A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

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Rating 9.0/10
Chambers brings so much warmth to her characters that I never want the story to end

Following on from the events of A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, we leave the main cast of that story, to follow Lovelace, an AI who awoke in the last book in a synthetic body and is traumatised by this, and Pepper, who has promised to help Lovelace adjust to this new situation.

The book is neatly structured between Lovelace’s present and Pepper’s past. We get to know more about both of these characters as they get to know each other and working out where their boundaries are. Pepper early on advises Lovelace to choose a name and even this is a learning experience as Lovelace tries to work out why Pepper cannot name her.

As we learn more about Pepper and how she came to be who she is, we find out that Pepper’s story is also quite unconventional. Pepper used to be a Jane, who was created on a planet that genetically bred people to do certain tasks and never question their station. Pepper’s backstory is quite tragic, but also shows that you do not have to conform to a life another person has decided for you, but because of this, she has also had to find her own place within a much larger universe.

Once Lovelace decides to be called Sidra, we see that it is not as easy for her to fit into this alien world which is no longer confined to a ship. Sidra has to cope with sensory deprivation as she learns to see out of eyes rather than the multiple cameras and sensors she was designed for. Sidra is no longer sure what her purpose in life is, as she tries to adjust to her new life living with Pepper and Blue and working with Pepper in her shop. Sidra needs to be low key and fit in, as being a sentient AI is illegal across the galaxy.

With the chapters switching between the past and present, we are taken on an emotional journey that puts both Pepper and Sidra at risk. As Pepper and Blue want Sidra to feel welcome, and as she is not a prisoner, they all have to deal with the consequences when Sidra makes friends with the Aeluon, Tak. This book is a journey of self-discovery, learning how far you will go for your friends and the risks you will take for each other. It is also an interesting treatise on what is sentience and being true to your own nature. It also hinges on accepting the differences of others, what is good for one person may not work for another.

I really loved A Closed and Common Orbit and although I thought I would miss the characters from the previous book, after the first chapter I was engaged with the new direction this book was taking as both Sidra and Pepper are so compelling that you find yourself being drawn into their world with all of its intricacies, leaving you with little time to think about Jenks, Kizzy and the others. There is a lot of detail throughout the story which never leaves you feeling overwhelmed, even if you find yourself with a bit of wanderlust wishing you could visit these places. Chambers brings so much warmth to her characters that I never want the story to end. I am looking forward to finding out what she will write next.

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