April 6th, 2020

Book 23 - 2018

Book 23: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers - 364 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
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 to start over in a synthetic body, in a world where her kind are illegal. She's never felt so alone.

But she's not alone, not really. Pepper, one of the engineers who risked life and limb to reinstall Lovelace, is determined to help her adjust to her new world. Because Pepper knows a thing or two about starting over.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that, huge as the galaxy may be, it's anything but empty.

This book is the stand-alone sequel to Chambers’ debut novel 'A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet'. In my opinion, it is even better than its predecessor. It's a tighter story, with a smaller pool of characters, and it uses one of my favourite story-telling devices - the alternative POV, complementary story approach. This allows for experiences to be echoed, points reinforced, and because of the characters chosen to alternate between, provides for a really nice character evolution.

The first POV is that of Lovelace, or Sidra as she renames herself, the AI on the Wayfarer ship featured in ALWTASAP. Now housed within an illegal body kit, Sidra has to adapt to being a 'person', learning to deal with the limitations that gives her, but also the opportunities. She is provided a home and support by Pepper and Blue, runaways from a planet that effectively enslaves people like them.

The second POV is that of Jane 23, a ten year old girl (initially) who knows nothing outside the factory she works in with a whole group of other girls called Jane. When Jane 23 escapes, she is 'rescued' by Owl, the AI on an abandoned ship dumped in a scrapyard. Owl effectively raises Jane, creating a rather unusual relationship between Jane and AIs in general. Jane and Sidra's stories eventually intertwine, providing for the character evolution noted earlier. It's really beautiful to watch. There are also a raft of really interesting support characters, but what I loved the most was what this book had to say on two topics. The first was tattoos. About 100 pages in, Sidra meets Tak, an alien tattooist, who Sidra questions on the purpose of tattoos. Tak's explanation, for me, is the most eloquent explanation of why people get tattoos, and really resonated with me. I think, if anyone is to ever ask me about why I have my tattoos, part of Tak's explanation could not help but bleed through - the page of dialogue in this book verbalises beautifully what I've probably always known in myself but never been able to express.
The other thing I loved is at the very end, when Sidra explains purpose to Tak. Again, it puts into words something I've probably always felt. I don't know how Chambers' does it, but its a beautiful thing!
There is an echo of Star Trek in these books for me - allegorical story-telling, deep analysis of what makes us human, a general aversion to conflict, and a hopeful perspective on the future. Chambers' story isn't necessarily new (Star Trek covered some of the themes around recognition of AIs a lot in TNG and VOY) but its really nice to reflect on.

23 / 50 books. 46% done!

7171 / 15000 pages. 48% done!

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