I think I can sum up these two books by saying they just make me happy. I can also easily say that these books won’t be for everyone – there’s not a lot of action or plot, it is about the characters, their relationships and their struggles. The events of this book take place soon after the ending of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and although there are a few references to the previous book, I think this could be read as a standalone. We now follow the stories of Sidra, an AI previously known as Lovelace as she comes to terms living in a synthetic body, with no memories of her previous life. Our second character is Pepper as she tells the story of how she was made and titled Jayne 23, one of many little girls created purely to work in factories across the galaxy. Overall, Becky Chambers delves into the world of AIs and sentient vs non-sentient beings – Sidra/Lovelace being created as an AI and Pepper being raised by them.
It is a book of character development – Pepper being brought up by ‘Mother’ AIs and then Owl, an AI that saves her life and essentially becomes the most important person in her life – the mother she never had. We follow Pepper from the age of 10 as she escapes her compound prison and out into a world she has never seen before. Not even knowing what a sun or sky is, unable to read and used to only liquid meals, a voice appears from nowhere and becomes her saviour. Owl, an AI, programmed into a near crashed ship takes Jayne 23 under her wing (har har) and the two form a bond that lasts over nine years until they finally leave the desolate planet. This relationship killed me, destroyed me. Owl is the only person Jayne has despite only being a face on a screen. She teaches her everything, looks after her and even temporarily installs herself into a virtual gaming body so she could sit by Jayne. So many of their moments made me want to cry – they essentially save each other.
We also follow the relationship of Pepper and Blue and find out its origin but a new relationship formed between Sidra and Tak, an Aeluon tattoo-artist who essentially helps her come to terms with her new, synthetic body that she feels she doesn’t belong in. Becky Chambers writes these friendships that are so pure and full of understanding that you can’t help but feel happy. It was one of the strongest points in the first book and it has continued in the sequel. We also fall back into this galaxy of many different species, cultures and laws but the one thing remains, this is a book that focuses on the importance of consent, gender pronouns and sexuality. Throughout the story, Tak, being an Aeluon, regularly switches between genders and it is just a normal thing. These primarily sci-fi novels are more informative on important issues than most contemporary books.
Overall, although I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as the first one, it is still definitely a 5-star read for me. Everything Becky Chambers writes just blows my mind. She writes sci-fi without info-dumping, without epic space battles and yet still manages to construct these worlds and characters with so much depth that you can’t help but become emotionally-attached to them. Pepper, Blue, Sidra, Owl and Tak – people so different and yet bound together by trust and love. I’m not sure what the author has planned next but whatever it is, I’ll be first in line on release day. I want to thank her for allowing me to come back home amongst the pages of her story.
This book will be released on October 20th