Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

Becky Chambers
Completed 7/25/2021, Reviewed 7/25/2021
5 stars

This is the final book in the Wayfarer Series which won the Hugo for Best Series after the third one was published.  It’s another character study that’s small on plot, but high in payback.  This time, I totally loved it.  It’s a self-contained story as all the others are, but takes place in the same universe.  It’s basically about three beings from different planets who are stuck in what’s effectively a space truck stop owned by a woman and her child.  They talk, eat, argue, respond to an emergency, and get to know a little more about themselves and each other.  It sounds simple, but it’s a wonderful story about understanding and acceptance.

The story begins with Ouloo and her child Tupo who own a hotel on Gora, a barren planet that is used as a stopping point for traveling between wormholes.  Ouloo and Tupo are Laru, furry quadrupeds who also walk on their hind legs.  Tupo is young and has yet to pick xer gender.  That day, three ships arrive, each with one inhabitant, to stay at the hotel.  Speaker is an Akarak, a birdlike creature with genetically deformed legs.  Her sister says in orbit because she doesn’t like mixing with others.  There’s Roveg, a Quelin, a bug-like creature with many legs.  Lastly, there’s Pei, an Aeulon, a being that speaks through color, and is the love of a human character from the first book, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.  Shortly after they all arrive, there’s a big disaster in the sky, kind of like in the film “Gravity”, where a large group of satellites crash into each other and plummet to the ground.  This brings down communications between the ground and what remains in orbit, as well as between the domes that house the hotels.  So they are effectively cut off from everything for a few days.  During that time, Ouloo tries to be the perfect host, tending to everyone’s needs until the crisis is over.

The book is once again told in alternating perspectives of the different characters, although all in third person.  It was much easier to follow than it was in Record of a Spaceborn Few, which took a bit for me to get used to.  As we are introduced to the characters as they all show up on Gora, everything is relatively pleasant.  Tupo is just delightful as the pre-teen who wants to help Ouloo but always seems to get into trouble.  Roveg, Pei, and Speaker all seem like pleasant enough beings, but all are hiding something they don’t want to share, and normally wouldn’t have at the hotel.  However, with the satellite disaster that strands them there, they of course end up getting on each other’s nerves and revealing things that they would normally not have shared.  

The process is great for character development as we get involved with each being’s life drama.  I was really impressed with each of the characters, feeling empathy for each one.  The drama that develops as time goes on felt very realistic, not soapy.  The whole scenario is of course a metaphor for people of different backgrounds dealing with their own versions of xenophobia and prejudices.  But it’s done in a way that keeps the science fiction alive and not being terribly heavy handed.

That thought segues into how awesome the world building is.  Rather than have human problems, each of the beings has problems based on their own worlds.  Chambers created four distinct races of beings and loaded them with unique and interesting characteristics.  Yes, they are all very different looking, but their worlds are unique as well.  I was simply astounded by how much she was able to pack in about each character and their worlds in such a short novel (just over three hundred pages).  The prose is also wonderful, easy reading with believable dialogue.  

The ending is truly tremendous.  I’m not going to give it away of course, but I’ll say that it left me in tears as all the beings go back to their separate lives after the disaster is cleaned up, each having been impacted by the others.  Even the least likable of the three has her moment at the end.  As with the others, it was moving and powerful.

I give this book five stars out of five.  It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, as there isn’t much action.  Normally, I even like a little action to keep the book going.  But this book didn’t need it.  The beings’ different interactions were interesting and gripping in their own ways.  And this book doesn’t really bring any overall conclusion to the series, as the books are stand-alone.  It’s simply a lovely way to end it.  Chambers has a non-series book out as well as the beginning of a new series.  I’m looking forward to getting around to them sometime soon.

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