A Closed and Common Orbit

By: Becky Chambers

*Mild spoilers ahead for The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

After Lovey’s death as the WayfarerAI, Lovelace wakes up in her place with no memory of her crew. Even Jenks is a complete stranger. Choosing to spare the feelings of those who befriended her predecessor, Lovelace accepts an invitation from Pepper to live with her on Port Corial. However, in order to leave the ship, Lovelace must download herself into an illegal body kit.

The kit will make Lovelace look and sound perfectly human. The ruse is so flawless that she will be able to fool anyone she encounters as long as precautions are taken. Lovelace can experience life as a sapient being able to go wherever she wants with autonomy and free will. Yet, despite its obvious pros, the kit provides challenges as well.

Lovelace struggles with the protocols that dictate her inner nature and provided her purpose aboard the Wayfarer. She loathes that she has no choice but to tell the truth when asked a direct question. The rage she feels at her inability to monitor everything around her at once is exhausting and distracting. Without cameras mounted everywhere in a ship, Lovelace is forced to use nothing more a limiting pair of eyes.

Soon regretting the decision to try to blend in with society, Lovelace wants to leave the kit, but Pepper refuses to give up. Determined to show Lovelace that she can blend into the cultural melting pot of the port, Pepper tries to help the young AI deal with the issues that keep her from experiencing life outside of the purpose she was created to fulfill.

Okay. Deep breath. I can talk about this book without being a total asshole. Yeah, I got this…

No, I don’t. This book sucked so hard I think I swallowed all my teeth.

I had such hype and anticipation going for going on this sequel journey that I went on a hunt for this novel at my local bookstores and my local library. Literally no one had it. No one in the Indianapolis area had a copy. The closest I could get without buying it online was Ohio, and I wasn’t going there. Retailers had the first and third books in this series, but not the second. Much to my misguided train of logic, I thought this shortage was caused by fans all wanting that particular book. The sequel must be so awesome that they couldn’t even keep it on the shelves. After The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, I found that idea entirely believable. Hence, my journey took me excitedly to Amazon where the book basked in its glow of 5-star reviews.

Now, I understand that was all bullshit.

I’m not sure which threw me off more: the terrible plot or the misprints/grammar errors that somehow made it into the final product. This book was a train wreck, boring, and took itself to seriously. I think Becky Chambers forgot how to have fun with this novel. The last story was so rich and full of good humor. The characters were compassionate and relatable. In A Closed and Common Orbit, we get moody characters that for the life of them can’t stop bitching and whining. It wasn’t fun, and that story is not what I signed up for.

Would you like to know why it’s boring? Of course, you do! You wouldn’t have read this far into the review otherwise, you poor sap.

I blame part of my dislike for my book on my misunderstanding of what this story was supposed to be. I went into this experience thinking I would be with the crew I loved back aboard the Wayfarer. After all, The Long Way, A Closed and Common Orbit, and Record of a Spaceborn Few are all listed as part of the Wayfarer series. It didn’t seem like an illogical assumption to believe that the books would be tied to the ship. But you know what they say about assumptions…

There’s a slight problem with the name of this series. You can’t call a book part of the Wayfarer series if it doesn’t happen on the Wayfarer. None of this book is even related to the original crew or ship that gave this series its namesake. Wanna know something else? After reading the synopsis of the third book, that one doesn’t either. A Closed and Common Orbit takes place in the same universe as the first book. It even shares a timeline with it, but it’s unrelated other than the fact that the main characters of this shitty book were “associated” with the characters of the first book. Not good enough.

I ended up not really giving a flippin’ shit about any of the characters, and they were barely likable, at best. At worse, this reading experience was just a huge disappointment. I went into this with such high expectations.

But what truly pisses me off isn’t any of what I just said above. It’s that now I know the unresolved issues from the first book never get resolved. The questions I had will never be answered, and the adventures I wanted to go on with Sissix, Dr. Chef, and the rest of the crew will never happen. That’s heartbreaking and makes me feel bad about the way the first book ended. I won’t change my review of it because there should have been a proper sequel. But it still hurts all the same.

In total, there were a few moments when I smiled while reading this garbage but not enough to save review. The narrative was a slog, and my intentions to read the whole series all the way through are now put on hold. There isn’t much of a point now, and maybe the last book will be better. I can only hope.

But for now, I need a break.

Overall rating: 2

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