A Closed and Common Orbit

A Closed and Common Orbit book cover

My problem with this book is that it ended.

A Closed and Common Orbit is a sequel in name only. It’s book number two in Becky Chambers’ Wayfarer searies, but it stands just fine on its own. The first book in the series, The Long Way to a Small and Angry Planet, was a fun little story following a small Serenity-like crew across the universe. Each chapter felt like an episode of slice-of-life sci-fi television show. Overall the tone was positive, bad things might happen to the crew, but hope and empathy saturated the story. It was a pleasant read. This sequel focuses on one brief side character from the first book, off on their own. Going in, you don’t have to know much about their background, though it’s nice to have some contxt.

The non-spoilery pitch is that a ship’s AI has been transferred to a robotic replica of a human body, which is very illegal. In this diverse universe full of unique, sapient beings, Artificial Intelligences are viewed by most as tools to make life a little easier. While this is a topic as common as pepperoni on pizza, the book focuses on the AI’s experience trying to live in a body that doesn’t fit them. At her core, she is ment to occupy a space-faring ship, keeping her crew safe, with constant input from dozens sources. This body kit, is limiting. Being an individual with a purpose she can’t define is difficult. Through her stuggle she continues to refer to the body as “the kit”. Instead of saying that she picked up a glass, she says that she “made the kit pick up the glass”. She struggles figuring out just what she is, what she should be doing, how to be a person, how to manage friendships.

Alongside her journey, we see the life story of her friend and roommate; which could have been a book all on its own. Intertwining these two stories together, both about identity, purpose, and friendship results in a book that I couldn’t put down. I loved both characters. I loved seeing them struggle and grow. I’ve become quite the fan of Becky Chambers. The books of hers that I’ve read have felt comforting, like a heavy blanket on a rainy day. A review on Goodreads for the first book put it like this: “Feel-good science fiction. Bad things happen. Injustice exists. And yet, the world is a mostly beautiful and good place. Bad people exist, but people in general are mostly nice and almost always interesting. It’s a truly heart-warming novel.” That was true for book one, but A Closed and Common Orbit adds more sustenance. It feels more substantial, like a good heavy stew that sticks to your ribs. It’s a book I wish I could still be reading.