Becky Chambers follows her brilliant sci-fi adventure The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet with a story that’s markedly different in some ways, but very much of the same spirit.
Rather than tell another story about the crew of the Wayfarer, Chambers’ semi-sequel focuses on the journey of the ship’s AI Lovelace, who was transplanted into an artificial, human-shaped body in a highly illegal procedure at the end of the last novel. Tech expert Pepper takes her in, giving her somewhere to live and work.
But Sidra (the name she chooses for herself) struggles to adjust to her new physical state and lack of purpose, and constantly feels like she doesn’t fit in. Can she find a way to live with this, or has she made a terrible mistake?
Those expecting something exactly like TLWTASMAP may be a little surprised, and the more deliberate pacing may take a little getting used to, but Chambers’ bold choice to focus so intently on just two characters works beautifully. The chapters are divided between Sidra’s present and Pepper’s childhood as a genetically engineered child labourer, in which we see exactly why she is so willing and able to help this AI consciousness find her way.
The literally grounded story doesn’t stop Chambers from portraying a rich and vibrant universe; the level of detail that she brings to the technology and robotics is truly impressive. However, like her previous novel, A Closed And Common Orbit is principally concerned with the people at the story’s core.
The journey of these two women who have survived the lives that were chosen for them and are now living their own is portrayed with an honesty and warmth that is hugely affecting.