A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

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.


I read this book over a month ago… But it’s been buzzing around in the back of my mind ever since.

Sometimes when I really love a book, I don’t really feel like I can review it immediately after I finish it. In those instances, I feel like I wouldn’t be able to critique it properly. I feel like I’d just be gushing about how much I loved it, and that I need a few days to get out of that “honeymoon period” that comes with the end of a really good book.

Well, like I said… I read this book over a month ago.

But my love for it hasn’t died down at all.

A Closed and Common Orbit is the stand-alone sequel to Becky Chamber’s A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. It’s a very intimate sci-fi story about the lives and journeys of Lovelace, Sidra, Jane, and Pepper. It’s a story about identity in the face of adversity. About friendship and diversity and inclusiveness and growing up and all those little things that make us human. Or not-so-human, as the case may be.

Lovelace is an artificial intelligence, and in this world AIs are denied a certain level of agency by law. A spaceship or storefront may have their own AI to help manage their affairs, and that AI may form its own relationships and personality over time, but it is very illegal for an AI to be given their own body. The “why” behind this is fairly simple: prejudice and fear.

Lovelace is given her own body, and struggles to discover her own identity in a world that is heavily prejudiced against her. The parallels to the prejudices that exist in our own world aren’t exactly subtle, but then they shouldn’t have to be. A Closed and Common Orbit isn’t preachy, it simply presents the story of a person who is treated as less than a person, and lets the reader draw their own conclusions.

Our other point-of-view character is Jane 23, who is one of several child clones who have been created for what is effectively slave labour. We follow Jane as she grows from child to adult—raised by the most adorable AI—and she has her own struggles with identity and loneliness. Her chapters are written using a vocabulary that suits whatever age she happens to be at a given time. So while it can admittedly get a little irritating to read almost everything described as “real good” or “real bad”, this changes as she grows older and her vocabulary grows larger.

All things considered, this is a very wholesome and very inclusive feel-good story that still manages to touch on some serious real-world issues. The characters are vulnerable and relatable, to the extent that you just want to hug them and tell them that things will eventually get better. The plot is very simple, and to some extent predictable, but then the plot was never the important thing.

I hesitate to say that this book is about the characters, because really, it’s about people.

A Closed and Common Orbit is a fantastic character-driven book that will likely stay with me until the end of my days. It’s a warm and fuzzy read, but not an insignificant read. If you’re a fan of feel-good, slice-of-life, or diverse stories, then this is the book for you.

3 comments

  1. Although I felt it didn’t quite hit the giddy heights of its predecessor, it was still an excellent read. And like you say, it’s a feel-good book. I enjoy dark fantasy and gruesome Japanese detective novels, but we do need something totally positive in these rather crazy times, and Becky Chambers delivers. Makes you believe that love and hope will win out!

    Liked by 1 person

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