Review of A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
It’s taken me awhile to pick this up. I tried reading it more than a year ago but ended up returning the book to the library so I thought that the audiobook version would be more easy to get into.
Chambers has created a very charming universe. There were time where I felt really enchanted by her story….however, I think that The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was a much more engaging novel, one that offered a more defined storyline and a more complex cast of characters.
A Closed and Common Orbit follows an Sidra – formerly known as Lovelace the AI of the Wayfarer – who has to adjust to a new human looking “body”. Thanks to a reboot Sidra is no longer Lovelace, and struggles to understand why her previous installation would ever want to inhabit a body that is so constrictive. Piper, a friendly engineer, is one of the few people who know that Sidra is not human. She attempts to help Sidra adjust to her new form but she doesn’t really appear that much in Sidra’s narrative. Sidra makes friends with Tak, a gender-shifting Aeluon, who is also a tattoo artist. And….nothing much happens.
The novel also focuses on Piper’s unusual past. The dual timeline creates a parallel between Sidra and Jane (aka Piper). Jane’s story is perhaps a bit more eventful, her growing awareness and her relationship with an AI called Owl were more fleshed out, however, her narrative uses a stylistic choice that could be a bit annoying: the writing reflects Jane’s vocabulary which isn’t very vast. Her chapters overuse “real” a lot: “real good” “real bad” “real weird” and so on and so forth…which is a pity.
By the end both Sidra and Jane have a slightly better understanding of themselves and their place in the universe…but their journeys felt somewhat flat. I also felt that the relationship between Sidra and Piper wasn’t at all there. Each narrative focused on one relationship: it was either Sidra and Tak or Jane and Owl. That made the whole story feel rather one sided, underdeveloped. There are few interactions between Sidra and Piper and I don’t understand why that is. The novel doesn’t really go out of its way to depict different types of relationships and each chapter left me wanting more….more did not come.
It was still an enjoyable read but it all felt very….easy? Where was the conflict? I expected everyone to hold hands and sing kumbaya…
Chamber still makes a few interesting observations and the universe she has created remains interesting but not enough to make up for her plot and characters.