Book Review

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Genre | Science Fiction
Page #s | 365
Publishing Date | October 2016

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.

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.

Goodreads

After falling completely in love with Chambers’ first book in this series, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, I was disappointed to find that it took me a while to connect with the alternating storylines in A Closed and Common Orbit. I should not have doubted! I wound up absolutely loving the story of two beings learning how to survive and find connection, one a human unwillingly treated as a machine and the other an AI unwillingly treated as human.

Jane/Pepper’s story was fascinating, and arguably the more plot-driven arc as we wait to see how she will survive living in a rundown spaceship after escaping a factory that raises human slaves. I loved watching her grow up with Owl, her AI mother, and scavenge for food and parts. However, it was a very smart move on Chambers’ part to balance the isolation and desperation of Pepper’s past with the Sidra’s (formerly Lovelace) story of struggling to fit in to a happy, healthy society. Together, they make a cohesive story.

As always, Chambers’ books take advantage of a sci fi setting to create uniquely diverse alien races that have a variety of gender and sexuality presentations. In this book, we get a closer look at Auleons, both generally at their cultural festival and specifically in the character of Tak. With the central premise that it is very difficult for their species to breed, an entire culture emerges around the importance of mating and parenting as a respected full-time job for fathers who went to school to prepare. Additionally, we’re introduced to their four genders and how the culture makes space for and celebrates each one.

Finally, I really enjoyed the conversations about what makes someone/something worthy of personhood. There is such a satisfying hook to Pepper being raised by an AI and therefore feeling invested in helping Sidra fit in as an illegal AI with a body. It’s clear to the readers that this crime is absurd and that AI should be granted personhood, but the book pushes this to challenge our assumption about any technology that has been granted even the barest form of personality. Whether coded through genes or software, who are we to determine where personhood begins? So interesting!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

A Closed and Common Orbit is perfect for lovers of sci-fi and philosophy.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Check out our Queer Lil Library for more book recommendations and reviews!

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