Adrienne Martini Reviews The Galaxy, and the Ground Within and A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager 978-0-06-293694-2, $27.99, 336pp, hc) April 2021.

Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers series, which is concluding with The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, is a nice warm cup of tea when the weather outside is terrible. Sure there are conflicts and sadness but all of that unpleasantness is always outweighed by decency and honesty. It would be tempting to also claim that Chambers’s books are always interwoven with a fundamental belief in the goodness of humanity, which is true but only in the abstract. All of her characters in The Galaxy, and the Ground Within are very much not human.

Welcome to Gora, which is an unspectacular planet that sits at the intersection of five wormholes. Because of that, it has become full of places for a weary traveler to rest and refuel before taking on the next leg of their journey. For those who grew up in the Mid-Atlantic US, think of it as the Breezewood PA of the Galactic Commons. I’m certain there are similar crossroads-based towns wherever you may be.

Three of the GC’s non-human residents are pass­ing the time between wormholes at Ouloo the Laru’s Five-Hop One-Stop, where they’ll do what one does on a long trip: use the restroom, have some snacks, and stretch whatever appendages they have. All goes as anticipated until a cascading technological failure takes out the satellite grid that transport and commu­nications rely on. These five beings (Tupo, Ouloo’s child, also turns up) are forced to interact while they wait and, well, spoilers.

Short, non-spoiler version: the story is both very tense at times and also very chill. It all builds up to one moment that happens organically, but still made me gasp and read even faster so that I could know the outcome – which was surprising to me because of how comforting I find this series because those moments were the opposite of comfortable.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is a great way to close out this part of Chambers’s writing life. It’s a satisfying story well told and, by giving these characters much-needed closure, she shows them moving into the next phases of their own lives. Like in real human lives, the end of this particular part of one’s own story is only prelude to what comes next. And “next” seems exciting indeed.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built, Becky Chambers (Tordotcom 978-1250236210, $20.99, 160pp, hc) July 2021.

In A Psalm for the Wild-Built, which comes out just a couple of months after The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, Chambers leans in hard to this idea of a comfort read – and reveals where she’ll go now that the Wayfarers series has been closed. This novella introduces Sibling Dex, a monk who serves the God of Small Comforts. They decide to heed a call to become a tea monk, who travels Panga and offers a listening ear and, naturally, a cup of tea.

Time passes. After a lackluster start at their new job, Dex becomes a tea monk of great skill and standing. But a new call starts to ring in Dex’s ears. Heeding it will take them into the wilderness and into the orbit of Mosscap, a wild-built robot on a mission.

Chambers, like she has done in her previous work, takes what could be unbearably twee – I mean, a monk whose ministry is tea and listening? – and turns it into an engaging work that is comforting without being saccharine. Some of that she does through humor, like a bit about apple spiders that feels like it came from The Princess Bride; some she does through moments of pure heart. Somehow, it all comes to­gether delightfully.

Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.

These reviews and more like them in the April 2021 issue of Locus.

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