A Closed and Common Orbit

by Becky Chambers

After enjoying The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet thoroughly, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the second book in Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series. The first book surprised me by not being the traditional entrance into a galaxy-scale space opera series that I expected. Instead, it was heavily character-driven, despite the grand scale of the multi-species civilization it introduced. But that first book also ended with a seemingly momentous event that made me wonder if it could be setting up a more traditional space opera arc for the series. Perhaps our crew, having been dragged into a serious conflict, would play an important role in resolving it?

Well, this isn’t that kind of series, as the second book makes clear. Instead of picking up where the action left of, we leave behind the crew of the Wayfarer entirely and switch to the story of Pepper, a tech dealer we met briefly in the first book, and Sidra, a sentient AI. This is one of those stories with chapters that modulate between a character’s past and present. I don’t usually enjoy that structure, but it works well here, mostly because the flashback plot is so compelling. It really does inform the rest of the story and help us understand that character’s motivations.

So I’ll confess to being a little disappointed A Closed and Common Orbit wasn’t more of a direct continuation of the first story, or at least a new adventure with the same characters, but I did enjoy it for what it was. It contained many of the elements I loved about the first book, especially the backdrop of a multi-species civilization where humans are far from dominant. The story was still very much character-driven, but this time we are zoomed in on a single relationship as it develops. It wasn’t the story I expected, but it was a good one nonetheless.