Becky Chambers: A Closed and Common Orbit

Related post: The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet

a closed and common orbit cover

Once, Lovelace had eyes and ears everywhere. She was a ship’s artificial intelligence system, tasked with caring for the health and wellbeing of her crew, possessing a distinct personality and very human emotions. But when her ship was badly damaged, Lovelace was forced to go into a total system reboot. Now, reactivated and reset, Lovelace finds herself in a synthetic body. She’s gone from being virtually omniscient to limited to a physical existence, in a community where her kind are illegal. She’s never felt so isolated.

But Lovelace is not alone. Pepper, one of the engineers who risked life and limb to reinstall her program, has remained by her side and is determined to help her adjust to her new world.

Because Pepper knows a thing or two about starting over.

Pepper was born Jane 23, part of a slave class created by a rogue society of genetic engineers. At ten years old, Jane 23 had never seen the sky; she didn’t even know such a thing existed. But when an industrial accident gave Jane 23 a chance to escape, she took the opportunity and hid away in a nearby junkyard.

Now, having recreated herself as Pepper, she makes it her mission to help Lovelace discover her own place in the world. Huge as the galaxy may be, it’s anything but empty.

One of my most anticipated reads of the year, A Closed and Common Orbit is the second book in the Wayfarer’s series by Becky Chambers. Following on from events of The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, ACACO follows Lovelace and Pepper as they embark upon a journey that sees Lovelace find her place in society with the help of Pepper, a modder from Port Coriol who has experience living with AI’s. Pepper herself goes through a journey alongside Lovelace, reliving her past to get away from the society that created her and becoming reacquainted with a long lost friend.

This book was everything that I wanted, needed, and more! As with the first novel, ACACO is more character-driven as opposed to being space and science-fiction heavy. With this second novel, however, there is a lot more regarding the modder community through the circumstances of Pepper and Lovelace and we get to understand the processes behind Lovelace’s AI and how she attempts to fit in within a society that, should she say or do the wrong things, would easily figure out the truth about her existence.

ACACO is told from two perspectives, Pepper and Lovelace, alternating between the two to give an effective narrative arch that fits perfectly to the progression of the narrative. Though we are primarily finding out about Lovelace’s adjustments, the chapters on Pepper’s past help to give understanding to Lovelace herself as we experience how Pepper came to be the expert that she is today. Their stories hold a lot of similarities in that Pepper, originally Jane 23, herself was different to everybody else through the circumstances in which she grew up. She also had to fit into society that knew and understood her differences, trying to blend in through the education and learning she received at the hands of Owl. I loved watching Pepper and Lovelace interact in this regard, Lovelace frequently forgetting the hardships that Pepper herself had gotten into as they argue over the choices each other makes.But even through it all and considering that, in the beginning, Pepper and Lovelace barely knew each other, it is nice to see how their friendship blossoms through the kindness and knowledge of Pepper.

As with the first novel, ACACO also focuses on themes of culture, race, society, politics, sex, and more. This is something that I thoroughly enjoy within Becky Chambers writing, that she implements such important themes that are inherent within our own society, without it seeming like a burden upon the narrative and the progression and development of the characters. Following on from the first novel, we garner more information about the various species and their ways of living through Lovelace’s introduction to society. Through her Linkings, she harvests extensive information about the varying species in order to try and fit in more with the society of Port Coriol that tailors to almost everyone. It is only as time goes on, and through the help of Pepper, Blue, and Tak, that she realises that being knowledgeable will make her stand out.

I found with ACACO, that Chambers writing went a long way to immersing me into the narrative. The writing is simple yet effective and really represents each character and their personality. With Lovelace we get more description as she attempts to take everything in, document it, and seal it away for future reference as a memory. However, with Pepper – particularly through her Jane 23 chapters, we get a more simple style to the tone and language. At that point in her life she doesn’t know what anything is, and doesn’t fully understand the ways of life and society, and it gives a refreshingly simple and clarifying understanding to everything about the world that Chambers has built within these novels. As expected, as Pepper grows and develops intellectually and physically, her tone, language, and demeanor all change to clearly represent this which was nice to see as Jane 23 developed into a stroppy teenager who found it hard to get out of bed – something that was easily relatable and all too human.

As with the first in the series, this is a book I shall be gushing over for many, many months. The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet became one of my all-time favourite reads and, with the continuation, one of my favourite series purely for its simplicity, brilliant three-dimensional characters, and the ease in which Chambers presents these worlds and cultures in space. With many science-fiction novels, a lot of authors focus to heavily on the world-building which overshadows all of the important information such as culture, politics, race, and gender. Chambers, however, world-builds through the characters which I find makes this book so enjoyable and easy to read.

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