the debris cloud, everyone is stuck on planet until the debris cloud is cleaned up and communications are restored. At the Five-Hop One-Stop, run by the Laru Ouloo, with the sometimes dubious assistance of her child, Tupo, is suddenly hosting three guests who had expected to be gone within a few hours after arrival.

Roveg, the Quelin, is a vid designer, exiled from Quelin society, and with an urgent appointment to keep. Pei, the Aeluon, captains a cargo transport serving the Aeluon fleet in the Rosk war. She plans to meet up with her friend Ashby, aboard the Wayfarer, but that, too, has a time limit. She can't overstay her leave. Speaker, the Akarak, is traveling with her sister, Tracker--but Speaker is on the planet alone in her shuttle, with Tracker back on their ship. Akarak normally travel in family groups, but Speaker and Tracker don't really have other family.

The Akarak also aren't members of the Galactic Commons, for complicated reasons. They're on the fringes, scavenging and trading, and widely perceived as thieves and troublemakers. Speaker, though, only wants to help her people survive, and is proud of never stealing to do it.

There's not big plot here, built around adventure or battle or murder. It isn't even about the orbital disaster that has temporarily grounded them all. It's about these five people, three travelers and their two Laru hosts, getting to know each other, both as individuals and as members of different cultures with different customs, standards, and beliefs. All of them learn and grow and change, and make some major life choices as a result. As in all Chambers' work, the unifying theme is decency, kindness, and mutual respect, even, or perhaps especially, when it requires some uncomfortable reexamination of oneself and one's own assumptions.

If this is truly the end of the series, and to be clear, kudos to Chambers for ending it now if she feels she's said all she has to say in this setting, I'm going to miss it.

Highly recommended.

I received a free electronic galley from the publisher via NetGalley, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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