Science fiction novel, the fourth and final book in the "Wayfarers" series, written by Becky Chambers and published in 2021. This book was preceded by 2014's "The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet," 2016's "A Closed and Common Orbit," and 2018's "Record of a Spaceborn Few."
The book is set on the planet Gora, an airless rock with no native life, no water, and minimal resources. But it's located near a gate hub allowing for fast wormhole travel between other worlds. Hence, many ships will make quick stopovers at Gora's many Space Truck Stops to fuel up, update their permits, pick up snacks and supplies, and rest up briefly from the stresses of interstellar travel.
And one day, there's a technological disaster -- the cause of which is never explicitly explained -- that causes all travel to and from Gora to be canceled. If you were on the planet's surface, you can't return to space. If you were in orbit ready to land, you have to stay in orbit.
Our story follows a group of aliens stranded at the Five-Hop One-Stop on the surface of Gora.
Our characters include:
- Ouloo, the proprietor of the Five-Hop, is a Laru, a fuzzy, long-necked, and largely boneless species. Laru rarely leave their homeworld, but Ouloo has chosen to come to this desperately useless world to run a convenience store for spacers -- and she's obsessed with making sure every customer feels right at home.
- Tupo, Ouloo's child, a teenager who has not yet chosen xyr gender, and who fluctuates from being a stereotypically bored and lazy teenager and being an extremely eager-to-please teenager.
- Speaker, an Akarak female. Her species lost their homeworld centuries ago. They are small, short-lived, bird-like. They are most comfortable in their zero-gravity ships and normally travel on the ground in robotic mech suits, due to their inability to breathe oxygen. Speaker is so named because her primary skill is communication, and she's deeply attached to her twin sister, Tracker, who often relies on her sister for treatment for a life-threatening condition.
- Roveg, a male Quelin. His species has been previously described as a "lobster centaur," with many legs and hard, chitinous shells. On their homeworld, they are deeply xenophobic, with extremely strict rules about interacting with other races. Roveg is an exiled artist who hasn't been to his homeworld in decades. He's also trying to make an important appointment, and the longer he's stranded on Gora, the less likely he is to get to his destination on time, with potentially dire consequences.
- Pei, an Aeluon cargo runner. Aeluons look similar to humans, but are covered in silvery scales which they can flash with colors to communicate with each other and display emotions. They cannot speak and have no sense of hearing, so they wear technological aids to allow them to hear and speak, since most species in the Galactic Commons communicate vocally. Pei is the lover of Ashby, the human captain of the Wayfarer from "The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet," which she keeps secret from other Aeluons, since her species disapproves of sexual relationships with aliens.
The plot develops from there. This isn't a highly action-oriented plot with lots of laser guns and exploding spaceships and suchlike, which is one of those things that Fake Geek Boys like to complain about when it comes to Wayfarers novels. The plot is: A group of people from very different backgrounds thrown together through circumstance must get through a crisis. And it is, in fact, a very good plot.
They don't all get along together all the time. Speaker and Pei argue strongly because Speaker's people, being poverty-stricken wanderers with no representation in the Galactic Commons, often engage in piracy and theft to get what they need to survive, and Pei's people aren't at all shy about killing pirates or people they think might be pirates. Despite their disagreement, they still work together to solve problems and treat each other with respect, and they eventually part as friends.
And as always with Becky Chambers' books, the characterization is truly supreme. All five of these characters have distinct personalities -- Ouloo's overriding concern for everyone around her, Tupo's high levels of teenage energy and angst, Speaker's awkwardness and forthrightness, Roveg's easy way with people coupled with the stress humming through everything he says and does, and Pei's near-military uprightness jangling against her own contrasting goals -- to keep serving the Aeluon government, or to chuck it all to live with her lover.
Chambers writes with deep empathy for all her characters, giving them the voices they need and personalities that contain both human and alien elements. All of the Wayfarers books have focused on creating a vision for a diverse and compassionate science fiction universe -- very far away from the world we live in now, but still something with aspiring to and striving toward. If you love Becky Chambers' works -- and you should -- go pick this one up.