Thursday, 17 May 2018

Review: A Closed and Common Orbit

A Closed and Common Orbit A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This author's first book took a step away from the standard space opera focus on adventure and action to focus more on the interactions and development of the characters. That was what people who liked it liked most about it, and in this second book in the series, she seems to have picked up on that and made it all about the characters. There's not a great deal of action (though there is a very light heist near the end), which isn't to say that there isn't tension, challenge, and danger. Both of the main characters have goals to pursue and difficulties to overcome, and in doing so, they change and develop and grow and come to their own resolutions.

The narrative weaves together two stories in two different places and timeframes, and there's a shared character between them, going by two different names in the two different stories. She's the main character of the flashback story, and a secondary but important character in the "present time" story, and both stories deal with the same theme: becoming a person.

Jane (as she's known in the flashback story) is one of a crop of girls created to sort junk in search of useful material; it's cheaper and more efficient to use girls than it is to use robots. She is, effectively, equipment. When she escapes and meets the AI of a downed starship, she begins to discover her personhood, in part through a children's VR story.

In the other story, she's known as Pepper, and (picking up from the first book, where both are minor characters), she has convinced Lovelace, another ship AI, to take the risk of inhabiting an illegal body which passes her off as human. Taking a new name, the AI struggles with the limitations and unfamiliarity of her new situation, makes an alien friend, and shapes an identity for herself in the process.

While the pace sometimes slackens to linger on description for a touch longer than I would prefer, the narrative questions are clear and compelling, and move the book along well. The characters' relationships and their internal emotional life are very much the focus, but were so well handled that I never lost interest or felt disengaged from their struggles.

Overall, a fine effort, and I look forward to the sequel.

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