I believe this is the first time I’ve doubled down on the work of one particular writer in my Read this book recommendations–I lauded her first book back in January–but man, is it deserved.
A Closed and Common Orbit doesn’t follow the story established in the first book of the Wayfarer series in terms of a ‘same characters farther along in their experiences’ sequel, but rather is a spinoff-type departure from a key event that happens in that first book.
Here Chambers accomplishes what I’ve come to realize, over reading now three of her books, is simply her standard excellent job of delving into complex issues in a far future science fiction setting but which still strike a very real, very deep chord with the reader here and now.
At its core is the ethical matter of asking if sentient A.I.s should have independence and rights and autonomy of organic beings. One the one hand, of course not. They’re constructs of “organics” and so should fundamentally defer to them. On the other hand, if that construct can think and reason and have emotions (can be frightened, can be torn about the right thing to do, can love), should they not have independence and freedom? And so laws that have long been in place curbing the rights and freedoms of sentient A.I.s, are thought by some organics to be dumb and deserve to be ignored. But choosing to break the law can be dicey for both the organic responsible and for the A.I. in question.
Wrapped around that are two converging, beautifully rendered tales of the main characters who alternate chapters. One gains independence and freedom as a child thanks to an accident in a slave labour processing plant, and the other who exists in a body she doesn’t know that she can ever be comfortable within.
Chambers pulls off, in a way I don’t know that I’ve experienced so effectively, the ability to put a character in heart-wrenching historical dire straights but who you already know will survive it because she’s in the current storyline. To have readers wanting to keep reading to see what happens to a character, even when they know she’ll get through it, is no mean feat.
Adding to that drive to keep reading is the classic method of shortening of chapters to help speed up reading and draw the reader forward. So big events are happening and readers want to know what happens next, paired with the chapters getting faster to get through, hooking them to want to keep going, to the point of my being sincerely disappointed last night that so much time had passed and it was already getting late and I really needed to get to bed, so I had to put the book down.
I’m not quite finished this one yet but I already know I’ll want to get my hands on the third part of the series ASAP. And if you enjoy engrossing science fiction, you will, too.