Title: A Closed and Common Orbit
Series: Wayfarers, #2
Author: Becky Chambers
Narrator: Rachel Dulude
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication date: October 20, 2016
Print length: 365 pages
Audio length: 11 hours, 29 minutes
Genre: Science fiction
Embark on an exciting, adventurous, and dangerous journey through the galaxy with the motley crew of the spaceship Wayfarer in this fun and heart-warming space opera—the sequel to the acclaimed The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.
Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in a 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 Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet introduced readers to the incredible world of Rosemary Harper, a young woman with a restless soul and secrets to keep. When she joined the crew of the Wayfarer, an intergalactic ship, she got more than she bargained for—and learned to live with, and love, her rag-tag collection of crewmates.
A Closed and Common Orbit is the stand-alone sequel to that beloved debut novel, and is perfect for fans of Firefly, Joss Whedon, Mass Effect, and Star Wars.
Beware the misleading synopsis… this book is definitely not a “journey through the galaxy with the motley crew of the spaceship Wayfarer”. In fact, A Closed and Common Orbit has almost nothing to do with the Wayfarer spaceship or its crew, except as a point of origin and connection for its characters. But that caveat aside, let’s talk about what this book actually is.
A Closed and Common Orbit picks up after the events of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Spoiler for those who haven’t read book #1 — the Wayfarer’s sentient AI, Lovelace, ends the first book by being transferred to an illegal body kit by the mechanic Pepper, and the two of them depart on their own adventure.
Book #2 picks up soon afterward, as Pepper, her companion Blue, and Lovelace travel back to Pepper’s home in Port Coriol, where Lovelace faces the daunting task of trying to act like a “normal” human. Inhabiting a high-quality artificial body that appears real, Lovelace adopts a new name, Sidra, and settles into life with Pepper and Blue. But Sidra misses the expanded senses and awareness of being a ship’s AI, and despite the unexpected ways she finds to explore and enjoy using her physical senses, she feels out of place and harshly limited by only being able to experience the world using the “kit” (as she refers to her physical manifestation).
In alternating chapters, we also get Pepper’s backstory. Now a tech wizard who can fix just about anything, Pepper got her start as a child slave in a factory policed by robotic “mothers”, a girl whose entire life consisted of sorting scrap on a planet mainly used as a junkyard. After escaping the factory at age 10, Pepper (then known as Jane) survived by finding shelter in an abandoned shuttlecraft, thanks to the guidance and nurturing of that ship’s AI, Owl. Over nine long years, Jane scavenged the nearby junkheaps and slowly repaired the shuttle until it was finally ready to take flight and escape.
For both Sidra and Jane, learning to be a person presents a huge challenge, as each has been denied human companionship and experiences in key ways. Though their sitations are very different, each must learn how to navigate their new realities and to rely on their own sense of self for survival, and each must ultimately figure out their own purpose in the new worlds in which they end up.
When I started this book, I was a little disappointed that the characters from book #1 wouldn’t be part of the story, but ultimately, I did get very caught up in Pepper/Jane and Sidra’s stories. I loved how some of their experiences paralleled one another, and found their explorations of their respective worlds really fascinating.
While the synopsis describes this book as a stand-alone, I wouldn’t recommend reading it without having first read book #1. The worldbuilding is too complex to fully appreciate without the grounding provided by the first book — there are planets and government entities and alien species to sort out and become familiar with, all of which are introduced in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. That said, this feels in some ways more like a bottle episode of a TV show — set in a familiar world, but with a narrow focus on just a few characters. Like good bottle episodes, this story illuminates more intricacies of the Wayfarers universe than previously seen, and at the same time provides a deep and meaningful interlude in the lives of the characters it focuses on.
I’m curious to see where the series goes next, and plan to continue just as soon as my library hold for the next audiobook comes in. (Side now: As I mentioned in my review of the first book, the narrator here is excellent!)
I’m so glad that I finally got around to starting this series — which has been on my TBR for way too many years. Well worth the wait, and highly recommended.