Wednesday, November 15, 2023

81. A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

This is the second in her Wayfarer series.  I saw a link to a panel she was one that was entitled Cozy Sci-Fi and I think that is a pretty accurate description, though I might add Woke to it (in a tongue-in-cheek non-perjorative way) for Woke & Cozy Sci-fi as a sub-genre.  This second one continues to be absorbing and readable as the first, though because it only focused on two characters, at a certain time in the middle it got a bit too into their personal anxieties for my taste.  Fortunately, the tight structure which deftly brings the narratives together makes the second half a real page-turner and quite enjoyable.

The story leaves off from The Long Way to a Small and Lonely Planet with the newly wiped AI (called Lovelace at first until she changes her name to Sidra) from the ship and Pepper, the tech who had a smaller role both heading to the moon of Coriol, Pepper's home.  The big deal is that Sidra is now illegally in an artificial human-looking body and struggling to get used to it.  The first half of the book is our introduction to the progressively nerdy lifestyle of Pepper's neighbourhood (and her partner, stammering artist Blue).  This was all a bit of wish fulfillment fantasy for lefty geeks, full of diversity and freedom and community but no real downsides or authority.   

What kept me engaged here is that this narrative is then interspersed with the story of Jane 23, a 10-year old human girl living in some kind of factory with many other Janes of different numbers, all engaged in cleaning and repairing scrapped tech under the watchful and sometimes brutal eyes (or rather blank chrome faces) of robotic Mothers.  Her story is really cool, a gripping bildungsroman and a dark analogy of our own selfish consumerism taken to an extreme (where we sadly seem to be heading).  As Jane's story advances, we start to see how it connects to the present of Pepper, Blue and Sidra and it all comes together very satisfyingly in the end.

Overall, I think I enjoyed the first one more just because it was more varied and they travelled all over the place in their ship so you got more world-building.  However, this second book demonstrates that Chambers skill as a writer already improved.  There are two more books in this series as well as a fifth rumored to be coming out in 2024.  So I'll keep picking these up new when I need something good to read and a bookstore to support.

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