A Review of: A Closed and Common Orbit: (Wayfarers 2), by Becky Chambers

Book 2 in the Wayfarer Series builds on the existing cosmic space utilized in the previous book – same ‘alien’ types, crossover of some location, mentions of characters we have previously been introduced to.
It is set primarily in the space port city of Coriol.

* Mild spoilers ahead *

Rating: 4 out of 5.

We follow the story of the Lovelace. Lovelace is a sentient AI, who was created as a ship consciousness. At the end of Long Way To A Small Angry Planet (book one), Lovelace chooses to leave Ashby’s ship, due to a catastrophic event, that leaves her (her chosen pronoun) freshly installed, as a reset software, losing all her memories, and learned data from year interacting with the crew. The crew of Ashby’s ship (The Wayfarer) were very close to Lovelace, known to them as the preferred name: Lovey. There were personal relationships. Lovelace, having been given all the information about the catastrophic event, that wiped her memory, chose to leave, when given the choice, to spare the crew any more heartache and pain.


Now, Lovelace was then installed in to a replica human body, which is illegal because we just can’t have sentient AI running around knowing what it’s like to be human, now can we?? Lovelace transitions into the human shaped interface (the kit), and begins learning to navigate outside everything she has ever known, and was designed to do – monitor and run a ship. A human form is not at all the same.

It’s a hard and complicated transition, and she spend a lot of time very uncomfortable, and unhappy. But with the help of the humans, she does find a way to move forward.


This story is two stores side by side, being told together, all the while expertly tying the two together. The primary/ main story is that Of Lovelace (who now goes by Sidra) and her challenges getting used to being in a singular body, instead of an expansive ship.


The second story is that of Pepper, who spent the first handful of years of her life being raised as a factory worker, by robots. After escaping this factory, she ends up in an abandoned ship shuttle. Which houses a sentient AI named Owl, who essentially teaches her about actual life, human race, society, aliens, everything. And coaches her on how to fix the shuttle. It takes about 10 years, but they get it into flight. It’s a detailed, deeply detailed story for Jane 23, now known as Pepper.

The book makes the comparison early on that while pepper was raised by AI’s, now she is ‘raising’ Sidra the AI to be competent in human society. It’s an interesting parallel, and also makes Pepper uniquely qualified for the task.

Both stories are filled with challenges, problems, things to overcome.

I found it quite an interesting exploration and portrayal- the story of Lovelace entering a human form. It’s very well thought out by the author. The kinds of issues she would have, challenges she would come up against, learning how to navigate, and fit in to society. How Sidra copes with learning about humans, Aeluons, anderisk, and more. How she eventually find her place in Port Coriol, and becomes ok with the body she is in. And do they ever have a lot of complications!

Jane/Pepper’s story is thoughtful as well, and filled with many details that make it real for the reader. The emotional pain of so many things she had to endure, and overcome. Starting with learning that she was bred to be a disposable factory worker, on a planet that gene tweaks their citizens for all the advantages. And yet they create a flock of non-people to be slave workers who know nothing else their whole lives, except doing the job in the factory they are taught.


Both journeys told are deeply detailed, and interesting to read. You will not put this book down – because you will want to know just exactly what comes next in both.


So while in a way it’s a continuation from book 1, it really isn’t. We have one character, in a new setting and predicament, in which to continue on from.


One of my biggest gripes with the series, is that it is packaged and advertised as part of a series. Really, it’s not, the books are not a continuation of an ongoing story, or a set of continued different adventures by the same characters. This – is a shared fictional universe. And while I did enjoy all the books, It was a constant disappointment, that it wasn’t a series of books. I wanted so much more to come to the story, after book one. To learn more about the characters, their homes, their thinking, their relationships, everything. More!

Thoughts:

• Story pacing?

There’s never a dull moment. While Sidra’s story in Port Coriol, isn’t exactly high space adventure, it is a story with non-stop twists and turns and complications to work out. Jane/Peppers story is often leaving you on the edge of your seat, with so many dangers, most of which she faces alone for the majority of her life. 10/10


• Story character arcs?

Yes. Huge arcing paths for both Pepper and for Sidra. 10/10


• Story arc?

Definitely – We start with Sidra really wanting out of the body kit. She just can’t adjust. She even researches putting herself into a house system. But in the end, she finds peace with being in the body kit, and finds ways to make it her own. 10/10


• Story writing quality?

High quality. As a reader you will be pulled in to all aspects of the story, cheering our characters on. 10/10


• Story wokeness? ( tolerable / gag me)

Nothing that made me gag 😊 Lots of aspects of this fictional universe are very progressive, and open – as it should be. But yet it’s rooted in a real enough place to note that while ‘racism’ isn’t acceptable – it still happens. Some alien races look down on others, etc. “some things will never change” feeling to it. But in the core – it presents a utopia where all beings are accepted, equal, important. 10/10


• Grates against my annoyances?

Nothing stands out in my mind for grating, so that’s a plus! 10/10
• Grates against my annoyances? (fictional words) Since we got used to all the fictional words in the first book of the series, it makes things much smoother and easer in this book. It’s not all new territory. 9/10


• Story romance level?

Almost zero. Perfect. 10/10


• Story readability?

It was a little bipolar to read two separate stories. But it was some well enough – as well as it could be? And they’re totally tied to each other. So in the end it works, but it’s still a bit of a challenge jumping back and forth all the time. 7/10


• Story Completeness (did it end on a cliff hanger, or a see my next book!)?

The story is tied up well, all the plot strings are dealt with and it feels like you know all you need to. 9/10


• Did the story cover familiar ground, or go new places?

It is a shared universe, so in that respect, not new. However the story itself, in navigating interacting with an AI as a person, (both Sidra, and Owl) & the challenges for Sidra as an AI trying to hide I plain sight, in a society where AI are not allowed to be in ‘bodies’, but only interfaces such as buildings, ships, etc. So that’d all quite new. 9/10


• Was there anything I wanted to know that was left unanswered?

I think it covered most bases. 8/10


• Things I really liked / or didn’t like?

Honestly, I didn’t like the name Sidra. Pepper tells Lovelace to choose her own name, and a new one. She picks Sidra, but there was no explanation. Like you gotta go google it on your own to understand why Lovelace picked it. But – it just didn’t seem like it fit with the overall feel of the story. Something that fit better in the tech scene we have enmeshed Pepper and Blue into in, my opinion, been a better choice. But that’s me. 7/10

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