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.
The alien species were interesting and distinct, and the connection and contrast of cultures is at the core of this story. It’s quiet and about getting to know others beyond stereotypes, the emergency trapping them there is unimportant. Their kindness and openness with each other leads to being able to confront personal and cultural issues. I like the travelers coming together aspect.
The plight of Speaker’s people is a mirror for colonized peoples, their requests deemed difficult or unreasonable based on the ruling power’s preferences and standards. They aren’t able to accommodate people who live differently, and don’t think what they’ve been left with is that bad.