RogerBW's Blog

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, Becky Chambers 08 September 2021

2021 science fiction. Three travellers get stranded at an inn by bad weather, and for once don't pass the time by telling each other stories.

Well, it's one of many way stations on an otherwise-useless planet that's in a convenient place to break long interstellar journeys, and the bad weather is a Kessler cascade in local orbital space so that they not only can't continue their journeys but have to stay inside the protective dome of the particular place where they happened to stop. But, well, this is Chambers, and as always she cares much more about the people than about the details of technology.

So these three aliens, and the hosts of the way station, are stuck with each other. They're not in immediate danger; they're not short of supplies; but they're out of communication with the rest of the galaxy, and all they have to do with the time is worry and talk to each other. None of them is a bad person, but several of them certainly have unexamined privilege, and because of their wildly differing backgrounds that's something where they'll rub up against each other. We have a successful Quelin sim-designer and an Aeluon cargo-hauler with military connections, both of whom are from species with some pull in the Galactic Collective; there's an Akarak, whom readers of previous books in this series may remember as pirates and general nogoodniks; and the hosts are Laru, who've been mentioned in passing before but I think never in any detail. None of them really knows all that much about the others even at the species level, which is fine, up to a point…

Not a whole lot happens in this book. They talk, they argue, they come to something like terms. The problem is fixed (by other people doing their jobs), and the three carry on with their journeys… just slightly changed.

So yes, all right, this could have been written as a non-SF story, one about people of different classes, races, political persuasions stuck at an inn… but if they were real classes and so on, not only would there be a question of the author's own loyalties, the thing would lose its force because of the reader's loyalties. Because these people's problems are not our own, we don't come in with preconceptions or sides, so the tension is over not whether the right person will "win" the disagreement but whether a satisfactory outcome can be had at all. If there is an author's message about the real world here, I think it might be "if even these creatures with wildly different physiologies and psychologies can learn to communicate, work together, and maybe even like each other a little…".

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Previous in series: Record of a Spaceborn Few | Series: Wayfarers

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