A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book is the quintessential comfort food. It's science fiction, but not especially hard science (a couple of things are pretty handwavey, but just enough to be passable), and space opera, but not the system-spanning, fate-of-humanity kind. It features one main character that is an artificial intelligence, downloaded into an android body, who wants to co-exist with humans rather than kill them, and another character that's one of a genetically engineered, cloned slave class, bred to do the nasty work that other humans (presumably natural-born ones) don't want to do. There are many directions the author could have taken this story, some of which would, frankly, have been more interesting, which is why I haven't given the book more stars. In particular Jane 23/Pepper's character is a bit of a disappointment. She's one of the cloned kids who sort, clean, and restore the planet's industrial scrap, and die very young due to heavy metal/radiation poisoning. Yet she has no interest in helping the girls left behind at her factory, and the next generation of clones to come, even after she escapes offplanet. The author dismisses this idea with a few sentences and some shreds of hastily-forgotten guilt, which do not ring true, and seem to me to be very much a missed opportunity.
However, it's plain this wasn't the angle the author was interested in. She wanted to write a tightly focused, character-based story of acceptance and finding where you belong, and misfits making a home and family for themselves. This is not to say said story is bad. For what it is, it's well done, particularly the characterization of the two main protagonists, and the prose is breezy and flows well. But in the effort to make the book warm and fuzzy, the potential weight of the story is discarded. It's warm-hearted, and cute, and feel-good...and utterly lightweight and forgettable. This book will have its fans, and rightly so, but I prefer to have a little more grit and shades of grey in my space operas.
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