A Closed and Common Orbit | Becky Chambers | 2016 (20 October) | Hodder & Stoughton | 365p | Bought copy | Buy the book
Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet was and is a science fiction sensation, totally deserving of all of the love that has been heaped upon it. That fabulous novel became the first of the Wayfarers series, named for those who explored worlds and wonders aboard the Wayfarer. A Closed and Common Orbit continues the story but from a completely different angle – two of the characters from the previous novel have now been removed from the Wayfarer and we follow their story in another place entirely. So, although this second novel overlaps the ending of the first, both stand alone perfectly. Having said all that, why deny yourself the genuine and memorable pleasure of Small Angry Planet?
Lovelace was once the AI of a starship, her scope almost unlimited, her senses keeping watch in every corner of the ship’s interior and looking out beyond the hull into space itself. But now Lovelace is contracted, her mind confined within a ‘kit’, a synthetic body, into which she was placed by Pepper, an engineer and friend. There was no alternative to this physical confinement. But Lovelace is now Sidra, her memories wiped clean, and the body she inhabits is illegal. They travel to Pepper’s home world in the hope that Sidra can create a new life for herself but in order for that to succeed Sidra must learn to be human in a world inhabited by so many different alien species and cultures.
Sidra is not the only lost soul of this novel. We also follow the incredible story of Jane 23, a clone, who is also forced out into a world that feels alien and frightening. Jane 23 and Sidra share a common struggle, to become human, to fit in.
Just as with Small Angry Planet, as soon as I began Common Orbit I was immersed, not only in its marvellous, imaginative worlds but also in its characters’ stories. Becky Chambers is a master storyteller, of this there can be no doubt, and yet again she astounds with the warmth and compassion of her characters, whether they’re Human, Aandrisks, Aeluons, AIs or any of the other species that come out to meet us along the way. Plot is almost secondary here, but nevertheless it is a fascinating one, filled with adventures, moving back and forth between characters, and I couldn’t wait to see how it developed. Yet, most of all, this novel is the literary equivalent of a giant scrummy bear hug.
There is evil in this universe. We can be sure of that and nobody knows it better than Jane 23. But Becky Chambers shows us it can be overcome. Species live together, genders aren’t fixed, religion doesn’t dictate, a hard day at work can be followed by a party. It isn’t easy for our main characters to find themselves, but the journey will be enlightening, albeit potentially dangerous, and it will be an absolute pleasure for the reader.
If I had to come up with one word to described Common Orbit, it would be lovely. There are moments in it that made me cry for its loveliness. It is beautifully written, lovingly created, even the titles of these books are perfect. Science fiction is the ideal medium for this vision – anything can happen, there are wonders to be explored and discovered, possibilities are vast. Becky Chambers is an author who goes straight to the top of my TBR mountain. She is to be cherished and encouraged and I cannot wait for Wayfarers 3 and beyond.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet
Also reviewed at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm