Review: A Closed and Common Orbit (Becky Chambers)

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Science Fiction
Publisher: Houder & Stoughton
Publication date: October 20th, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing Malaysia
Page Count: 365
Series: Wayfarer #2

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Buy from Book Depository, Kinokuniya Malaysia

Lovelace 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.

A Closed and Common Orbit is the stand-alone sequel to Becky Chambers’ beloved debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and is perfect for fans of Firefly, Joss Whedon, Mass Effect and Star Wars.

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Words cannot truly describe how much I love this beautiful, emotional, heart-gripping book. This piece of artwork with its collective words of poetry strung to make you weep and melt.

I honestly have no idea how to write this review to be honest.

It is that brilliant…

And if I could recommend one science fiction book to truly understand what science fiction is all about, this book would make it to the top of the list.

Scratch that. This book would be at the top of the list.

Now, while this book is the second installment of the Wayfarer series, it does not continue directly from the first book. As mentioned in the blurb, it’s more of a standalone novel. So like me, you can read this without having to read the first book.

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Before you go all excited thinking this is your typical science fiction with wars, action, intergalactic space adventures akin to Star Wars or Star Trek, let me hold your arm and stop you right here. A Closed and Common Orbit is not all of those things I mentioned.

It’s so much more.

It begins with Lovelace, renamed Sidra, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) who gets reinstalled in a human body kit after the ship she was in got badly damaged. And whilst the AI stories we’ve read so far tend to shine a negative light on them, A Closed and Common Orbit questions the humanity and emotional capacities of AIs. Is it possible for an AI to develop thoughts and ideas on their own? To have a conscious? To help humans beyond their intended programming?

That is how unbelievably magical A Closed and Common Orbit is. It is about the human condition, extended beyond intergalactic species and even technological advances set in space. This book reminds that even when we’re millenniums into the future, we will always feel the need to belong.

We are introduced with a wide range of species who live peacefully together. And whilst there is no space politics between them or the fight for the dominant species to rule, you’ll be surprised to find that the essence of science fiction that has been explored so well in this book is our need to have a purpose in life.

And that is what Chambers play around with Sidra as she navigates life in this new body kit, forming friendships with her caretakers and a random ink tattooist.

I love how the book jumps back and forth between past and present. The present is focused on Sidra, while the past is focused on Pepper, the engineer who saved Lovelace. Pepper was raised by an AI in an abandoned ship after she escaped a slave factory at the age of 10. Her upbringing will bring all sorts of emotions in you because it represents so well the need for human connection and the love and care we all craved. And funnily enough, those things were provided to Pepper for almost 10 years, by her AI guardian, Owl. Chambers set a wonderful setting for human-technology interaction that wasn’t creepy or disturbing, but rather portrayed warmth and full of love.

“She felt as though she could reach out to that little girl and pull her through the years. Look, she’d say. Look who you’re gonna be. Look where you’re gonna go. Jane” 

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The characters inside this book are so well written, I felt like I could take them out of the book and be friends with them! There are so many species or aliens as Pepper calls them, which are described in detail throughout the book. Granted we don’t see much of their history and how they came to live with other species. But overall they were still wonderfully written.

You will love the main characters that Chambers created to guide Sidra into accepting her purpose as an AI in human form. There’s Pepper with her methodological ways and superb fixing skills. There’s Blue, the artist with a stammer whose kindness allows Sidra to open up and explore more of her wants and needs. And finally there’s Tak, the bisexual Aeluoen ink tattooist (talk about diversity!), who encourages Sidra to discover art and read more about other cultures so she can better understand herself.

“I love learning. I love history. But there’s history in everything. Every building, everybody you talk to. It’s not limited to libraries and museums. I think people who spend their lives in school forget that sometimes. -Tak” 

Now that is one amazing crew of friends.

And then there’s Owl, Pepper’s AI guardian. Owl is just wonderful. You could never believe that science fiction could ever write about an AI so lifelike as if she’s human. But Becky Chambers is truly talented for being able to do so. I can’t describe how powerful Owl’s presence was in the book. You have to read it to understand why she’s so important in this book and how it’s led to the major events.

These characters are what made the book wonderful and each character development was a joy to read, especially Sidra’s.

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Overall, Becky Chambers have become one of my favourite sci-fi writers of all time, alongside Andy Weir and Ernest Cline. If you’re in the mood for some futuristic voyage of the human condition, A Common and Closed Orbit is the book to start with.

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“Life is terrifying. None of us have a rule book. None of us know what we’re doing here. So, the easiest way to stare reality in the face and not utterly lose your shit is to believe that you have control over it. If you believe you have control, then you believe you’re at the top. And if you’re at the top, then people who aren’t like you… well, they’ve got to be somewhere lower, right? Every species does this. Does it again and again and again. Doesn’t matter if they do it to themselves, or another species, or someone they created.” 

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Thank you Pansing Malaysia for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.


7 thoughts on “Review: A Closed and Common Orbit (Becky Chambers)

  1. Andrea says:

    Wow, this sounds great! DO you think it would be best to read the first book, even though you don’t have to? If you read the first book, I would love to know what you think about it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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