Wednesday 31 July 2019

#CBR11 Book 55: "A Closed and Common Orbit" by Becky Chambers

Page count: 512 pages
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR11 Bingo: Cannonballer Says (recommended by Carriejay, faintingviolet, emmalita, dAvid, tillie, badkittyuno and Narfna, among others)

Official book description:
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.

Last year, for Cannonball Bingo, I chose one of the books that had been on my TBR for several years, Becky Chambers' The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. When trying to decide on my book for the "Cannonballer Says" square for this year's Bingo, it seemed fitting to read the second book in the Wayfarer series. This book isn't so much a sequel, as it is a companion novel set in the same universe, sort of involving one of the characters we met in that book. 

Lovelace, who was the near-sentient A.I (artificial intelligence) on board the Wayfarer, finds herself housed no longer on board a space ship, but in an artificial body, made to look and sound completely human. Due to a series of unfortunate events, leading to a complete systems reboot, Lovelace no longer remembers being the consciousness who wanted a physical body, and instead finds herself confused and unmoored, helped away from the spaceship that was once her home by Pepper, an engineer and mechanic who promises to help her.

Lovelace renames herself Sidra and is brought to the home that Pepper shares with Blue, her artist partner (I think he's her boyfriend, but they may just be platonic life mates - the story really doesn't focus on that aspect of their relationship). A.I.s are not considered sentient individuals with rights and feelings, and it's highly illegal to do what the techs aboard the Wayfarer did, in trying to put Lovelace in a body. So if anyone finds out the truth about Sidra, Pepper and Blue could face serious trouble, and Sidra would probably just find herself shut down permanently.

Sidra struggles with the limitations of her new body and in trying to figure out who she is, and what she wants from her life. She gradually gets more outgoing and adventurous, makes at least one friend who isn't Pepper or Blue and starts to come to terms with her new "humanity".

 In alternating chapters to Sidra's story, we follow Pepper's life  in flashback from she was a young clone, enslaved on a backwater planet, who escapes the life of servitude and ignorance she was born into, befriending and in effect being raised by an A.I, and the struggle she has to educate herself, find enough scrap material on the industrial waste planet she finds herself on, fix up the space shuttle containing her A.I. parent to a degree where they can actually leave and make a better life for themselves somewhere else in the universe. 

I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting from this book, but it was very different indeed from The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. This book was a lot more introspective, and a lot of the plot is concerned with forging new identities and struggling to make a place for oneself in the world, rather than with an exciting space journey. The first third or so of the book felt a bit slow, and I wasn't all that interested in the early chapters about tiny Pepper (who was one of many Janes back then), but in the second half of the book, I was hooked enough that I didn't want to stop reading, be it the chapters about Sidra or Jane/Pepper. 

I can see why Becky Chambers' books are so very popular. I'm glad I still have one more in her Wayfarers series to read before I'm caught up with her back catalogue.

Judging a book by its cover: The books in this series all come with two different cover versions. One has a big, clunky, ugly font that takes up much of the front page of the book and completely ruins the effect (although really does get across what the title of the books are, I guess). The other covers are these stunning skyscapes with a couple of individuals in silhouette and the most amazing star and light shows dominating the images. My e-book versions all have the covers I prefer, and I genuinely can't understand why there is such a massive difference in tone and design. Who would want the big, ugly font covers when they could have such beauty and simple elegance?

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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