I think if there is such a sub-genre as “cozy sci-fi”, Becky Chambers is one of it’s lead writers. A Closed and Common Orbit is the sequel to Becky Chambers debut novel, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. Even more than it’s predecessor, this book is more concerned with the interactions of it’s characters than with action or adventure.
At the end of Small Angry Planet, the Wayfarer’s AI, Lovelace, “Lovey,” is damaged in an unprovoked attack. To save Lovey, she is downloaded into a body kit, giving her the appearance of being human. During this process, many of the files that gave Lovey her memories and personality were erased or destroyed. Lovey, in her new body kit, goes with the technician Pepper to try to adjust to life as an autonomous “human” rather than as a ship. A traumatized and confused Lovey goes to live with Pepper and her partner, Blue, in Port Coriol. Lovey adopts the name Sidra. Alternating with Sidra’s struggle to come to terms with her new self, we get the story of Pepper’s childhood as a clone bred to work in a factory.
I knew going in that I wasn’t getting your typical science fiction story. I knew it would be quiet and character focused. It was perfect. Sidra spends the vast majority of the book referring to her body as “the kit.” She considers herself separate from the body that houses her, which makes sense since she started life as an AI program installed into a ship. She has programming code that dictates her behavior, her attitudes, and her sense of purpose. Her programming isn’t compatible with a single body with a single point of observation. She evolves and she changes, and that is the primary adventure in this book.
Pepper started out life as Jane 23, created to clean and sort scrap in a factory along with her fellow Janes. Though she had no intention of escaping, at age 10, she escapes and lives in the scrap heaps before escaping the planet at age 19. We know she survives and that she has thrived. Her childhood marks her, but she has adapted and changed. There are no space battles. There is no revenge, there is only a gentle story, set on different worlds and not all the characters are human. It is both hopeful, and fully acknowledges that sentient beings are often shitty to one another and their own kind. It’s the small acts of kindness that make the universe better, not the huge battles we win.