Life is terrifying. None of us have a rule book. None of us know what we’re doing here. So, the easiest way to stare reality in the face and not utterly lose your shit is to believe that you have control over it. If you believe you have control, then you believe you’re at the top. And if you’re at the top, then people who aren’t like you… well, they’ve got to be somewhere lower, right? Every species does this. Does it again and again and again. Doesn’t matter if they do it to themselves, or another species, or someone they created.
Oh. Wow. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet felt like lightning in a bottle. Something amazing–a look at the life in a long haul spaceship full of strange and wonderful characters–that I wasn’t sure how it could possibly be continued.
Turns out… just like this. This is a very very good sequel.
On one hand, A Closed and Common Orbit was a bit of a surprise. We only barely get any of the characters we know and love from the first book. There are a few hints of and references to them, but for the most part, we instead focus on Lovey/Sidra* and Pepper, learning once again how two very strange and different sorts of people can grow into a family. The same general idea, approached a totally different way.
The characters are great and the real heart of the story.
Sidra/Lovey* is fascinating–given that they start out as the AI of the Wayfarer, placed into the kit (human analogue body) that would originally have been Lovelace’s–which is of course super illegal. But Sidra isn’t Lovelace, so they can’t stay on the Wayfarer, instead setting off to live with Pepper and Blue and learn how to be a person in their own right. The ideas of AI rights–people? alive? sentient?–is a story that comes up a lot in scifi, but I love how it’s handled here. Sidra is a person. That’s not even up for consideration, considering how long we live in her head, but it’s more about how other people interact with her. The growing and challenging relationship with Tak was great.
Pepper/Jane* is the other half of the story and the backstory here is even crazier. What terrible things people do to one another when you can just put it out of your mind. It’s the idea of children making sneakers in sweatshops on the other side of the world, writ large. Pepper is a wonderful character and watching her grow up over the years… I’m rooting for her all along and it’s just so great–especially with her own relationships to AIs. It really goes a long way to answer why she’ll go so far for Sidra. I also loved Blue, while not being a point of view character, he’s still got his own story as well. They’re an excellent pair.
An interesting aspect of the story that was touched on in Long Way but we really get into here is the idea of names and flexible personhood. Lovey starts out as Lovelace, but to hide her illegal status as an AI, she has to choose a more human name, so through most of the novel, she is Sidra. Pepper starts out life as Jane #23, but I can definitely see why she would want to leave that behind and make her own self. And Tak, shifting as their race does from male to female (and back? I don’t recall) throughout the story. It’s just something that happens. Tak is good people.
Oh, I do love these stories. They’re wonderful little slices of very complicated lives–but that’s what life is, really… complicated. And it’s great to have a nice little scifi world to inhabit for a little while. People are people and sometimes people can do callous, terrible things… but sometimes people can be family too. And that can be wonderful.