If I’m nothing more than a tool, then I must have a purpose. Tools have purposes, right? But I’m more than that. Pepper and Blue… have been telling me that again and again and again. I know I’m more than a tool.”
I was surprised to learn that the second book in Becky Chamber’s “Wayfarer Series” does not feature the same cast and pivots in a completely different direction. I had become invested in everyone in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet so there was a tiny bit of disappointment. However, Chambers had blown me away and I was ready for whatever A Closed and Common Orbit had in store.
Pepper, the mechanic friend of Jenks, has taken responsibility for the newly awakened Lovelace AI, now housed in an organic construct. As they leave the Wayfarer, Pepper begins to instruct her on blending in with humans and needing a new name to do so. When Lovelace asks Pepper for the name she used before adopting her tinker name, Pepper is shaken but shares it was Jane. Here is where the book begins alternating between the present with Pepper and Lovelace and Pepper’s past, when she was Jane.
This is a more intimate book than TLWtaSAP as it is so tightly focused on Pepper and Lovelace. We learn how Pepper was raised and how it gives her the compassion to bring Lovelace into her home, despite the highly illegal nature of an AI passing as human. Pepper’s story is one of resilience and courage in the face of overwhelming odds and how love crosses boundaries. Lovelace’s story is of identity and purpose. Leaving the ship behind she is at a loss of what to do. She struggles from the moment she leaves the Wayfarer’s system she was designed to inhabit, to the limited body she is now housed in.
Chambers put a lot of thought into how a being would respond to having all the information, all the time, with infinite storage taken away and reduced to not having a constant data connection and a miniscule amount of storage. But even deeper is how the AI responds to the constant bombardment of warning signals her system keeps throwing up because she is supposed to be a ship navigating space, not be constantly surrounded by beings that she can only see from one direction. Beyond those adjustments is the constant fear of being found out.
A Closed and Common Orbit is a beautiful story of friendship, its many forms, and how it can overcome prejudice. I don’t know who the cast will be in the next book, Record of a Spaceborn Few, but I eagerly look forward to wherever Chambers is going to take me.
Bonus Sosuke content because he became interested the moment I set the fox out to take the picture.