A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager, 2017). Despite being a sequel to A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, this story stands beautifully on its own. Through alternating flashback and present points of view, two characters embark upon very different journeys with the same question: what does it mean to be a person?
Sidra was once Lovelace, an AI controlling a space ship. Now she finds herself in an artificial body that in most ways mimics that of a human woman. She’s cut off from the multiple audio and visual inputs that have defined her world, besieged by physical sensations and social expectations, and at risk of exposure.
Her guide and companion, Pepper, has a troubled and traumatic past as a cloned child-slave. Chance and luck freed her, then ten years old, from a factory where she sorted and repaired trashed equipment, then led her to a buried spaceship, whose AI provided her with the only loving parenting she had known. Pepper’s past struggles beautifully mirror and inform Sidra’s present quest.
Sympathetic characters, fascinating alien cultures, nicely paced action, and understated depth mark this as a book to savor and re-read.