“The planet was beautiful. The planet was horrible. The planet was full of people, and they were beautiful and horrible too.”
*Because this novel is a sequel, this review may contain slight spoilers for The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.
A Closed and Common Orbit is a stand-alone sequel to one of my favourite science-fiction books, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. In the original novel, we were introduced to a crew aboard an intergalactic ship called the Wayfarer, and followed their journey to a small, angry planet. Here, we follow the character of Lovelace, who served as an artificial intelligence system for the Wayfarer and is on her own path following the events of the first novel. She finds herself in a new body and with no memory of prior events after a full system shut-down, and is slowly figuring out the world and her place within it. Alongside her is Pepper, an engineer with a difficult and painful past, who is determined to help Lovelace.
The novel takes turns, chapter by chapter, following Lovelace’s current journey and telling a story from the past. There is no grand plot or action, instead the focus is on the characters and their lives. While The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet felt more expansive as we got to know different planets and beings, A Closed and Common Orbit feels more contained. I love reading character-based stories so I was really at home with this one. It took me a few chapters to get into the rhythm of the novel with the switch in story from chapter to chapter, but once I got into the groove I felt connected to the characters and their narrative. The two stories compliment one another well. As with her previous novel, Becky Chambers does an exceptional job of bringing fascinating worlds to life and giving depth and emotion to characters that makes everything feel so very real. By the time I finished the last page, I have to confess I was a little teary-eyed.
If you have not read either of these novels but are interested, I suggest reading The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet first. It is a great introduction to the planets and characters, and A Closed and Common Orbit serves as a great companion. And if science-fiction is not typically your genre of choice, I feel that these books are a great option if you would like to give it a try because of the richness of the writing and the depth of character.
“Life is terrifying. None of us have a rule book. None of us know what we’re doing here. So, the easiest way to stare reality in the face and not utterly lose your shit is to believe that you have control over it. If you believe you have control, then you believe you’re at the top. And if you’re at the top, then people who aren’t like you… well, they’ve got to be somewhere lower, right? Every species does this. Does it again and again and again. Doesn’t matter if they do it to themselves, or another species, or someone they created.”