I simply have to start by saying how much I enjoyed this book. It was a true joy to read. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find that there are books I want to read, or feel I should read, but they aren’t necessarily that enjoyable an experience. Yes, I get something different from each of them, and they can help me grow as a person in some way or another but I would liken them to say, a trip to the gym: it’s a slog and I’m all sweaty from anxiety, but at least my brain gets a good workout (I know what you’re thinking, if my brain is getting a workout at the gym, I’m probably doing it wrong…and you’d be right). From a closed and common orbit, though, I really felt like I didn’t even have to think about the growing my brain was doing, because I was far too distracted by the enjoyment being had.
When I came across Becky’s first book “the long way to a small, angry planet“, I was hesitant. My husband had spent hours poring over all the different books he thought I might like, and he sat there with eager eyes as I unwrapped this carefully selected sci-fi extravaganza. Behind my smile at the thoughtfulness of his gift I was sceptical, and a little worried. I rarely pick up a sci-fi novel. It’s not that I’m against it per say; heck I’ve been known to be partial to the odd Star War, or 12 hour Firefly binge (whoops), but it’s just not normally my go-to genre. My hesitations fizzled out about two pages in, though, as I quickly became completely engrossed in this wonderful world Becky had created.
Becky Chambers has an amazing ability to write extremely human stories. This might not seem like anything special keeping in mind a lot of stories are very human in nature. But, considering Becky writes wonderful science-fiction Operas with a huge cacophony of different creatures and worlds, her true talent is drawing you into what is essentially a human story told by a creature with scales and feathers, or a creature with no organic material whatsoever.
Being an offshoot story about two of the main characters of her first book, a closed and common orbit takes a different journey. Split into two parts that intertwine, it leaves behind the cast of characters that made the first book so wonderful but with great success. It follows the newly mobile “Lovey”, an AI previously installed on a ship but now experiencing life through the aid of a man-made body unit that looks exactly like a human, and Pepper; an eccentric character who we learn has a much deeper and darker background than meets the eye. Without spoiling the first book (seriously, if you haven’t read it please go and do so – it’s wonderful),Lovey’s transition from ship AI to faux human was not what everyone expected, and Lovey, or as she chooses to name herself, “Sidra”, tries to recalibrate her brain from all she’s ever known to now managing to operate in this limiting “kit”.
I really loved the author’s choice in words when Sidra is describing and thinking about the form she has now taken, because I feel it’s a journey that so many can identify with. Sidra constantly refers to the kit as just that: the kit. Her choice not to describe it as her body symbolised for me the struggle many have with feeling discordant and alien in their own bodies. There have been so many times that I have not been able to marry what I’m feeling inside with what I’m seeing outside, and I really felt like I understood Sidra’s inability to see what she had as anything but a vessel for her true form, her digital self. This was emphasised further by the disconnect from what she felt, to what was being projected by the kit. In one part of the book Pepper’s partner Blue, who serves as not just a means by which to anchor Sidra’s journey, but also as a source of true kindness and purity throughout, asks if he can paint Sidra. Her surprise at what he had painted was both beautiful, and a little heartbreaking because it reminded me of all those I have known who have struggled to break the barrier between what they feel inside and what they project outside. It’s such a struggle for so many people, particularly springing to mind were those on the Autism or Aspergers spectrum, to seamlessly blend into social interactions that others seem to find natural and easy. Sidra’s experience of this stood out to me, and was just one of the many reasons I began to forget that she is not human; a true testament to Becky Chambers’ simplistic but elegant style.
Alternating with Sidra’s story, is an ongoing account of Pepper’s origin. While Pepper features heavily in Sidra’s chapters, and gets a few of her own in the “present day”, her story begins at a very young age, and catalogues the many different obstacles she has to overcome to escape the bleak situation she is brought up in. Her story in truth was the source of many tears for me, and I’m not normally one to be crying! Born into a life filled with one purpose, and empty of the love and affection and endless amounts of learning that should be a given for any child, her journey was one both of discovery and struggle.
While I understand that the author has a background in all things space- themed, her writing style is something to be admired in its minimal and yet effective nature. Becky doesn’t over explain things that are essentially new and alien to the reader, rather she shares just enough information to make you feel that you are there and part of the story yourself and therefore doesn’t weigh us down with unnecessary details and facts. It’s almost as if she gives you the dignity of being able to wing it, much like Sidra does with her new inventory of experiences. We have as much information as she does about all these exciting interactions and places, and we get to experience them through her eyes; innocent and untouched as they are by anything that couldn’t be experienced through the cameras on her ship.
I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone, because a love of science-fi is definitely not necessary to enjoy it. The only thing you need to enjoy it is a love of literature and a love of heartfelt, human stories.
You can buy, or read more about both books here – Becky Chambers – Books.
The Busy Bookworm