A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers

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A book I bought last year but was unable to start due to travelling and the wedding; I was hesitant about starting it, worried that it would not, could not, live up to A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. How wrong I was. A continuation of her first novel A Closed and Common Orbit follows Lovelace, an AI, after she is installed into a kit by Pepper and taken to live on Coriol with Pepper. Pepper has her own tragic story which is told alongside Lovelace’s – who changes her name to Sidra at the beginning of the novel. Together they go on a journey of self-discovery and discover what exactly makes a family.

I love, love, love this book. Firstly the writing style is light and flows throughout the book; after putting the book down it is easy to fall back into its rhythm and feel instantly engaged with the events taking place.  The only word I can think to describe the writing and its content is beautiful (I will be using this word a lot during this review). The writing feels intimate and that as a writer I am being given a personal rendering of Sidra and Pepper’s story’s.

While the novel may seem to predominantly focus on Sidra’s story and what it means to be human, Pepper’s story is also very much about this topic and what it means to have a family when you have never known one.

Sidra is an AI and programmed as such, she has an honesty protocol and needs a purpose, a purpose which should involve a ship. Originally programmed to be implemented on a ship she struggles with her limited vision and limited access to information. Throughout the novel we are asked to consider what is human and whether an AI should be treated any differently to a human. Sidra is well rounded and immensely flawed character and if that doesn’t make her human I don’t know what will. She is constantly looking to help others and while that may be in her programming there is a sense that without the programming she would still strive to help others. Her part of the novel is the internal conflict between what she sees herself as the kit that she lives in. Unable to feel truly at home within its frame she looks for ways to help ease her life and make it more manageable.

Pepper’s story is not unlike Sidra’s. An unfortunate and horrific childhood segregated from a society she knew nothing about, Pepper’s journey begins with her learning what it means to be an individual and a purpose. From a strict daily routine to nothing Pepper tests her boundaries and limitations, builds a ship and escapes from a world that never valued her. Pepper is a loveable character who doesn’t ask for pity but, rather, acknowledgement in who she is. She is certainly a character who cannot be compared. Pepper’s journey may be harrowing but it shows how to people from different parts of space can still find a place to belong. Pepper is invested in Sidra’s life, not only after transferring her across, but also due to the fact she was raised by an AI. Pepper knows how limited and powerless Sidra feels and does all she can to help Sidra feel more like herself.

Each of their tales perfectly intertwines with one another coming together in a heart wrenching conclusion. Seriously, I cried. The best thing about each of their stories are that they are both human endeavours for betterment, exploration – internally and externally – and belonging; whether it is within a mechanical body or your own, both Sidra and Pepper represent what it means to be human and how you can overcome all obstacles in your way.

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