The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

This basically was The Breakfast Club but with aliens.

Die-hard fans of the Wayfarers series will probably appreciate The Galaxy, and the Ground Within. While I loved The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet I was not as taken by its sequel nor by this rather anticlimactic conclusion. The Galaxy, and the Ground Within follows a somewhat basic premise: a bunch of strangers from vastly differentiating backgrounds are forced into close quarters due to circumstances out of their control. Over the course of a few days, they bond and discover that they are not so different and they learn to push aside their prejudices and preconceived notions of ‘Others’. The fact that they belong to different species does give this scenario a fresh new angle but ultimately Chambers incorporated the same kind of simplified discussions about social & cultural differences. Chambers often dumbs down potentially interesting arguments so that many of the discussions arising around relevant social issues lack nuance.
The story follows Pei, an Aeluon, Speaker, an Akarak, and Roveg, a Quelin. They all end up grounded at the Five-Hop One-Stop which is run by Ouloo, a Laru. They have all lead distinctive lives and they also necessitate differentiating things given that they belong to a different species. Oxygen, for example, would be lethal to Speaker. At first, they view the others as mere aliens but the more time they spend together—picnics and get-togethers—the more they begin to see the others as individuals in their own right. There is some conflict due to Akarak not being considered a sapient species and therefore they are not part of the GC. They were colonized by another species and are now regarded with distrust. Pei is fighting for the Aeluons against the Rosk (whom, if I record correctly, they had previously colonized).

While Chambers can be creative when it comes to language (they all happen to mention untranslatable words that are emblematic of their species’ culture) the gender angle is a bit more tired. In fact, it does not hold a candle to some species from our animal kingdom. It was a bit weird that so many alien species had a gender and I found myself wishing for some genderless aliens. Ouloo’s child uses xyr/xe pronouns but after puberty, xe will be either female or male….which, why not have a species that is exclusively not gendered (as opposed to having species where you can be female, male, and or agender)?
Similarly, it seemed weird to me that all of the characters’ thoughts and felt in similar way (even if Aeluons express themselves through the colors in their cheeks). Why do they all feel the same type of emotions? That they all spoke as if they were therapists made them blur together in spite of their alleged differences.

Most of the scenes included in the narrative seemed to try hard to be cute or sweet or heartwarming but I found them unbearably cheesy. And on the topic of cheese, that whole discussion about how weird cheese is was so necessary, the same goes for that discussion on shoes (they are like clothes for feet, ahah, so funny). Given that they have all interacted with or have knowledge of other species it seemed weird that they would go on about cheese and shoes as if these are flabbergasting concepts.
Although I appreciated Chambers inclusion of diverse languages it would have been interesting to learn whether contact between so many different species and the predominance of Klip as a spoken language, had resulted in language death for certain species. At one point the narrative seems to imply that Laru is spoken no longer but later on (if I remember correctly) this information is contradicted.

The story is slow and consists of these characters bonding and widening their mindsets. Explorations of serious and potentially topical issues, such as reproductive rights, are approached with simplicity (“Because I didn’t want to. And when it comes to a person’s body, that is all the reason there ever needs to be,”). Similarly, the whole Pei/Speaker confrontation results in both making ‘valid’ points.
The most interesting thing about this novel is the fact that it concerns non-humans but, to be honest, their experiences, desires, fears, and arcs felt a bit too ‘human’.
I’m sure that Chamers aficionados will be able to love this in a way that I wasn’t but if I had to be completely honest with myself, reading it felt like a waste of my time.

my rating: ★★★☆☆

Read more reviews on my blog / / / View all my reviews on Goodreads

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