Title: A Closed and Common Orbit
Author: Becky Chambers
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Series? Companion Novel to The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Note: This review will contain spoilers for the prequel The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet. Common Orbit can be read as a standalone, although you will be spoiled for part of Small Angry Planet’s ending.
I read Small Angry Planet earlier on this year and it catapulted into my all time favourite list, it’s a scifi bursting with heart and soul. Needless to say, I have been anticipating the release of Common Orbit ever since.
Companion novels are a mixed beast for me, although I love revisiting the world, I am always afraid I won’t love it as much as the original if the characters I grew to love are no longer around. My fears were quickly dispelled as Common Orbit prove to retain all the heart that made me love Small Angry Planet. It also stood on its own two feet as an excellent, thought provoking novel that examines the meaning of family and identity.
Common Orbit follows directly from the ending of Small Angry Planet, featuring two side characters from the prequel book: the newly rebooted Lovelace (I will call her by her preferred name: Sidra, from here on out), and Enhanced mechanic Pepper. Bringing these two together was a stroke of genius, as they both sit on the fringe of the society the Galactic Commons have created.
As an AI, Sidra struggles with claiming her agency and identity. A similar story emerges as we become privy to Pepper’s past as one of several Enhanced (eugenic children, designed to perfectly serve and perform a singular task) working in a nameless factory. While Small Angry Planet was a story of found family and coexistence amongst different species, Common Orbit pushes at the boundaries and rules of that society. It’s about two young girls, grappling and expanding the idea of humanity – especially in the context to their interactions with others around them.
I found both storylines introduced in this book engaging, although I have to say I enjoyed Sidra’s portion a little more as we got to explore the Galactic Commons in further details. We learned a lot about the Aandrisks in Small Angry Planet, thanks to the beautiful Sissix. In this book, we got to see more of the silent Aeluon’s society – and their delightful and fluid approach to gender and sexuality. Watching Sidra learn to assimilate to society, while retaining her core identity was endlessly fascinating , especially the disconnect she feels between her AI mind and artificial body kit. The book manages to make the reader separate Sidra’s mind from her form, and for us to consider AI not only when they’re in a humanoid body – but also when they’re inhabiting entire ships. Becky Chambers brought up several questions that I had never even thought of asking! If you’re a sucker for ‘the ghost in the machine’ type story, you will absolutely love this book.
Pepper’s story was engrossing in a completely different manner, the plotline was part dystopia, part survivor story a la Robin Crusoe and The Martian. The rapport that Pepper built with Owl is one of the best relationships across both books, I love how Becky Chambers managed to pack so much emotion into so few pages. Seeing an AI teach a lost girl how to become human? Simply delightful! I also enjoyed the shift in tone and language employed as Pepper aged throughout the book, her voice always felt very authentic to me as a reader.
While I absolutely loved the book, I wished we got more time to build up to its conclusion. The last 10% of this book felt slightly rushed, especially in comparison to Becky Chambers’s track record for considered and nuanced writing. Nonetheless, I cannot thank her enough for bringing us this universe, filled diversity, tolerance, and lovable characters. I have my fingers and toes crossed for another book released in this world – I just can’t get enough.
If you’re ever feeling down in the dumps over the state of the world, go run to your nearest book shop and grab yourself a copy of this series. It’s definitely cemented itself as my favourite scifi series in a long time.