Book review: Becky Chambers boldly goes on with her space odyssey

Chambers takes sci-fi into new territory with her second novel, a combination of tear-jerker and female buddy movie

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 November, 2016, 10:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 November, 2016, 10:03pm

A Closed and Common Orbit

by Becky Chambers

Hodder & Stoughton

In 2012, Becky Chambers did some fundraising on Kickstarter to complete her debut novel. More than 50 backers raised US$2,810, which bought her a month of writing, a proofreader and a cover. The self-published result, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (later picked up by Hodder), was nominated for a range of awards and sold massively, mainly by word of mouth. A Closed and Common Orbit is the follow-up and reminded me slightly of Stephenie Meyer’s very odd The Host. Lovelace (an allusion to Ada Lovelace, computing pioneer and Byron’s daughter?) is a kindly version of 2001’s HAL: she is an artificial intelligence system that manages the crew of an intergalactic ship. After a series of near-fatal attacks, Lovelace is transplanted into a synthetic body called Sidra. What follows is a smart, moving distillation of many human fears: madness, self-hatred, slavery and, of course, death. Chambers’ curious, even courageous achievement within the usually dystopian confines of sci-fi is to pull off a tear-jerker crossed with a female buddy movie. Read ’em and weep.