- The Good: Warm, kind, decent people trying to what’s right for them
- The Bad: Little to no action, mystery, suspense, or conflict
- The Literary: Pushes the boundaries of hopeful, positive scifi
The Five-Hop One-Stop is a refueling station located on the lifeless planet Gora, only because it’s near a concentration of wormholes that connect the Galactic Commons. A freak technological failure downs nearly all satellites in orbit around Gora, halting all space traffic and trapping a small group of very different strangers in a confined space for who knows how long.
Although strangers-trapped-at-an-outpost is an established storytelling trope, the timing of this book resonates more strongly than it would otherwise. It’s likely Chambers started writing this before the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, but an imposed shutdown resonates more strongly because of it. We understand more now what it means to have an unexpected pause to our lives out of our control, that not only halts our progress, but in many ways causes us to reassess our lives and even change the direction we were going entirely.
But back to the story at hand. The chapters alternate between the protagonists, giving the reader an insight into each of their perspectives. Each person has completely different biologies, expected lifespans, nutrition needs, and cultural expectations. As with the first book in the Wayfarer series, each of them is a good person, doing their best to accommodate the others, desperately trying not to offend.
- Ouloo – a Laru, is the owner of the Five-Hop One-Stop, which she runs with the help of her eager son Tupo
- Speaker – an Akarak, is a trader who helps other members of her species
- Roveg – a Quelin, is an exiled artist on his way to see his children for the first time in many years
- Pei – an Aeluon, is a cargo runner on her way to meet her secret lover Ashby, the human captain of the Wayfarer from The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.
I understand the appeal of the type of story where there is no villain and all the characters are doing the best they can. Life is hard. Not just the unexpected shutdowns, but navigating adulthood, deciding on a career, falling in love with someone who’s considered taboo for your species, deciding when and how to procreate despite all the parental and cultural expectations, coming to terms with different abilities, mental and physical health, accidents that cause physical harm, and losing loved ones, just to name a few. Chambers develops a creative cast of characters with extremely diverse biological and social norms, and the best thing about this is exploration of cultural differences.
While there are heated and weighty debates between the characters, there’s ultimately a lack of conflict and stakes. And while I enjoy reading this series, I also feel I could put it down at any point. There’s little plot to drive the story along. They talk; they eat; they work together when necessary; by the end they’re friends. I’ve come to accept and enjoy what the Wayfarers series has to offer, so my expectations weren’t set too high for the fourth book in the series.
Recommended for fans in need of some breezy, diverse, feel-good science fiction!