Book reviews / Science Fiction

Book review: The galaxy, an the ground within

I’m just going to start by saying Becky Chambers made me cry. I don’t know how she does it, but her stories are SO LOVELY AND HOPEFUL. And then my face leaks water everywhere by the end.

For the uninitiated, this is the final book in the Wayfarers series, a time in the future where there is a galactic community, with many different species with interesting histories and complications.

All the books feel political in some sense, exploring some aspect of living together as multiple species or beings, but with a relentless positively and hopefulness that makes you feel better about the universe. It’s such a balm to the futures imagined of corporate hell-scapes or depressing, universe-ending events. But it’s done with such a delicate touch and wonderful sympathy for the characters, that you can’t help but have all your feelings escape your eyes by the end.

In this novel, strangers are trapped in the space equivalent of a delightful (if kitsch) bed and breakfast through some planetary infrastructure going awry. They are all different species (none of them human), with their own personal reasons for needing to transit the planet (Gora), and their pit-stop at the Five Hop was supposed to be temporary. But through being trapped and the personal baggage they brought with them, they all help each other in different ways.

It’s a beautiful story about not just toleration but genuine empathy for your fellow beings, but also being aware of where things have gone wrong in the past (and still going wrong). There’s enough there about understanding different political perspectives but subtly interwoven with the plot. It’s a book about strangers becoming friends.

There’s so much to like in the novel. I so much enjoyed the variety of ways the different characters needed to convey complex feelings or concepts. Things like family, music, grief and all the things that pull at the core of you? Concepts that are so fundamental to a culture that define the way you act and feel, to another culture that has such different ways of interacting with the world? It’s all done in such a casual way that it feels like this could be a conversation from the future. I think some people might think it’s too sentimental, but I think it does just enough to evoke these feelings without feeling too heavy handed.

I liked all the characters, they were all different and interesting. They all had problems that seemed enormous to them, but in the grand scale of things, they were only intense on a personal level. In some ways they needed these outside perspectives to push them in one direction or another, to a happier future (but ones that were not entirely without difficulty.)

I also adored the end. The happenstance of these characters meeting and making each other’s lives richer but more full of kindness. Literally, spent the longest time reading the last couple chapters because I was just constantly blubbering. It was such a wonderful encapsulation of the feeling of the entire series, such a great way to end such a hopeful vision of the future, even if it still has its flaws.

Becky Chambers is definitely my favourite authors today. I love the humanism and optimism that pervades every book she writes. It’s the universe I want to will into existence, above any others that I’ve read.

I mean, obviously go get it. And the rest of them. And anything else she’s done. But remember the tissues.

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