Antonio Díaz reviews today A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers, a novel in the universe of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, that he also reviewed for us last year. And stay tuned, for Antonio will bring us a surprise regarding Becky Chambers very soon. Hope you enjoy it!
Review soundtrack: Antonio suggest reading this review while listening to I am ?, by the Laura Jeffrey Academy students (YouTube).
Becky Chambers debuted last 2014 with The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, a coral space opera that reminded us of Firefly and that traps you with its fantastic prose. The author has a unique skill in getting feelings and ideas across to the reader that makes her opera prima still resonate among my last years reads. Obviously, when A Closed and Common Orbit came out, no doubt crossed my mind before I snatched it from a self.
This second book is also placed in the Wayfarers universe and, chronologically, goes after The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. However, even though there are links and some of the previous characters get mentioned, we can say that they are fundamentally independent. In her first book, Chambers divided her attention between the nine members of the crew (including the AI), with their own characteristics, necessities and voices. Instead, in A Closed and Common Orbit we find only two stories, intertwined at several levels, and a more limited secondary character's cast. Furthermore, while in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet Chambers showed us different races, societies and locations, in this second novel the action is bounded to a couple of places and its scope is way more personal (which also makes this novel 150 pages lighter).
In A Closed and Common Orbit, Lovey, an AI that has been designed to be in a spaceship (HAL 9000-style) wakes up to find himself, herself, itself? moved to an artificial humanoid body. Chambers does a first-rate job shaping the very special voice of an AI with not only identity issues but also a strong feeling of irreality. Lovey has plenty of problems in adapting to the new body, taking into account that its purpose was to be in a spaceship (in which you don't have to feel anything, you can be constantly connected to the net and you're aware of your surroundings without effort thanks to the security cameras). Possibly, Chambers is not inventing the wheel here, but I have to admit that I've never read the voice of an AI like this one and it has given me plenty to think about.
Lovey's story is intertwined with another, a bit more typical, about which I don't want to give any info in order to maximize the reader's enjoyment it its discovery. I only need to say that both are complementary at various levels. Not only because they have concepts and ideas in common, but because this second story gives the book and edge that the other story (which focuses more in the self-discovery) lacks. In this book, we won't learn more about the Wayfarer's universe, so we can only hope that Chambers keeps leading us through this tapestry she is weaving.
Chambers has a very special touch that sets her apart from other science fiction authors. It's a tone hard to put your finger on but that impregnates the book with an emotion that makes everything matter. Chamber's novels, albeit bittersweet, always give me the impression that that they have a hopeful touch in them that lifts the spirit. It is a similar sensation to the one that films like Amelie or Big Fish give.
In The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet we make a trip through the external space and in A Closed and Common Orbit we travel through the internal space. Chamber analyzes, unravels and compares the different roads two sentient beings take in order to find themselves, their reason to exist and maybe to help them accept themselves as they are, to change how they are, to reach how they should be.
I cannot do other thing but to recommend this book, although I would advise the reader to start with The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (in order to avoid minor plot spoilers) and because I think that it is a more dynamic book than A Closed and Common Orbit. This second novel, although it's not boring at any moment, has a slower pace (which goes well with its trip to the center of the being).