Becky Chambers (Record of a Spaceborn Few) plumbs new emotional and philosophical depths in The Galaxy, and the Ground Below, the illuminating and uplifting fourth installment in her Wayfarers series.
Following the accidental destruction of communication satellites, five aliens are marooned together on the layover planet of Gora. Ooulu and her son Tupo of the Laru species, with limbs and necks "like animated noodles, their stubby torsos thick and bumbling," run the multispecies establishment Five-Hop One-Stop, where travelers make brief stopovers. Roveg, an insect-like Quelin, is jovial, enjoys art and is an exile from his home planet for spreading progressive ideologies. Pei, an Aeluon whose species communicates through color, is a ship captain who delivers supplies behind enemy lines in her species' ongoing war. Speaker, a diminutive Akarak that leaves her shuttle only in the protection of a mech suit, is a mystery to all but her own kind. From this forced proximity comes an unusual opportunity, and slowly the four species begin to bond, sharing food and music as well as opening up to each other's ethical dilemmas and personal histories as they face the unknown future and their own internal dramas.
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within dazzles with a seamless combination of intricate worldbuilding, compassion, humor, intellectual discourse and hard science. Arguably the highlight of an already groundbreaking series, Chambers's character-driven world is refreshing in its insights into prejudice and feelings of "otherness," demonstrating dexterity in the dissection of polarizing situations. Newcomers to the Galactic Commons will have little difficulty navigating Chambers's highly realized worlds, while existing fans are sure to delight in the continued development of her masterfully crafted universe. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor