This book is the sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. I’d borrowed that book from the library on a whim and ended up absolutely loving it. It’s a great, space-themed novel about a group of misfits of different space races on a long haul journey through space. It’s great. Go read my review. A Closed and Common Orbit, whilst good, just didn’t have the same punch to it for me.
Plot summary: ‘Lovelace was once
merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new
body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory
of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and
discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable
engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.
Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.’
The reason I loved the first book, for those readers who have neglected to read my review, is because of the characters. There’s a full ship of people, all of whom are different species, races and genders, and all these people have their own POV chapters. They’re distinctly separate entitities with personalities and flaws, and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is about how they interlink and their developing relationships. It’s not really about space at all, it’s about people and it’s amazing.
This book, however, has more of a Point. An AI system designed to run a ship suddenly finds that she has a body to manage and she’s struggling with the limits of her new human-shaped form. These chapters, which I’d say is the primary focus of the book, are alternated with the point of view of Jane, a genetically engineered human who was produced for an austerely run factory but is now struggling to survive in a wasteland with only an AI for company.
The thing is, there’s no story really. There are circumstances – Jane needs to survive and Sidra/Lovelace doesn’t like her body – but not much actually happens.
There’s no people. There are no relationships. All those things that made the first book great just aren’t present. Instead of six vastly different points of view, we essentially just get a human woman and an AI pretending to be one. Neither of these women interact with other people, to a large extent anyway, so it’s mostly both of them musing inside their head about not a whole lot.
It’s fine. It’s written well, the prose is good and the dialogue flows well. The problem is that the over-arching plot doesn’t really become clear until the final few chapters. When it appears, it’s great. I loved it and I was really moved, but I think I’d have been more interested in the book as a whole if I’d have known what the end goal was – i.e. what Pepper trying to achieve.
It just wasn’t very interesting, to be honest, not right until the end. I did like it, but I loved the first one so much that perhaps it was inevitable that A Closed and Common Orbit would be a bit disappointing.