Oct 14, 2018

 

Book Review - A Closed and Common Orbit, Wayfarers #2 (by Becky Chambers)


Title: A Closed and Common Orbit
Series: Wayfarers (book #2)
Author: Becky Chambers
Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Release Date: October 20th, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 365



"Lovelace was once merely a ship's artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who's determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet introduced readers to the incredible world of Rosemary Harper, a young woman with a restless soul and secrets to keep. When she joined the crew of the Wayfarer, an intergalactic ship, she got more than she bargained for - and learned to live with, and love, her rag-tag collection of crewmates.

A Closed and Common Orbit is the stand-alone sequel to Becky Chambers' beloved debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and is perfect for fans of Firefly, Joss Whedon, Mass Effect and Star Wars."

(click to read an excerpt on Tor.com)

- Review -
What Made Me Read It
It's the second book in the "Wayfarers" series, following Loveface's fate after the events of book one.

The Plot
Lovey was the much cared for resident AI of the tunneling spaceship Wayfarer. During a mission gone wrong Lovey is severely damaged and the crew tries a full reboot of the systems, trying to restore her evolved personality. But the AI reverts to factory settings model Loveface instead, with no memory of all the time spent aboard the Wayfarer and its crew.

To avoid hurting the crew Loveface agrees to transfer her consciousness into an android body and leave the Wayfarer, moving to Port Coriol under the care of mech-tech Pepper and taking a new name - Sidra. But Sidra has a hard time adapting to her new existence in a body kit with limited capabilities and memory storage, not to mention highly illegal inside the GC. Sidra finds it even more difficult dealing with organics, specially now that she needs to keep her true nature a secret.

Pepper believes she can help Sidra come to terms with her synthetic body and find a new purpose in life. Twenty years ago, before Pepper became a respected and highly skilled mech-tech, she was Jane-23, one of several genetically engineered slave children working on a salvage facility in a fringe world outside the GC, sorting through scrap every day under the stern vigilance of robots called the "Mothers".  One day after a violent explosion Jane-23 escapes from her prison to the vast junkyard that lies outside the facility. There she finds OWL, the AI of a crashed ship who helps her survive the harsh environment and, more importantly, teaches Jane-23 how to be human. Now Pepper finds herself in the unique position of saving an IA, just like and AI once saved her.

The Good
"A closed and common orbit" is more a companion book than a sequel to the previous volume "The long way to a small angry planet". It's set in the same vastly complex and diverse GC (Galactic Commons) universe but the plot doesn't revolve around the crew of the Wayfarer anymore and focus instead on two new characters. Due to the emergency reboot after the damage sustained in book one, Loveface/Sidra is a completely new AI forming and developing her personality from scratch. Pepper made a brief appearance in "The long way..." and  now is fleshed out with a grim past that intercepts with Sidra's future. So "A closed and common orbit" can be read as a standalone, though the previous book does provide useful context and background to the story.
 

Like the first installment in the Wayfarers series, "A closed and common orbit" is also a character driven novel and as insightful, vividly imaginative, highly diverse and deeply emotional as the previous book. There are no epic space battles and alien invasions, no murder mysteries or political intrigue. The characters aren't the center of apotheotic events tasked with saving the universe from armageddon, just simple folks going about their day-to-day lives trying to find their place in the world. Even though there is potential for drama, chaos and conflict, the author makes it about the characters and their universal inner struggles - one AI trying to find meaning and purpose in her life and fit in a society that has banned her existence, one former slave child fighting for her freedom and personhood. Another cozy, feel-good read focused on world-building and character development that also tackles deep existential themes - identity, personhood, purpose, belonging, friendship, family... what makes us a person, how experience shapes us, finding our way and place in the world.
 

In this book the focus of the story is much tighter than in the previous one with only two different POVs, which gives us a deeper insight into the main characters. Both Sidra and Pepper/Jane are well developed realistic protagonists, their journeys of personal growth and self-discovery are easily relatable which makes us feel for the characters and connect with them. The secondary characters Blue, the AI OWL and the Aeluon tattoo-artist Tak also have distinctive voices and personalities that add to the diversity of the Wayfarers universe. 

Final Rating
"A closed and common orbit" is a compelling and heartwarming space opera sci-fi novel, recommended for those who enjoy thought provoking, character driven stories in a universe full of alien and human diversity.


About the Author (interviews)
Previous in the series: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Wayfarers #1 (book review)
Next in the series: Record of a Spaceborn Few, Wayfarers #3 (book review)



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