Book Review: A Closed and Common Orbit

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WARNING: As the second book in the series, this review (and in particular, the summary below) will have spoilers for The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet!

From Goodreads:

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 no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet introduced readers to the incredible world of Rosemary Harper, a young woman with a restless soul and secrets to keep. When she joined the crew of the Wayfarer, an intergalactic ship, she got more than she bargained for – and learned to live with, and love, her rag-tag collection of crewmates.

A Closed and Common Orbit is the stand-alone sequel to Becky Chambers’ beloved debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and is perfect for fans of Firefly, Joss Whedon, Mass Effect, and Star Wars.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that the first book in this series, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, was my favorite book of last year.

I always get nervous when I’m reading the second book by an author I’ve absolutely loved. I’ve found far too many who have disappointed me, and been one-hit wonders. Many people criticize Rothfuss, saying Wise Man’s Fear isn’t as good as Name of the Wind (though I enjoyed them both). I’ve heard the same accusations leveled at Anthony Ryan (though I have not read his stuff yet). I personally feel this way about Ernest Cline. (Read Ready Player One, don’t bother with Armada.) Thus, when I’m heading into the second book, I always feel a bit nervous, and worry that I’m going to be let down again. I loved the first book so much, I want to have that same awesome experience.

Thankfully, Chambers delivers with A Closed and Common Orbit. The book is every bit as lovable, adorable, intimately human, progressive, and deep as the first one and, dare I say, I think I even loved it a bit more. While Long Way followed the crew of the Wayfarer across the galaxy, traveling to a large number of varied planets and meeting each member of the large crew, and their families, Orbit focuses on only a handful of characters, digging deep into their backstory and journey. I felt like there was a much better sense of connection between the chapters because of this, and more progression throughout the book. While Long Way felt very episodic, Orbit felt like a cohesive novel.

One of the other issues that initially worried me about this book being a sequel to Long Way is that we’re not following any of the characters in the original novel. There’s an entirely new cast here. This book takes place completely planet-side, and follows Lovelace, in her new body. This allows the novel to stand on its own, something that far too few novels do these days, with the massive number of ever-ongoing series that there are. It was not a problem, however, and I fell in love with these new characters just as quickly as I did with the original cast.

The book still is, like the first one, a character study. I love me a good plot-based novel about saving the world, a book that is utterly epic in scope and stakes, as much as the next person. (Considering my obsession with Sanderson, Jordan, etc., probably more than the next person.) However, sometimes I need a break, and an intense, deep character study is an amazing break, a lovely rest.

Because it digs so deep into its characters, Orbit can ask some deep questions. What makes us people? What really is humanity? Who deserves to be a person, and why? What is one’s purpose? All these questions and more are addressed in this book. Not all of them are answered, and some of the answers are very personal to the characters involved, and not universal. I loved the way this was handled and explored. Many of the decisions made that revolve around these questions really resonated with me. Some of them left me with questions about my own life, and my own notions and beliefs. Any book that challenges you to examine yourself a bit is good for you, and thankfully, this one was an enjoyable read as well.

The book is every bit as progressive as the first, from its questions of AI humanity to various gender-fluid characters prominent in the plot. There were unique and interesting cultures and family structures, all presented with a very open mind and in such a way that make complete sense for the species and conditions in which they arose. While we don’t explore quite as many of these as we did in the first book, they’re still fascinating, and I loved how they were presented here.

Despite the deep questions asked, and the issues raised, Orbit, like Long Way before it, is an ultimately happy book. There are so many beautiful little moments that make me smile, and if I ever tear up, it is because the moment was bittersweet. My heart was warmed by reading this book, and honestly, everyone needs more books like this. The world is a grim place many days, especially with our recent political climate, and it’s always nice to be reminded that everyone you meet is a person, with their own story, and that there are little moments of beauty around us, in all of the people around us, if we just look.

This book does a lot of the things that Ancillary Justice did. It has very progressive ideas, it’s a space opera, and it focuses around an AI out of its ship, stuck in a single body. It asks the question of what it means to really be a person. The difference is, Orbit does it right. I was lukewarm on the first Ancillary book, and found the second two to be downright boring. Orbit is never boring, and even though it is slow, the characters are so warm and so realistic that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. Everything Ancillary Justice tried to do, A Closed and Common Orbit did, and did better.

In summary, A Closed and Common Orbit is a worthy sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. If you liked the first book, you need to read this one as well. It is absolutely heartwarming, charming, open-minded, and deep. I absolutely loved it, and needed this book in my life. Five of Five stars, and my highest recommendations. (And if you haven’t read Long Way, please, please, at least try it. However, both books are completely stand-alone, so you can read them in any order you want.)

Links:

Becky Chambers.

Goodreads.

Amazon.

Book Review: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

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I likely haven’t read enough books to do a best of 2016 list for this year, so I’m just going to have to say it here. THIS IS THE BEST BOOK I READ THIS YEAR. It was such a delightful surprise, and I blame it all on my friend Jessie, who got it for me for my birthday.

The book follows a motley crew of characters as they travel around the galaxy, and it’s basically a character study. We get to know all of them and their backstories, to one degree or another. And they’re all delightful and lovely. I teared up several times through the book, and always in good ways.

The book deals with so many issues, tackling everything from speciesism to personhood, giving them all a very “human” perspective–even though the viewpoints are from many different species. I love how it managed to be relevant to so many of the issues we face in the world today, while never really preaching about them, or making me feel like I had to believe a certain way or I was wrong.

This was one of those books I fell in love with within the first few chapters. It maintained the same quality throughout, lovely descriptions, beautiful characters, luxurious pace. I had to stop fairly often to flail at Jessie in DMs, and I may have accidentally been so enthusiastic that she started rereading the book. #SorryNotSorry

The book is not hard sci-fi. Despite the fact that it makes an attempt to solve the problem of the expense of FTL travel, as well as being literally set on a worm-hole making ship, and having a character explain how the ship works at one point, it is still very hand-wavey, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s about the characters, and how amazing and real they are.

If I have a complaint with this book, it’s the relative lack of cohesiveness to the plot. The chapters felt rather episodic, and often disconnected from each-other. I’m used to 14 book long epic fantasy series, where the first paragraph of the first chapter ties intricately to the last chapter of the last book, and foreshadowing is set up millions of words in advance. Thus, the fact that events from one chapter I expected to have more impact later did not sometimes bothered me, as well as the fact that the overall plot didn’t really become relevant until the last few chapters of the book.

But I was more than happy to ignore that because that’s not what the book was trying to do. It was focusing on its characters, the best of whom was Sissix. Sissix looks something like a dinosaur/lizard, but I’d have to refer to the book to describe her exactly, and I’ll go ahead and let you read it instead. Suffice to say, I fell in love with her, and there were plenty of times I wanted nothing more than to put the book down and give her a hug.

This book was also really refreshing for its underlying sense of optimism. I haven’t really been in the mood for dark, depressing reading lately, so the lovely bits of joy that show up all over this book were a welcome relief. It is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

If all of the above isn’t enough to convince to you read it, how about this: When I finished reading the book, I was over at Shannon (new coblogger)’s house, and I closed the last page, then immediately handed her the book and demanded that she read it. I’m still pestering her about it, and hoping reading happens soon… Also, when Amazon had their holiday sale, while I was only halfway through the book, I didn’t hesitate to pre-order the next one immediately.

In summary, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is a delightful, upbeat, lovely, character-driven space opera about a motley crew built of an assortment of delightful and deep characters from a number of species, taking a trip across the galaxy, and even though there’s not a ton that happens, I absolutely adored this book, and don’t hesitate to give it 5 of 5 stars and my highest recommendation.

Becky Chambers’ website.

Goodreads.

Amazon.