A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Read April 2017
Recommended for fans of character-driven stories, sci-fi
★    ★    ★   ★    ★  

I understand that some people weren’t fans of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Personally, in my heart of hearts, I kind of suspected they might be suffering from Grinch syndrome,* but I respected it, because there were indeed a few flaws.


This time, I won’t keep my suspicions to myself: if you do not find this book enjoyable, you need to witness a little village of Whos holding hands and singing even though you just stole their Christmas Beast.** Or, just possibly, it is completely not your style of book. I’m fairly certain those are the only two choices here.


Don’t get me wrong as this by no means a sugary-sweet, singing festival: there is a lot more edginess, with subsistence living and even a touch of horror, but there’s something equally wonderful–or better–in the story as a whole. It isn’t at all a direct sequel to A Long Way, although the ending of that book does go a long way (I couldn’t help myself) towards explaining the premise of this story. No matter, as Chambers is kind enough to start just twenty-eight minutes after the last book, although without the Wayfarer crew.

It begins with Lovelace the AI program, fresh in her new synthetic body, which she continually refers to as her ‘kit.’ It’s a brilliant little device that constantly distances both the former Lovelace and the reader from her new housing. Eventually she picks a name, Sidra. Narrative then jumps into the story of Jane 23, a young female who works first cleaning then repairing parts with her clone-sisters. Chapters go back and forth between the two, but are occasionally interrupted by a type of underground message boards where less-than-law-abiding citizens talk shop. Often I dislike this narrative technique, but there’s solid continuity as well as thematic parallels. As both were written well but with different plotting tensions, I found myself both eager and reluctant at the end of each chapter to resume the other story. In a way, both are stories of survival and of identity, and they dovetail beautifully.

I do have a lingering question or two, primarily Sidra’s solution (spoiler)–of installing herself in the walls of a bar. I thought it was reasonably clear from the AI manual that she might grow bored being in one place, and that a variety of customers does not seem adequate stimulus, Linking available or not. Like A Long Way, there was a couple of very rapid plot developments near the end (spoiler)–particularly the installation of Owl and the use of the pet-bots as extended networks. While they do serve to nicely wrap things up, the pacing and resolution felt pressured. I felt a little like, once again, someone told Chambers to get a move on and finish up. Not that I would have said that, mind you. But that’s the impression I was left with in both books.

Well, whatever; I’m no Grinch*** to quibble the minor details. I’m very glad I added this one to my own physical library, as I think it will hold up well to a re-read. I strongly recommend it.


***At least with books








About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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