Archive for Becky Chambers

Irresistible Orbit

We’ve already talked a bit about the “Wayfarers” series, with our previous review of “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet,” remember? Well, let’s check out the sequel — A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers.

So Chambers’ followup to her much-loved debut novel leaves the crew of the Wayfarer behind and focuses on a couple characters who were mostly supporting cast in the first book. Pepper is a genius with electronics, and she helped out the crew of the Wayfarer several times, while Lovelace used to be the Wayfarer’s AI. After an accident wiped out her memories and reloaded her with her old default programming and personality, she was uploaded into a new hypertech artificial body. Unfortunately, giving Artificial Intelligences realistic bodies is illegal, and if she’s caught, she’ll be destroyed, and those who helped her will suffer severe penalties. Now Lovelace has to learn how to function out in the real world, with the aid of Pepper and her friends.

This novel follows a couple different storylines. In the first, Lovelace interacts with the world around her, chooses Sidra as her new name (Lovelace is a common program for AIs and would cause too much trouble for her if she kept it as a name), tries to figure out ways around the limitations of her new body, cautiously makes new friends in Blue and Tak, and endures a few personal crises on her way to becoming the best person she can be.

In the second storyline, we backtrack to Pepper’s childhood as Jane 23, a cloned factory slave. After she escapes into the desolate wastes of her hostile world, she must fight for her survival, with her only shelter a broken-down spaceship and her only companion an outdated but deeply loving AI named Owl.

As with Chambers’ first book, the characterizations truly shine, and the compassion of the writing really drive the book forward. Pepper’s lonely and frightening childhood and Lovey’s lonely and frightening transition from disembodied intelligence to bipedal life form are countered beautifully by the friendships they build — with abandoned humans, with understanding aliens, with an old AI willing to devote herself to keeping a lost child alive, and sometimes with surprise doses of kindness delivered by unexpected people — soon after Jane’s rescue from her wasteland exile, for example, she’s offered a simple hug from a large, intimidating alien who understands how stressful and traumatic her new life has become.

If you haven’t read it yet, you should certainly go check it out. We live in a rough and often unkind world. You deserve to enjoy some of this compassionate, diverse, welcoming, and vastly wonderful science fiction.

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The Long Way to a Great, Optimistic Novel

These days, we need as much positive, open-hearted, optimistic, diverse fiction as we can get, so let’s take a look at one of my favorite books from the last few years: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.

Becky Chambers’ debut novel was originally funded on Kickstarter in 2012 and self-published in 2014 before being picked up by larger publishers, which tells you that it connected with a lot of readers very quickly. The book focuses on the crew of the Wayfarer, a small working-class spaceship that specializes in building wormholes to facilitate long-range travel throughout the galaxy.

The crew includes Rosemary Harper, the ship’s new clerk, who’s hiding a dark secret from her past; Ashby, the compassionate human captain; Sissix, the gregarious reptilian pilot, Corbin, the ship’s uptight algaeist; Kizzy and Jenks, the fun-loving engineers; Dr. Chef, the ship’s doctor and cook, who’s from a dying race; Ohan, the reclusive navigator, and Lovey, the ship’s AI. Among the crew, several have interesting plothooks built in — Ashby is dating a member of an alien species that deeply disapproves of sexual relationships with aliens; Sissix and Corbin absolutely hate each other; and Jenks and Lovey are deeply in love and making plans to give the AI an illegal robot body.

The Wayfarer is an unusual ship because most of their crew is human. In this futuristic universe, humans are a distinct minority among more numerous and more powerful alien nations. The human race had to leave Earth hundreds of years ago, living on scattered planets and asteroids and spaceships. They’ve come to terms with some of the problems we’ve had to deal with, and most of the species has chosen to embrace pacifism, feeling that endless warmongering is what got their homeworld wrecked.

Soon after Rosemary joins the crew at the beginning of the book, the Wayfarer gets a lucrative contract, and because they’ll have to spend a year traveling to the site where they’ll be building the new wormhole, we get to spend most of the book meeting these people and getting to know them. We essentially get a nice long stretch of short stories focusing on each of our characters. We get to visit Sissix’s homeworld, we meet Kizzy and Jenks’ demented engineer buddies, there’s a pirate attack on the ship, and one character gets arrested for an accidental genetic crime.

Verdict: Thumbs up. This book turned me into a fan of Becky Chambers forevermore.

The characters and interactions in this book are absolutely why you’ll find yourself loving it so much. It’s a hard, brutal, depressing world out there, and this book gives you a bunch of people who are interesting, diverse, funny, and supportive of each other, even when they hate or don’t understand each other.

We’re able to see through these people’s eyes to examine a galaxy filled with wonders. Aliens may be everywhere, but they still tend to be pretty compassionate and empathetic, because that’s what you have to be in order to survive in a cold, cruel universe. And if scores of alien species are able to live together in peace, maybe there’s hope for us, too. It’s everything you’d ever want from optimistic, forward-thinking, hopeful science fiction.

Yes, there are more astonishingly wonderful books in this series, but for now, go pick this one up. You’ll love it.

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