The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers (Speculative Fiction)

Writing: 3.5/5 Characters: 5/5 Plot: 3/5

A hardware malfunction causes a cascade of crashing comm satellites over the Five-Hop One-Stop space station causing the quarantine of all beings present. In a story long on socio-cultural world building and short on plot, individuals from four different species are forced to spend time together while each desperately needs to get back to the life that was abruptly brought to a halt. A quarantine story for our time…

Chambers excels at building intricate and engaging cultures which makes the relatively absent plot easy to overlook. She manages to include all of the current “hot topics” camouflaged in non-humanoid skins. Roveg is the insectoid Quelin who takes in information through smells and has a completely non-emotive space; Pei the Aeluon cargo captain who loves a human against the interspecies mating taboo of her kind; Speaker is the perpetually space-suited Akarak as the only planet that could support her methane-breathing life was rendered useless in a previous war; and Ouloo and not-yet-gendered offspring Tupo are the furry Laru who host the station. Throughout their enforced stay, the four learn about each other’s cultures, opinions, and preferences in a pretty interesting set of expositions on modes of communication, mating rituals, taboos, etc.

It’s nice to read a speculative fiction story that isn’t fully dystopian. We’re not embedded in Ewoks here — there are plenty of problems and even a history of downright atrocities — but the characters are able move forward in a more positive way after their experience in a model that suggests how this might be done for any of us. A harmless and relatively uplifting book.

While this is #4 in the series, the books just share a common universe. Not necessary to read the prior novels though I confess I found the earlier books a little more interesting.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers (speculative fiction)

200 years after The Awakening — when sentient robots left the abusive factories for the wilderness, rejecting further contact with humans — a human and robot meet in a twist on the traditional “First Contact” story. Sibling Dex — a gender neutral monk, meets Mossbank — a sentient “wild-built” robot whose family tree boasts several generations of wild-built individuals descending from16 factory bots. What follows is short on plot but long in world building, while we follow the two as they wander through untraveled areas and talk about their similarities, differences, and rising self-awareness.

I’m a big Becky Chambers fan — I enjoy her writing and her exploration of cultures. This is the beginning of a new series, and I’m hoping some of the future episodes have a little more plot to them. While this was philosophically interesting, I did get a little bored to be honest. Also, she uses the pronoun “their” for Dex and his/her fellow monks. This drove me crazy — I was not able to get used to it although it peppered every single page. Every time I read the word I struggled to figure out who the rest of the people were and then had to remember it was only Dex! Every time! I’m super happy to use someone’s choice of pronoun when I remember — including a made up one (I like zhe) — but using plurals for a singular drives me batty. I probably won’t read the next book because of this — I just don’t need the cognitive load. However, if this doesn’t bother you and you enjoy slow-paced, philosophical, stories, you will enjoy this!

Thank you to Macmillian-Tor/Forge and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on July 13th, 2021.