Category Archives: Book reviews

Common orbits and alien werewolves

I haven’t read too many books this year. I usually try to go for somewhere between 20 and 50, depending on how busy I am otherwise. This year, I’ve made it through 13 (and several of those were really short non-fiction).

Nonetheless, there have been some quality books. This last one I just finished over the weekend, for instance: Becky Chambers’ “A Closed and Common Orbit.” Apparently it’s a sequel, though I didn’t realize that until I was about 1/3 of the way through and there were some mentions of pre-existing characters; it stands alone just fine. It’s going to be hard for me to forget.

The story centers around an AI character named Sidra and her human guardian Pepper. (At this point, I figure I’m pretty hooked.) The basic premise is that Sidra used to be a ship’s computer, and now she’s in a body-shaped kit and she has to figure out how to be people. Sounds ripe for thoughtful tragedy, doesn’t it?

It’s not. I mean, it is. There’s definitely tragedy in this book. But without giving anything away, I’ll tell you that Chambers lets her characters have happy endings. There’s a big, roaring, sweeping wave of hope that carries you through the last few pages.

It was unexpected and refreshing. I’d had no sense of the ending before I started, and as I got into the darkness in the middle of the book, I worried I’d be in for a bawl-fest at the end. (I was, but for a very different reason than I’d assumed.) But Chambers deftly took the reins and steered the story-cart away from tragedy in a way I didn’t know I needed so badly. (Highly recommend this book, if you hadn’t gathered that from my praise.)

Meanwhile, I’m still writing “Portent” — my alien werewolves had more story to tell than my successful slaying of NaNoWriMo’s word count (50,013 was my official winning count!), so I’m letting them carry me on to the end. I’d been debating the merits of a happy, hopeful ending to this book — despite all of the loss the characters will inevitably suffer — but after reading “Common Orbit,” I’m convicted. I’m going to give them a lifeline. I’m going to give the casual readers who pick up this book on a whim an unexpected little taste of hope.

Thank you to the writers who are out there telling hopeful stories. I cling to what you make. I strive to emulate it.