Image of A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers)


Image of A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers)

Foregoing the episodic structure of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Chambers uses her considerable talent to take a more focused and contained look at a gut-wrenching story of self-determination and personal autonomy. Though Pepper is largely comic relief in the previous book, Chambers shows us that our wacky (and perpetually hungry) technician contains multitudes, with an emotionally rich backstory that grounds everything from small character idiosyncrasies, like her love of a long-running sim game, to greater motivations, like her respect for the individuality and rights of artificial intelligence. Taking the entire story off the Wayfarer and into a port — away from the characters we'd grown to love — initially struck me as a big gamble, but this gives Chambers an opportunity to build an ever more evocative world that seems to deepen with every new character that's introduced. No matter what beautiful and strange world Chambers takes us to, we can count on her to lead with humor and heart.

Before she was a quirky tech aboard the Wayfarer, Pepper was a genetically engineered child ("Jane 23") designed for a lifetime of slave labor. Years of bondage on a desolate planet and a life-saving friendship with a compassionate AI changed her forever. Pepper's got a soft spot for people on the fringes of society — including Sidra, the latest iteration of "Lovelace," the Wayfarer's AI system. Installed in an illegal synthetic body, Sidra struggles to reconcile her AI programming with the constraints of human life, all while trying to avoid discovery. As Sidra and Pepper butt heads over Sidra's choices, the pain of Pepper's past looms large. (HARPER VOYAGER, Mar., 464 pp., $16.99)
Reviewed by: 
Regina Small