The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

Title: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

Author: Becky Chambers

Summary: When a freak technological failure halts traffic to and from the planet Gora, three strangers are thrown together unexpectedly, with seemingly nothing to do but wait.

Pei is a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, torn between her duty to her people, and her duty to herself.

Roveg is an exiled artist, with a deeply urgent, and longed for, family appointment to keep.

Speaker has never been far from her twin but now must endure the unendurable: separation.

Under the care of Ouloo, an enterprising alien, and Tupo, her occasionally helpful child, the trio are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they might be to one another.

Together they will discover that even in the vastness of space, they’re not alone.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I was automatically approved for a review copy of this book by NetGalley, and despite the utter hassle getting an epub onto my nook has become these days, for the fourth (and final) book in the Wayfarers series I would have endured worse. With the previous book being a slight disappointment for me compared to the first two, I approached this one with a little more caution. I needn’t have. It is absolutely bloody fantastic.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within feels like it brings together elements from all three of the previous books. The adventures of space similar to Angry Planet, the limited number of main characters akin to Common Orbit, and the feeling of isolation from a Spaceborn Few. It takes those elements and makes something wholly new and wonderful.

All five of the main characters are loveable, another common trait for this series of books. Roveg was my standout favourite, though. For someone with a literal hard shell, he was so soft at heart. Similarly, Ouloo, the host of where this group are stranded for several long days, only wants everyone to be happy and does everything she can to make that happen. Pei and Speaker were fascinating, both individually, but especially together; their tentative relationship and the juxtaposition of both their species’ histories. Tupo is the glue holding all the other characters together, simultaneously a moody teenager and a ball of curious energy, xe was definitely my second favourite character.

With an unforeseen hiatus from their travels and stuck for several days on a pit-stop planet with nowhere to go, every single character goes on a journey regardless. They learn from each other, about each other, and give each other advice. There is a blast of action at the start of the book, and some tense action at the end. The middle is a quiet and meaningful meander from one to the other. The characters gradually give up more of themselves and their stories as they get to know one another, and on the whole it was just so peaceful.

Of course, there is the amazing world building that Chambers writes so well. Details and information dotted and sprinkled throughout, always adding depth and interest to the characters; the various species, cultures, and social norms; as well as to the story as a whole. The book touches on important topics as commonplace as dietary requirements, accessibility, and language, to equally important but more philosophical topics such as the concept of home, the merits of war, and the erasure of an entire species.

This book is just… so… lovely. It left me with a feeling of such warmth. A group of such diverse folk in a difficult situation, all making the best of it, being nice and considerate to each other. What does it say about the real world (or perhaps my perceptions of it), that a book about people simply being kind to each other affected me so much?

They say that sometimes a book finds you exactly when you need it. I think for me this was one of those books at one of those times. I didn’t want this book to end. I felt safe while I was reading it, and dragged it out far longer than I needed to. But I just absolutely adored this book. I’m sad to see this series end, but look forward to revisiting it again in the future.

The Can Opener’s Daughter

Title: The Can Opener’s Daughter

Author: Rob Davis

Summary: Vera Pike lives in the cruel world of Grave Acre. Her mother is the Weather Clock, the megalomaniacal Prime Minister of Chance. Her father is a can opener. Charting Vera’s childhood, the second part of Rob Davis’ trilogy takes us from her home in Parliament to suicide school, and from the Bear Park to the black woods that lie beyond. In the present day, Vera and Castro Smith are determined to see their friend Scarper again – but is he even alive? Can anyone outlive their deathday? A darkly inventive sequel, The Can Opener’s Daughter answers many of the questions posed in The Motherless Oven, while asking plenty more of its own.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This book is every bit as freakishly wonderful as its predecessor, The Motherless Oven. Name plates, suicide charts, and ink gods… there were so many new weird and incredible details. Details that are just so mundane and accepted by characters in the book, but that just make me smile and ponder possible deeper meanings. Whether there are deeper meanings or not–whether you look for them or not–doesn’t matter. I just as easily love this book for its random nonsense.

Because Vera’s Mum is the Weather Clock, and a god to boot. Her dad is a simple manual can opener who gets locked in drawer for a year. She spends her days listening to ink gods, wandering around the parliament building she lives in, and admiring the Escher-esque paintings of the immortals. Totally normal things. Until her mum sends her to suicide school, where she avoids plotting and planning her own demise and instead decides to live forever. And it all makes sense, honestly.

I loved Vera in the first book, and I only loved her more in this one. She’s always been strong-willed, rebellious, and independent, and her face in this comic is just… she’s gorgeous, she’s smug, she’s angry, she’s over it. All the faces and characters (human and non-human) are brilliantly vivid and detailed in the book, particularly those of the three protagonists, but I’ve a soft spot for Vera. Maybe because her face can be so angelic but she’s actually anything but!

The story, other than Vera’s fascinating backstory, is very much a bridge between the first and last books. While the first can stand on its own (albeit with a gaping hole of an open ending, but I love those), and I can only assume the third and final book will have some kind of conclusion and satisfying end to the story. But this book doesn’t have much to allow it to stand up on its own. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. It has taken my love and intrigue from the first book and amplified it, leaving me only wanting more, and that’s not a bad thing.

And the art. It has so much depth and detail. Varies from quite simplistic to immensely intricate. If the concepts are bizarre and out of the ordinary, well, it’s only right that the art work is, too. The contraptions children have cobbled together to call parents–some as simplistic as a basic can opener, others as complex as torturous racing cars. The paintings and wheels. The garden full of growing gazettes. I really love the panel choices and framing of scenes. So many, simply as stand alones, are so striking and beautiful. The Weather Clock’s boobs, though, are absolutely terrifying.

So, yeah. I freaking love this book, and this series. Book three comes out in October and can’t wait to get my hands and eyeballs all over it.

The Motherless Oven

Title: The Motherless Oven

Author: Rob Davis

Summary: In Scarper Lee’s world, parents don’t make children—children make parents. Scarper’s father is his pride and joy, a wind-powered brass construction with a billowing sail. His mother is a Bakelite hairdryer. In this world it rains knives, and household appliances have souls. There are also no birthdays–only deathdays. Scarper knows he has just three weeks to live. As his deathday approaches, he is forced from his routine and strikes out into the unknown–where friendships are tested and authority is challenged.

This unsettling and fiercely original coming-of-age story from Rob Davis traces a journey through a bizarre, distorted teenage landscape: a world not so different from our own.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while, and I’m so annoyed I didn’t read it sooner. I freaking loved it!

This book is weird. I’m a fan of weird. So when the very first page is about it raining knives… yeah, i’m pretty much in love already. So many strange things are introduced quite rapidly, and all without explanation, as if it’s all humdrum and routine–which it is for the characters in this world. Weather clocks, kitchen gods, wheels people watch like a TV… and the only way to figure out what the hell all these things mean is to keep reading. It’s one hell of a hook.

So okay, the story. It follows a trio of new friends (Scarper, Vera, and Castro) as they chase after Scarper’s dad–a big brass vehicle that he made as a child–across the town. They escape the lions at school, turn summer on, and joyride someone else’s dad–all while running away from the police, who are old couples who travel in slow tic-toccing three wheeled carriages. All in the weeks leading up to Scarper’s deathday. It has some deeper meanings, but in a world this bizarre those are completely up for debate and interpretation.

The art, too. All black and white and shadows. The faces of the three main characters are so expressive and speak just as loudly as their words. The parents, being odd contraptions built by their children, are all strange and unique and fascinating. And the just the bizarre nature of things being captured… raining knives, stark white against the black nights; daily wheels, intricate in their repeated patterns; and summer, turned on by mines on chains rising from the ground to hover over the town. It’s so weird, and so mindbogglingly amazing.

In case it wasn’t already obvious, this is one of my new favourite books. I adored it. It’s the first in a trilogy, with it’s sequel The Can Opener’s Daughter moved swiftly up my to-read list. The third book comes out in October and I already can’t wait.

Milk and Honey

Title: Milk and Honey

Author: Rupi Kaur

Summary: this is the journey of
surviving through poetry
this is the blood sweat tears
of twenty-one years
this is my heart
this is my hands
this is
the hurting
the loving
the breaking
the healing

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I’ve had this book on my self for a while. I’d read a few of the short poems within it, and one in particular that I adore… but still I’ve hesitated to pick it up and fully dive in. I’ve been afraid, as poetry and I have a tumultuous relationship.

I want to love poetry, but i’m not sure it wants me to. A lot of the time, I just don’t get it. But this… this is poetry I get and poetry I love.

The poems are mostly short, two or four lines, but sum up so eloquently the emotions and importance of things that might so easily go overlooked. Love, lust, a kiss, self-love (both kinds), anger, heartbreak, pain, healing… it’s all here and more.

And it is more. Kaur has put words to specific feelings and fears that I hadn’t been able to pinpoint or articulate before. Not every poem resonated with me, but those that did hit hard. I’ve re-read several dozens of times now, and a couple even left me in tears.

These poems show a woman who is in touch with herself, her experiences, and her words. I envy that intensely, but am so glad I get to share Kaur’s words. I’m glad to have her put voice to some of my own emotions and feel calm in the knowledge that I’m not alone in them.

Kaur’s illustrations, as simple and effective as her words, add so much to the poems as well. Line drawings of women, hands, objects, nature… They are a striking accompaniment to the poems, providing emphasis, insight, and a reason to pause—to breathe—between pieces.

I will certainly be picking up Kaur’s second book at the earliest opportunity. I’ve never experienced poetry speaking to me so clearly and meaningfully before, and I look forward to experiencing that again. And again, and again, and…

i am water
soft enough
to offer life
tough enough
to drown it away

you have sadness
living in places
sadness shouldn’t live

i do not want to have you
to fill the empty parts of me
i want to be full on my own
i want to be so complete
i could light a whole city
and then
i want to have you
cause the two of us combined
could set it on fire

you
are your own
soul mate

Places in the Darkness

Title: Places in the Darkness

Author: Christopher Brookmyre

Summary: This is as close to a city without crime as mankind has ever seen.

There has never been a homicide on Ciudad de Cielo. It’s the “City in the Sky,” where hundreds of scientists and engineers live and work in Earth’s orbit, building the colony ship that will one day take humanity to the stars.

So when the mutilated body of a common criminal is found, the eyes of the world are watching. Nearly every government and corporation on Earth has a stake in catching humanity’s first space-bound killer.

One deadly crime threatens our future among the stars.

Rating: ★★★★★ 4.5/5

Review: One of my favourite authors, who usually writes crime/crime comedy, writing my favourite genre, science fiction? Of course I was all over this. I think this is the first time I’ve read a Brookmyre book before my partner (who discovered his books years ago and all but bullied me into reading them)! Now I can’t wait for him to read it too, so we can talk about it!

This book is, in many ways, quintessentially Brookmyre… but in space. I knew i was going to love it very, very early on. Spaceship, zero gravity, time zones, awesome characters, queer representation, suspense, drop of gore, bit of mystery and intrigue, hints at bigger things… and all in the first two chapters. I was invested.

The two main characters are Nikki and Alice. And if there’s one thing Brookmyre never fails on, it’s characters. I want him to do a masterclass on character creation, because he’s incredible at it. Nikki is self-assured and well-connected, helping to keep the seedy underbelly of this spaceship running smoothly and safely. Alice is the new straight-laced head honcho on the ship, looking to stamp out that underbelly. Working sort-of together on a murder case, things don’t go smoothly for either of them. I loved them both, yet they both frustrated me as well. I wanted them to team up from the get-go, but of course that wouldn’t have been as interesting for the plot.

And the plot. It is both a simple idea, and a many-layered beast. I loved it. There are a few things going on that don’t seem connected, but are all obviously important. A murderer, a gang war, some light civil unrest, string pulling, bribery, memory loss… I had no idea how it was all going to tie into the bigger picture, but Brookmyre makes it so simple by the end. And although I knew the general “twists” in the story (the clues are all there, if you’re playing attention), it was the details–the hows and whys–that I was looking forward to in the climax.

Of course, it’s science fiction, so this new and exciting aspect of Brookmyre’s writing was what truly shone for me. This new space-society, the reasons people would want to live there and the reasons they would leave Earth. The three simultaneous timezones meaning it’s morning, day, and night at the same time, for different people. The technological advancements, including lenses and wrist discs, allowing facial recognition, communication, and news feeds to be displayed and interacted with wherever you’re looking. Even down to the small things, such as weapon safety on a spaceship leaving darts and glorified glue guns as the deadliest force available. And most notably–as any decent sci-fi must–it explores ethics, sociology, philosophy, and more. And damn it if that shit doesn’t fascinate me.

There’s just… a lot to love about this book, okay? If you love crime and science fiction, this one is for you. It’s a crime drama, set in a not-to-distance science fiction future, and I’ve not read that very interesting combo before. (Though maybe Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? counts…) It is a genre crossover I will be looking for more of, though. I really, really want Brookmyre to write more of them, and if Nikki and Alice make an appearance, I wouldn’t be too upset.

The Boy on the Bridge

Title: The Boy on the Bridge

Author: M.R. Carey

Summary: Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy. The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.

To where the monsters lived.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I read The Girl with All the Gifts four years ago (where does the time go!?) and absolutely loved it. So when i heard Carey was releasing a prequel i was equal measures excited and apprehensive. Excited because yes, more! Apprehensive because, oh no, what if it’s shit?

As the five stars i’ve given it will indicate–it’s not shit.

I knew nothing going in, but had somehow assumed this book took place before the outbreak–that it would be about the outbreak. Instead, it’s several years after the outbreak, and several years before Gifts. It’s a nice spot, because we don’t know the details about what happened at the time of the outbreak, and we don’t know exactly how the discoveries made in this book lead to the things we see in Gifts. There are still plenty of gaps left in the story for speculation and interpretation, which is the kind of thing i love.

The book focuses on the crew of the Rosalind Franklin, an armoured military truck, on its research trek across the UK in search of a cure for Ophiocordyceps, which has infected the human race. The Rosalind Franklin is not unfamiliar–it is the armoured truck the characters of Gifts find in the latter part of the book. So i was very intrigued to find out more about how the truck had got there, what had happened before hand, and where all the crew had gone.

There are more characters in this book–12, compared to Gifts’ 4–though it’s fairly obvious who the red shirts are, as we don’t really ever get to know them. Our core characters are a group of seven. And it’s these characters that make the book, for me. I loved them. All of them–even the not so good ones. Which is good, because with this book being a prequel to an apocalyptic future–we know things don’t exactly work out perfectly for the plot. It has to be the characters that carry this story.

An eccentric genius, or just an ill-equipped explorer swaying on the rickety rope bridge between sanity and madness?

And the characters are all so well written and have such depth. None of them are stereotypes, and although a couple aren’t far off, they all have enough about them to make them more than the role they’re playing in the narrative. Stephen, the boy of the title, who at 15 is incredibly intelligent, on the autistic spectrum, and haunted by grief and trauma. He’s the linchpin of the whole book and logical to a fault, but not perfect and makes several errors in judgement that impact the plot. Samrina, a scientist and surrogate mother to Stephen–she has some personal cargo to worry about. Fournier, the lead scientist and closest stereotype of the book–he’s the obvious and easy bad guy. Carlisle, the military escort leader–his past and his internal struggles make him a wise but fallible leader. Foss, a female military sniper holding her own in a man’s world–she fights to make something of herself and earn the respect she deserves. Sixsmith, the driver and bright spark of this motley crew–she’s the heart and soul backing them all up.

And then there’s McQueen. He was the most surprising to me, because he quickly and inexplicably became my favourite character. Head strong, arrogant, and often going off-book in his military role of second in command–he has all the traits that should make me dislike him. But i didn’t. For me, all along, it was clear there was something else to him. His arrogance was a cover–a front he had to put on to fulfil the stereotype people expect of him. His issue with Carlisle was the most interesting thing to me. How they misunderstood and made assumptions of each other. I had all my hopes pinned on them working things through and working together. At times i think McQueen’s negative feelings towards Carlisle were a bit much, and definitely not resolved fully to my liking. But i’ve decided that it does all get properly concluded–it’s just not part of the book.

The plot is simple enough, with plenty of ups and downs along the way. Including glimpses of things we’re familiar with in Gifts and hints at how things come about between here and there. There is also a suitable climactic action scene which will look great if and when they make the film. And the ending, which is to say, the epilogue, was a little different and unexpected. I’ve seen some reviews claiming it completely undoes the ending of Gifts, and while i see where that’s coming from… i don’t wholly agree. I think it adds a layer–it adds to the possibilities of the future.

With how focused this book was, and how much scope there is in the world Carey has created here, I can see more books happening–prequels and sequels. And there are a few things, people, and places i’d like to see included in them. I’ll wait and see what Carey might have in store with eager anticipation.

Three

Title: Three

Author: Annemarie Monahan

Summary: One yellow April morning, a 17-year-old girl asks herself, “Do I dare to eat a peach?” What she decides will send her life in one of three directions.

That morning is long past. Now she is 41.

On one life path, she is Kitty. She’s been happily married for 23 years. Happily enough. Until Faye, her professor, kisses her.

On another path, she is Katherine, a physician. After the death of an old love, she contacts the one lover who still haunts her: a woman who renounced her for God.

On a third, she calls herself Antonia. She’s barely survived the implosion of a lesbian utopian commune, one built on an abandoned oil rig.

Who are we? Who haven’t we been? Have we dared? Three of one woman’s possible lives are about to collide.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I can’t remember when, where, or how i came across this book, but i’m so glad i did, because i loved it. I was immediately sucked in, instantly fascinated by these three women in their opening chapters and ready to read more.

The chapters alternate between the three women and their lives, sharing their pasts and presents. As different as they all are, there are traits they all share. For example, they are all very observant: Katherine as a doctor, noting symptoms and concerns to easily diagnose the ailment and the patient’s motivations; Kitty as an expert shopper, getting the best bargains and stocking piling while she can; and Antonia as a clairvoyant on a psychic telephone hotline, using her ability to read people so well even over the phone to rack up the longest call times and the biggest pay cheques. I loved all three of them, in their own ways. I was never disappointed when one character’s chapter ended, only happy to dive right into the next.

Although all, originally, the same woman, that peach took them each on different journeys. And despite the fact it is relationships and love that each of them are struggling with in their stories, they are all exploring different aspects of that. Antonia wants to help save the woman she loves from herself as well as a group of well-meaning but self-destructive earth child hippies, but at the expense of herself. Katherine is contemplating lost love, things left unsaid, and the different experiences people have of the same events. Kitty is finally allowing herself to wake up and explore aspects of her own desire she has kept so well-hidden. There is something here everyone should be able to relate to.

The writing is wonderful. It is clever and witty and poetic and meaningful–and i’m still not sure how it manages to be all those things at once, but it does. And it reads so effortlessly that it was simply a joy to pick up. This was a book i didn’t want to put down, but it was also a book i was enjoying enough to want to make it last. I think i managed quite well, finishing at a sedate pace of 10 days. But i still want to be reading it now.

The only place the book faltered was in the final few short chapters, when each woman’s story was, in a manner of speaking, ‘wrapped up’. At this point the writing became overly poetic and lost some of its meaning; it veered from the story and the point a little in an attempt to be sincere and significant, but succeeded only in being vague and inconsequential.

As far as i’m aware this is the only book by Monahan, but it want more of her words. They were, on the whole, perfection.

The Twelve

Book Review: The Twelve. 5/5 Stars.Title: The Twelve

Author: Justin Cronin

Summary: Death row prisoners with nightmare pasts no future. Until they were selected for a secret experiment. To create something more than human. Now they are the future–unless a handful of survivors can destroy them.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I read The Passage, the first book in this trilogy, over the new year in 2016/17. I (somehow) saved The Twelve for the 2017/18 new year period. I’ve loved both books so much, i’m not sure i’ll be able to wait a year to read the third and final.

I hadn’t expected to love this book at much as the first, honestly. I’d heard from a lot of people who were disappointed with the sequels, and i’d prepared myself for the worst. I told myself i’d be happy if it was at least 3 out of 5 stars. I think not assuming it would be as good as the first helped me love this one for its own merits, and not compare it to the first. It also definitely helped that i had no thoughts or ideas on how the story would progress. Just like when reading the first book, I wasn’t wondering what was going to happen or letting myself assume anything–i just let myself get swept up in the story.

But okay, where to start? Where the first book had me sobbing at the very start, and then again at the very end… this book had me welling up and blinking back the tears at the end of every other chapter. For the first half of the book Cronin spends time in several new narratives, in varying time lines, introducing new sets of characters. They all have depth and history and they are very quick to warm to, to root for. We follow their journeys and their stories for a spell, we get invested. But a narrative in the past of an apocalyptic novel has can only end in one way. Even knowing what has to be coming, i was on the edge of my seat for these characters i’d quickly come to love, hoping–futilely–things would turn out okay for them.

Despite the sombre end to these narratives, they hold the key to a lot of the story. It is in their characters and their stories that the main plot’s details are focused. Nothing is superfluous in this book. No character, no action, no back story’s back story. It all means something, it all leads somewhere. The details that went into plotting and completing that must have been immense, and just like the writing of The Passage, Cronin makes it seem effortless.

Talking of the writing, have some of the quotes i made a note of:

And yet the world went on. The sun still shone. To the west, the mountains shrugged their indifferent rocky bulk at man’s departure.

The only thing worse than the burps were the farts that came after, room-clearing jets of oniony gas that even the farter himself could not enjoy.

It’s so sad. But beautiful, too. So many stories are like that.

There were more–plenty more–but it was so hard to stop reading in order to write them down.

The characters I think i liked even more in this book. Here they were each given their own room to develop and reflect, and after the events in The Passage, and the several years since, they are all scarred and changed in their own ways. It was the women i was drawn to most. The old characters–Amy and Sara–and the new–Lore and Lila. The one closest to my heart, though, is Alicia. She was awesome from the start in The Passage, and what she went through and became by the end of that book was incredible. Here she is only even more so. I’ve read some reviews abhorring what she went through in this book, and I wholeheartedly understand that. It didn’t sit right with me either for a time. But ultimately it didn’t define her, it didn’t weaken or cower her–it gave her more to fight for. And fuck, but do i love her when she’s fighting. In the end it’s all only made me love her more.

I can admit that the book is not perfect. There are a couple of wrinkles that give me pause. Mostly centred on an age difference between two sets of characters. One brief in its occurrence, and one i think could have been easily dealt with with a touch more build up and foreshadowing and/or a slight reduction in the age gap. The other is much more complex, in that Amy has the body of a young girl and the life experience of over one hundred years. For a man in his 20s to want either aspect of her is… troubling. I do fear how that will play out in the final book.

Despite the minor troubles, i don’t hesitate in giving this book 5 out of 5 stars. It’s a book in which i got lost, barely noticed time passing, and knew whatever was going to happen was going to be brilliant. I loved it, and i can only hope i at least enjoy the final book in the series half as much.

Seasons

Title: Seasons

Author: Mike Medaglia

Summary: Seasons is a collection of 4 short stories based on the different seasons in a year and how they correspond to the different seasons of a life.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This book has one of the most gorgeous covers i have ever laid eyes on. Obviously, that’s the reason i picked it up. So simple, yet so affective. I love the minimalism, the bold colours, the leaves. It’s perfect and I want to frame it.

There are four short and equally as simple stories inside. Each named after the season it is set in, and each capturing a different time in life; childhood, adolescence, middle age, and old age. None is really a happy story–all showcase a sadness to humanity in their own way. Patterns children are drawn to repeat, pressures of society telling us what we should be, the shallow insecurities of adulthood, and the fear of not having learnt enough as our time runs out.

Each story–each season–is prefaced with a quote and large splashing of art and colour, illustrating the changing of the seasons and allowing space to pause and absorb between each story. It is a lovely touch.

Four stories, catching just a brief, but all too telling glimpse into people’s lives. They are beautifully told. The art is bold and clear, often at odds with the message being delivered. The colour choices match the season the stories are in–pastel green, pink, and blue for spring, bright primaries for summer, deep orange and browns for autumn, and cool blues for winter. They set a mood that makes the reading easy and the tone light, despite the sombre narratives.

A wonderful little book, worth picking up and pondering over for a spell. Simple, and meaningful. I loved every page.

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A Closed and Common Orbit

Title: A Closed and Common Orbit

Author: Becky Chambers

Summary: Once, Lovelace had eyes and ears everywhere. She was a ship’s intelligence system – possessing a personality and very human emotions. But when her ship was badly damaged, Lovelace was forced to reboot and reset. Now housed in an illegal synthetic body, she’s never felt so isolated.

But Lovelace is not alone. Pepper, an engineer who risked her life to reinstall Lovelace’s program, has remained by her side and is determined to help her.

Because Pepper knows a think or two about starting over.

Pepper was born Jane 23, part of a slave class created by a rogue society of genetic engineers. At ten years old, she had never seen the sky. But when an industrial accident gave Jane 23 a chance to escape, she jumped at the opportunity to leave her captivity.

Now, recreated as Pepper, she makes it her mission to help Lovelace discover her own place in the world. Huge as the galaxy may be, it’s anything but empty.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I loved everything about the first book in the Wayfarers series, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. And i am indescribably happy that i can say the same thing for this stand-alone sequel.

Where Angry Planet gave us several main characters, flew us all over the galaxy, and introduced us to multiple worlds, species, and cultures, Common Orbit focuses on two main characters and remains firmly on the ground of two planets. The book still offers so much about this universe–more species and cultures and day-to-day details–but along with that, it focuses more on the depth of and the connection between the two main characters. It immerses the reader more fully into the lives and planets of these two, and they are fascinating places to be.

I loved all the characters, which was a surprise and a delight. Sidra was intelligent and thoughtful, though at times quite stubborn and short-sighted. She occasionally read like a selfish teenager having a tantrum, but as a freshly re-booted AI in a new synthetic human body, i read it as her developing much like biological humans do–and being a moody, selfish teenager is a part of that. Pepper was brilliant. Caring, selfless, intuitive. We see her literally through her moody teenage years and out the other side. The parallels drawn and differences highlighted between Sidra and Pepper, and their respective time lines, were the true essence of the book for me. What it means to be human–what is means to be alive–what it means to be. The supporting characters were all wonderful. Sweet, steadfast Blue; cautious, open-minded Tak; and my favourite… patient, selfless Owl.

The book switches between Pepper’s past, and Sidra’s present. Pepper’s story made me cry. Many times. Her story spans both time lines, and knowing what’s to come in the past, and what’s driving her in the present… I won’t lie, i had to skip ahead to make sure things worked out for her.

It’s the themes explored and represented in this book, as with the first, that really excite me and set this book apart. Sex-shifting, cloning and genetic modification, multi-parenting, bartering, the ethics of artificial intelligence… These things are such a part of the world and the story, and approached in such respectful, thought-provoking ways. I can’t explain how much i love this.

This book is just as good as the first, and has cemented Chambers as an auto-buy author for me. With a third book in this series on the way, i am rather freaking excited for more!

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