Review: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

A cropped version of the front cover of The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers.
A cropped version of the front cover of The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers.

It is always bittersweet to have reached the end of a book series you enjoyed reading. It is no different with this one and in fact the bittersweet feeling is stronger than it has been in a long long time. With the finishing of this book I have reached the end of the road with the Wayfarer series, a journey I started in 2022 and then finished two years later.

In many ways, the end of this series is like its beginning, a series of dialogues and interactions between different species. One of the weirdest things to me about this series is its lack of narrative continuity, sure, we are in the same “world” as we are in the first book but we are with a completely different set of characters in a completely different setting.

Yet, this lack of narrative continuity does not affect my enjoyment of the series in a negative way. The meat of the series is below the surface, its about a appreciation for something very different than oneself. Fundamentally alien natures explored in a compassionate and thoughtful way.

An example of this was how the experiences of the Akarak as a species were portrayed in the book. The Akarak are a species without a home planet to call their own. A species without an ancestral home and without the memory of said home as all that would have remembered have long since passed on.

I felt myself tearing up as Speaker, the Akarak in question related xyr experiences to Roveg, an exiled Quelin who also finds xyrself without a home due to xyr’s banishment from the Quelin home world.

[..] Likewise, it’s impossible for me to have a world of my own. So, I both grieve and am incapable of grieving, because I don’t know what it is that I’ve lost. And none of my kind can tell me. Nobody’s left who remembers.

Speaker speaking to Roveg

The feeling of loss of home is one that all of us can understand I think but magnifying that over the scale of an entire sapient species is one that is hard to truly grasp but I think I got an idea of it from this book. Just the idea, the thought itself left me deeply saddened and tearing up.

All the characters in this book are aliens, there is not a Human in sight throughout. However, at no point did I feel alienated. Fundamentally alien, yes but not beyond our understanding thanks to the great writing on display. In a lot of sci-fi, “alien” is treated as something to be afraid of but this book and indeed this series embraces a more nuanced treatment of the concept. A deeper understanding of the differences but also an exploration of the similarities. This is the kind of sci-fi I want to see more of.

This series is without a doubt some of the best speculative fiction I’ve experienced in my life so far and I will be thinking about it for years to come. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, if you enjoy reading sci-fi, you should read the Wayfarer series. I am looking forward to whatever Becky will write next.