The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers
With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop.
At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.
When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.
While The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is a part of a series, I have only read one other and had no problem jumping in. It’s a wholly standalone story, just a part of a larger, established universe.
The characters are wonderfully vibrant and diverse. There are 4 separate races represented, all very different from each other and humans. Each has a different background, motivation, and destination. Yet we get a deep dive into each character and how they work together as they’re stuck on a remote planet “truck stop.” It’s not action-packed nor any nefarious mystery, but it’s a completely absorbing story that made it hard to put down. I fell in love with each of these characters and how this one adventure affected each of them. It’s powerful and captivating.