RogerBW's Blog

A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers 09 March 2017

2016 science fiction, stand-alone sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. A new AI in an illegal human-shaped body, and the human who's getting it out of a bad situation, work together to build new lives.

The human is Pepper, who was something of a secondary character in the previous book; and the story is principally about building families and finding, or making, a place in which one can unfold one's life and see who one really is and wants to be. Where Long Way had a huge cast and wide-ranging backdrops, this happens mostly on one planet (with a secondary narrative happening mostly on another) and deals primarily with two people, secondarily with three others.

The first book sometimes felt a little facile, as people had their character-defining Pivotal Moments; this does a better job, because it recognises that making one big decision is very rarely sufficient of itself to sort out your problems. People make mistakes here, and have wrong assumptions, or impossible desires; then they try to deal with the consequences, and carry on.

We do start with an Awful Warning about the human body kit that the AI is inhabiting (AIs in this world are property, and if caught in the guise of a sapient creature they are casually destroyed), which never seems to come to much… except that it's always lurking in the background and becomes a secret to be shared with as few people as possible. When it is shared, the consequences aren't as horrible as one might have expected. So much so moralistic, but it never descends to moralising.

The tech is still weak (the body kit apparently generates the power it needs to keep operating from, um, its own movement) but since we're planet-bound this time it's rather less important.

I never found the pace slow, but the ending is perhaps a little sudden: though things have been building up to a certain event for a while, once it's done (and, I'm very glad to say, one of my least favourite AI clichés handily avoided) the book jumps forward to a short epilogue. I could have done with more of these people outside crisis times, when they're basically happy in their lives.

This is definitely not more of the same as found in the first book, but it clearly comes from a similar mental place. A third book is in the offing, and I plan to read it.

(This work was nominated for the 2017 Hugo Awards.)

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