The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

*Thank you to Hodder and Stoughton & NetGalley for approving me to review this in exchange for an honest review!

The latest and final instalment of the Wayfarers quartet is a perfectly pitched, stunning farewell to a series I’ve loved since I first picked up Chambers’ A Very Long Way to a Small Angry Planet several years ago.

This queer, wacky, alien (in every sense of the word) sci-fi isn’t like your usual book series, much to its credit. There is no one ‘main’ character that you follow, but rather the stories are loosely connected by threads as briefly mentioned characters in one book become a point of view character in the next. One of the things I love about her work is that Chambers manages to make her novels both intimate and expansive, packed with lore and emotion, with every newly introduced character as unique and intriguing as the next. The Galaxy and the Ground Within is no exception.

What is it about?

This book focuses on the stories of three separate characters: Roveg, Pei (whom readers might recognise as Ashby’s Aeulon lover from the first book), and Speaker. The storyline kicks off when they stop – and are subsequently stranded – at the Five-Hop One-Stop, a waystation for travellers hopping between worlds run by Ouloo and her child Tupo. The “Snowed In” (or in this case “grounded by lots of space debris in the atmosphere”) trope is one that really fits her kind of storytelling well, as we follow this unlikely band of different alien species who would otherwise be strangers and see them come together during their time here.

Where Book 2 and 3 depart from the usual plot having a wider setting to play with, this final book brings back some of the intense character-driven conversations I loved about Book 1. Chambers’ strikes the right balance between poignant exploration of a whole host of topics from the meaning of family, love, loss, self-actualisation, and humour (there’s a particularly funny bit where the collective alien group discuss cheese, which I chuckled a lot at). The Galaxy and the Ground Within offers readers a concentrated exploration of “human” relationships, without a human in sight.

It’s in this book that Chambers really gets to flex her world-building muscles, dropping details about previously unexplained alien species, exploring their culture and customs a little more. Whilst one might think this “snowed in” trope means the novel is at risk of being stagnant, she continues to keep it interesting. There are twists and turns as characters learn more about each other, explore the nuances between them, argue, gossip, and change their own perspectives and prejudices that kept me glued to the page.

Without spoiling too much, the ending of this novel is a bittersweet one. As I reached the final few pages, much like Tupo, Ouloo, Roveg, Pei, and Speaker find a place in each other’s hearts, this book nestled its way into my own. I didn’t want it to end, but just as the character’s separate and get back to their original journeys, so too must this book come to a close.

Final verdict:

The Galaxy and Ground Within is a fantastic send-off for a truly unique and colourful sci-fi series. It is a must read for fans of her series, and offers long-term fans a cathartic type of closure. I’m sad to see it finish, but am so very glad that I read this Wayfarers series to the very end, and I very much look forward to seeing what Chambers publishes next.

This book is due to be published on 18th February 2021.

The Rush’s Edge by Ginger Smith

With the help of his commanding officer, a genetically engineered ex-soldier fights back against the government that created him and others like him to be expendable slaves… 

Ginger Smith’s debut novel The Rush’s Edge is an intriguing, oftimes explosive, adrenaline fuelled shot of science fiction. We follow Halvor Cullen, a genetically engineered supersoldier (or “vat”) as the novel’s heart-of-gold protagonist as he and his crew become slowly embroiled in a fight against the government that created him.

At first, I must admit I wasn’t particularly sold on Hal as the protagonist. Picking up this novel that touted the main character as “genetically engineered supersoldier” put me in mind of the type of action novels I tend to avoid. One could all too easily read him as your stereotypical gun-toting cliched action man – a person written to have obvious style and charisma, but minimal substance behind them.

Yet, further on into the novel I read, Smith surprised me. As much as I am a fan of sci-fi that’s a touch more weird, her exploration of each of the characters, their relationships, and the dilemmas they faced did much to draw me into this book.

“For a vat seeking the rush, the Spiral’s Edge had plenty of temptations to offer. […] Trouble tended to follow Hal wherever he went.”

I’m hugely fond of the found family trope, and this novel serves that up in spades. Each of the crew members aboard the Loshad are compelling in their own way (I really liked the dynamic between Tyce, the ship’s captain, and Hal as bound brothers-in-arms) and there’s even a bit of romance in there (for those who like such things as I do!).

The Rush’s Edge is a book with heart, an adrenaline fuelled character driven story that takes a poignant look at human relationships and the ethics of human rights. The “vats” are shown and treated by wider society and their makers as disposable freaks. They are bred for fighting, and their physiology means they live incredibly short lives compared to “nats” (natural born folk) – a tragic reminder of their existence.

This focus on vats as this “othered” group was a conflict that really intrigued me, one which I was delighted to see explored more as the novel pressed on. What happens when you push science too far? When you sideline the living, breathing soldiers once they’ve served a purpose rather than see them as people? There is a poignant, heartbreaking undercurrent to this action-packed novel that Smith makes sure to remind us of at every turn, which does much to deter you from thinking this is your stereotypical “man turns up and shoots things but in space” book.

“They talked a lot about that in the training[…]-of how loyalty and obedience to the ACAS came first, so much so that Hal had always linked the two in his mind. But now […] obedience meant you did what they told you because they made you, but loyalty couldn’t be demanded. It was given.”

Smith’s enthusiasm for and knowledge of the genre clearly radiates off the page. Exposition and rich details about the world are crammed in with abandon, with this world giving off hardened sci-fi, cyberpunk vibes with seedy underbellies, “teckers” (also known as hackers), assassins, and A.I. Whilst many of the tropes used are well-worn ones, that is perhaps to its credit. Fans of sci-fi books that are simpler to follow will like this, and it is a solid entry into the ranks for readers looking to get started in this genre.

Whilst the pacing was sometimes too erratic for my liking, slow in some places and faster in others bouncing from scene to scene, some readers might prefer that as a way to explore more angles in the story. In fact, there is much to be said about the hints dropped and explanation of other-worldly beings and its history (A.I named the Mudar who fought humanity until they’d lost) that it made me want to find out more.

Final verdict:
A solid debut sci-fi novel, and a great book to introduce readers to the genre, The Rush’s Edge is a thought-provoking, fast paced, heart-wrenching story. I’m excited to see more written by her, and thank you Angry Robot and NetGalley for the ARC!

The Rush’s Edge is due to be released on 10th November, and can be ordered here.