Review: A Closed and Common Orbit

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

29475447Lovelace 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.*

I absolutely adored Becky Chambers’ debut novel The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and was so excited to discover that a sequel was already out.  I finally got a chance to read A Closed and Common Orbit this month and I couldn’t be more happy with it.
A Closed and Common Orbit begins where the first book finishes, but it leaves behind the crew of the Wayfarer and instead follows Lovelace and Pepper, two of the more minor characters of the first book.  The book is a dual narrative, covering both the past and present. Lovelace’s story follows her adjustment to her new body, the struggle to belong in a society that doesn’t believe she is an autonomous person — and her mere existence is highly illegal and dangerous — and the struggles that come with being human.  Pepper’s story divulges her horrible past as Jane 23, a young clone who is enslaved in factory work, which is alluded to in the first book but never expanded upon.
What I liked about this book is that it is much more structured than its predecessor.  While The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is a wonderful, scattered series of vignettes that follows the crew of the Wayfarer during its long haul journey, this book has much more structure — you only get the two narratives that are quite linear and easier to follow.  The chapters alternate from Lovelace’s point of view to Pepper’s.  The cast in much smaller here so you really get a chance to form a strong connection with the characters.
As with most dual narratives, I preferred one over the other.  Lovelace’s story is wonderful and really explores what it means to be human as a society and as an individual, but I really preferred the story of Jane 23.  Her chapters are just spectacular.  Pepper is a bit of a mysterious character in the first book and I found her intriguing.  Her full story is absolutely riveting and heartbreaking.  The book comes together beautifully in the end and I’m not ashamed to say I absolutely wailed at the end.
Science fiction is one of the best mediums for examining race, gender, politics, human society, and culture and Becky Chambers is the the absolute queen of this kind of exploration.  Anyone who has read The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet knows that these books are more than just science fiction — they’re comforting, uplifting examinations of ourselves.  A Closed and Common Orbit keeps up with these themes and expands upon them in a beautiful narrative.  I cannot wait to see what Chambers comes up with next.

Rating 5/5

*copy courtesy of Goodreads

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