The Wayfarers #4
Scifi, Space Opera
Harper Voyager; April 20, 2021 (US)
Hodder & Stoughton; February 18, 2021 (UK)
368 pages (ebook)
3.8 / 5 ✪
I was kindly provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way alters or affects my opinion. Many thanks to HarperCollins, Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.
Note: In an odd turn, I was granted TWO review copies of this, one by each publisher. Um, can’t complain. Therefore, two reviews. They say the same thing, just published two months apart. I’m not trying to capitalize twice on this, I just wasn’t sure how exactly to handle it.
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is the fourth and final book in the Wayfarers series, a collection of semi-related novels all taking place in the same universe. One of my favorite all-time series, the Wayfarers teaches hope, love and acceptance, while still managing to relate to everyday life, despite the fact that it’s set hundreds of years in the future.
I fully expect that Becky Chambers was sitting around during the pandemic, relaxing and pondering new projects, when some of her friends called her up or messaged her with “the world NEEDS more Wayfarers”. Enter the Galaxy, and the Ground Within [hereby known as simply The Ground Within].
Gora once lived an nondescript existence. The only planet orbiting an unremarkable star, it held no air, no water, no native life or valuable minerals. If not for a series of wormholes, it might not have gotten any attention whatsoever.
As a popular stopover on the intergalactic highway, Gora is a pseudo-truck stop. Here, at the Five-Hop One-Stop, long haul traders, travelers, and spacers alike can stretch their appendages, shake out their hair, and let their lamella breathe.
When a freak tech failure leads to Gora being locked down, interstellar traffic grinds to a halt, at least for the travelers stuck in the system. And specifically for five such spacers at the Five-Hop. Now these strangers (three travelers and the two hosts) must band together to survive—or at least to stave off boredom—or they will fall divided.
The Ground Within is a particularly remarkable book, as it predominantly features no humans, at least among the main cast. As such, I occasionally felt myself (my imagination, at least) come ungrounded as my mind boggled to accurately picture all the non-conforming life. Not that we’re left completely in the dark. Among the main cast are a few species that you’re likely familiar with, should you have read any of the other three books—not to mention one character in particular that has appeared in a previous book, albeit briefly.
The Ground Within is also remarkable as it doesn’t so much feature an overarching plot, per say. I mean, there IS a plot, obviously, it’s just not the typical space opera kind. Instead it’s written in more of the Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet approach of “here’s a subset of characters, here’re their problems, let’s put them in a room and hash everything out”. Which it does, to varying degrees of success.
The main issue is that with no overarching force driving the story, it’s prone to wander aimlessly. Which it does—or feels like it does—for a decent chunk of the book. I often found myself asking “where is this going?” only for the plot to resolve itself in an odd, often roundabout way, or by ditching one path and abruptly taking another, only to return later on. It’s… Becky Chambers is good at this approach. Not to say that it’s when she’s at her best, but she can make it work. And does. There are bumps along the road, however. Once or twice I even considered giving it up, as nothing was happening and I couldn’t see where we were heading. But in the end I stuck it out and was glad I did.
I teared up. Again. Four books and the author has caused me to tear up in each one. I guess that’s as good a measure of success as any other. Although occasionally aimless and often wandering, The Ground Within delivers again. I know Chambers has said time and again that this is the last Wayfarers entry. But if there is one more in the future—maybe we’ll have another lockdown or something—I would like to see it be more guided.
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is the Wayfarers finale you didn’t know you needed. I mean, you KNEW you NEEDED one, you just didn’t know this was it. Possessed of an odd, often leisurely pace, the story seems to wander aimlessly throughout, in no hurry to reach any destination, and even with no concrete destination in mind. This is a particularly remarkable novel, for the reason that there are no humans amongst the main cast. But despite this, Becky Chambers manages to tell a full, amazing story that does not disappoint in the end. While not up to the level of #2 or 3, I cannot recommend The Galaxy, and the Ground Within enough as an emotional, thought-provoking read, combining messages of hope and acceptance. It provides a fitting resolution to the Wayfarers series, and one that I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I did!