Book Review – ‘A Closed and Common Orbit’ (#2 Wayfarers) by Becky Chambers

Friendship, love and identity.

Genre: YA, Science Fiction, LGBT

No. of pages: 364

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.

This was an understated buddy movie. Individuals discovering who they are, getting separated, and finding their way back together. It’s as much a coming of age story as it is of long-lasting love and friendship… even if it’s not quite the human experience.

I say understated because there was no complex interwoven plot, no cinematic action scenes, rather an exploration of self-discovery and existence.  It explores what it is to ‘be,’ and brings out representations of identity, gender expression, and sexuality. I feel like this is a champion to those who identify as non-binary, aro/ace, or genderfluid. It so succinctly describes individuals living that truth. Aspects of body dysmorphia, all wrapped in a science fiction medium. We also get the philosophical debate of what life truly is, as cognisant AI needs to hide, as they are still viewed as property.

Told in alternating perspectives of Jane, a genetically altered human bred for the sole purpose of working in a dump – recycling material while being watched over by scary ‘Mother’ robots. It screams child factory workers in third world countries to me. The second perspective is that of Sidra. Sidra is the AI that comes into existence when AI Lovelace reboots her system on board the Wayfarer that we were introduced in the debut of this series ‘The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.’ Effectively erasing Lovelace, and Sidra felt out of place with the mourning crew of the Wayfarer and set out to make her own way in a synthetic body.

I didn’t get a whole lot of surprises from ‘A Closed and Common Orbit,’ though I loved the exploration of friendship and the core of identity, or soul, if you will. I must admit this was a slow start. It took me a few days and 100 pages of stop-and-start before the narrative really hooked me in. It’s not terribly fast paced, but very intriguing. The last half of the novel really picks up, and there is a twist at the end which adds some great character development.

I was expecting to get some more characters from the debut of this series. The Wayfarer crew. But this is more of an aside to that story. It seems that each instalment in this series is more about exploring identity and connection than a crew and the spaceship Wayfarer.

The dynamic between Jane and Sidra is beautiful, Jane has carved out her place in the world, but she is still dealing with the fear of hiding a secret. It reminds me of LGBTQIA+ people still in the closet or living in stealth. It is a heavy burden to bear at times. Sidra is that ‘born yesterday’ trope which was handled beautifully and I empathised with her a great deal, but I feel like I wanted more from her character, and have her face some bigger challenges… but that would have moved the story away from its core themes. It’s just a personal preference.

So finding out that we weren’t following the crew of the Wayfarer as a group, and the shift in tone from the debut to ‘A Closed and Common Orbit,’ left me wanting a bit more, and a little disappointed. But this is a masterpiece nonetheless. It’s a wonderful character study on identity.

It’s a strong recommendation from me and I am excited to jump into the next novel in this series, ‘Record of a Spaceborn Few.’

Overall feeling: Introspective science fiction (if a little slow.)

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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