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Friday, May 5, 2017

“A Closed and Common Orbit” by Becky Chambers

by Terrance McArthur

Details on how to win a copy of this book at the end of the review.

Lovelace is no more. Long live Sidra!

The starship Wanderer’s Artificial Intelligence from The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is now housed in a walking, autonomous, not-exactly-legal kit in A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers. The Wanderer is left behind, and Sidra and the fix-darned-near-anything engineer Pepper try to find a place for Sidra to fit in to planetary society. She no longer fulfils her prime purpose of running a ship’s systems and protecting its crew, and her limited perspective of only seeing what’s in front of her, instead of being able to access different points of view through cameras in and out of Wanderer, is hard for her to accept.

Sidra’s story alternates chapters with the chronicle of Jane 23, a worker-clone who escapes from the robotic Mothers into a dangerous landscape of trash from a society that throws away anything that stops working perfectly. She wanders until she is protected by Owl, a lonely AI in a discarded star-faring ship. She spends years trying to replace damaged parts in a quest to travel off world, taught about other parts of the galaxy by Owl’s limited information resources.

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The parallel plot lines deal with being accepted and accepting others, what makes a community, and a continued study of gender and species. One of Sidra’s friends is gender fluid, switching physically from male to female and back, with difficult transition periods as changes occur.

Image source: Harper Voyage

Long Way dealt with a duck-out-of-water situation, as an accountant adjusted to dealing with a multi-species crew and new environments and cultures. Common Orbit focuses in on smaller groups: Jane and Owl, Sidra and a trio of friends and protectors. Chambers excels at creating characters and societies that are outliers of our expectations, yet they have familiar cores of loyalty and the search for more. She mashes up Robinson Crusoe’s survival in a strange land with Oliver Twist’s search for a place to belong, and throws in a heist caper for good measure.

Reading The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet might help the reader understand the Sidra/Pepper background in this follow-up novel, but it isn’t necessary. I really enjoyed the first book for its quirkiness, but I may be even more fond of A Closed and Common Orbit and its lonely characters, drawn together as they go in the same circles of development, their own closed and common orbit.

To enter to win a copy of A Closed and Common Orbit, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “orbit,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen May 13, 2017. If entering via email please include your mailing address.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a Librarian with the Fresno County Public Library, and a published short story author.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.

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