The best problem I ever have is the inability to tear myself away from a book. It’s happened less and less lately, but A Closed and Common Orbit was so good I could barely put it down to get to work.
It’s the sequel/companion to Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, a book Katie recommended to me back in 2016. It was about a group of misfits doing a dangerous job while trying to keep the family they’ve created together.
A Closed and Common Orbit is still a “found family” story that also deals with questions of identity and purpose. At the end of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, the ship’s Artificial Intelligence has been rebooted in such a way that she’s lost all the personality and relationships she’s developed. For everyone’s emotional health, she’s forced to take root in an artificial body and leave the ship. The story follows her as she learns to fit into outside society, as her friends Pepper, Blue, and eventually Tak help her figure out who she is and what she wants to be.
The story is broken up by Pepper’s story, showing where she came from to get her where she is now. Her story is just as strange as Sidra’s. She was created to work in a factory with a group of girls all named Jane. Once she escaped, she found a derelict ship housing an old AI who taught her about the outside world and took care of her until they could escape the planet together.
Being raised by the AI Owl gives her a unique perspective on the AI Sidra and allows the AI the opportunity to behave like a real person. This is an example of how Chambers continues the themes from her first book, questioning the nature of life and consciousness and what makes us human. But in this book, she also explores questions of identity. Pepper truly understands Sidra because they were both created for a singular purpose and they both escaped being controlled over it. She has spent years creating herself and forging a place for herself in society and she is patient as she guides Sidra to do the same.
For the first three-quarters of the book, the story is more character-driven than plot-driven. It helps that the characters are so dynamic and enthralling.
Despite that, this is not a standalone book. Without reading the original, it’s difficult to get a true understanding of how the universe works. But since both the books are amazing, it’s worth it if you want to read both.