A Closed and Common Orbit is the sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book. If you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for?
Newly installed into a body kit she never chose, the former AI of the Wayfarer is at a loss to her new purpose. She feels wrong in the kit, it isn’t her body, it isn’t a ship. Left in the capable hands of Pepper and Blue, she must learn who she is. Pepper knows a thing or two about recreating yourself; she never knew the sky existed until she was ten years old.
AIs aren’t supposed to be left alone. They need people.
Common Orbit is just as good, compassionate and lovely as Angry Planet. I’m just overflowing with love for these characters; despite everything they go through they remain good people.
The story uses two timelines, one following on from the end of the previous book and the other is 20 years earlier and focuses on Pepper’s past. Pepper feels she is the ideal person to introduce Sidra to the world because she was brought up by AI. Which AI is not as obvious as it first seems. Pepper’s early life was in a factory sorting scrap, with all the other genetically engineered Janes. I loved her story of how she got to be where she is now; full of true bravery and friendship. Insanely gripping too, I often forgot I knew the outcome.
No matter what the sims said about the power of a single solitary hero, there were some things just too big to change alone.
I love how Becky tries to view the universe in other than human eyes. Sidra doesn’t experience her environments as one would expect a human to, despite the form of her body kit. She is meant to be installed in a ship not in a human and the novel explores the challenges of that and how she overcomes them. It’s partly about hiding her true identity but I liked that it didn’t linger too much on the illegal aspect.
Sidra’s thirst for knowledge helps the story introduce and explore some of the amazing world-building started in Angry Planet. Whilst the Lovelace programming prevents lying, Sidra befriends a species who also has difficulty withholding the truth, btu for biological reasons. It also uses the species’ gender fluidity to show how gender identity doesn’t change the person, just the pronouns used change.
She looked up again, up at the big soft galaxy, and after a bit, she felt okay. She felt good. Somehow, outside, looking at the stars, everything was a little better.
So often there are plot devices used in novels that end up putting the character in a negative situation, but Becky does the amazing thing of writing positive outcomes out of things where the reader might expect something else. It’s hard to explain but Josh described it as cosy when I was trying to explain to him. And these books are cosy, but not in an overly simple way.
It is described as a standalone sequel and for once I do think it could be read and fully enjoyed by itself. Although it would obviously spoil Lovey’s storyline in Angry Planet. It isn’t about Lovey though, as Sidra is a completely new AI, learning and forming her personality from scratch.
She was built to serve, just as this one was, and while she might feel awfully special for being able to ask questions and have arguments, she was no more capable of skipping protocols than the little mind before her.
I’ve never known any other books that do so much to humanise AI. Whilst laws mean an AI can just be turned off or overwritten, Common Orbit explores the morals of doing that to a sentient being, even if they are made with code.
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Also reviewed @ For Winter Nights
Book Source: Purchased