A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
Genre: Science fiction
[[because apparently I have moral objections to 10/10s??]]
When I read the first book in this series, A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, I knew that I had stumbled upon something special. The plot was intriguing and the world building was skillful. Becky Chambers excels at imaging all the mundane (and critical) complications of interspecies interactions. From having different trains for different species (they all require different types of chairs!) to imaging how other species would view child rearing (ranging from getting degrees in parenting to viewing children as lesser than adults due to lack of life skills), she creates this massive world, and then shares with you a small, beautiful part.
A Closed and Common Orbit is a beautiful, heart-breaking, intriguing book that deals with complex topics without ever feeling bogged down by them. The main character is an AI who find herself in a 'body'. We follow her struggle, as she tries to adapt to a life that she was not programmed for. At the same time, we catch glimpses of her caretaker and friend's toubled childhood.
That was part of what I loved most about this novel-- how realistically the author depicted Jane as she progressed from child to teenager to adult. When she was a child it was written in a child-like way, when she was a teen, everything and everyone was super annoying and insufferable and she just wanted to sleep goshdarnit.
PLEASE NOTE that this is technically book number two in a series. This novel has an entirely new cast of characters from the first novel so it is almost a standalone read. However, there is one decently major plot point that reading this book first would spoil for you. You do you.
My (very minor) complaints about book #1 were not a problem in this novel. The cast of characters was remarkable smaller this time around, so there weren't any subplots that fizzled out, or characters that got left behind.
Once again I loved Chambers' use of transmedia, interspersing normal narration with snippets of conversations from chat rooms and emails. She made the world come alive by peppering the text with these conversations. I loved how real the chat room discussions felt-- yes they were discussing self-aware AI but also it felt like a chat room discussion that I could read on the internet today (except for less vitriolic).
Overall, this was an amazing book which lived up to my admittedly high expectations. You should probably read the first book in the series, but it wouldn't be confusing if you were to just start with this novel, as the characters are almost all new.
What about you? Have you read this novel? Were you as blown away as I was?