A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (first published in 2016 by Hodder & Stoughton)
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet has a special place in my heart and a coveted position on my list of all time favourite reads.
So the knowledge that there was going to be a companion novel filled me with both excitement and trepidation.
How do you top the utter heart and joy of humanity that was so delightfully captured in the first novel?
And the answer is, you don’t.
But you provide a novel that is equally as satisfying, as progressive and subversive and humorous and diverse.
A novel with wry observations about people and their hang-ups and their quirks and their flaws. A book that this time around, focuses more on a mental journey than a physical one, but which is no less appealing.
In case you can’t tell, I really liked it.
“Why don’t different species sit together?” Segregated train cars didn’t mesh with what she’d read of the Port’s famed egalitarianism.
“Difference species,” Blue said, “different butts.”
A Closed and Common Orbit focuses on the character formerly known as Lovelace, an AI originally powering a long haul ship who has now been transplanted illegally into a human body and has to figure out life amongst our particular species.
Her chapters alternate with those of Jane, a child who grows up preparing for a journey far from her abusive origins.
Jane’s connection to the rest of the story is made obvious fairly early on in the novel (and indeed, in the blurb) which makes it easier for the reader understand the motivations of Pepper – a woman who takes Lovelace in and helps her adjust to her new circumstances.
The novel has wide appeal – while the world-building is interesting, it isn’t too bogged down in sci-fi technicalities, which tends to put me off many of the books in this genre. It is first and foremost character driven.
For instance, the details of the universe focus on the different cultures, mannerisms and appearances of the various species, rather than on the specifics of time travel or space ship engines.
“At the core, you’ve got to get university certification for parenting, just as you do for, say, being a doctor or an engineer. No offense to you or your species, but going into the business of creating life without any sort of formal prep is…” He laughed. “It’s baffling. But then, I’m biased.”
It’s about found family and the things you do for other people. It’s a rumination on what it is to be human. It is, as the title suggests, about how our commonalities can overcome our differences.
Dare I say, it’s a triumphant ode about how we can be good to one another.
“Lovey’s gone, and that’s horribly sad. You’re here, and that’s wonderful. This isn’t a zero sum thing. Both can be true at the same time.”