Becky Chambers has more than proven herself to be a writer to watch out for but I really only enjoyed 50% of this book.
The story moves tangentially from the previous book, A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. Leaving the crew of the Wayfarer behind, the ship’s AI Lovey has illegally embodied herself in a synthetic body (for reasons explained in ALWTASAP) and is going to live planetside with Pepper – an incidental character in the previous book. It is an interesting set-up for a story about an AI both hiding their nature and learning how to be a person.
Pepper reveals that part of her motivation for helping Lovey (who takes on a new name ‘Sidra’) is that Pepper herself had been raised by an AI and here the story takes a turn.
The novel splits into two alternating accounts. Firstly the story of Lovey/Sidra learning to live in a human/alien society but also a flashback account of Pepper’s childhood as a cloned worker (called Jane just like her numerous siblings) in an industrial scrap heap.
Jane’s story of survival is compelling. It has tension, pathos, adventure and is well paced throughout. Sidra’s contemporary story?
Sidra’s contemporary story? Hmmmm, I found it too dull for my tastes. Well executed but primarily about fitting in. Yes, there was some tension from the fact that in this otherwise hyper-tolerant society AI’s are not recognised as people, and Sidra’s kit body is highly illegal but…well that never really rings true mainly because everybody we meet is so very nice. Well thought out alien cultures abound but this, in turn, creates character interactions that tend towards infodumps.
Very quickly, I found myself trying to get through the Sidra chapters to get to the next instalment of Jane’s attempts to escape her plight. I suppose that then made me take even less interest in Sidra’s quest to find a way to reconcile her former disembodied existence with her new life in a complex society.
Definitely an interesting novel and like A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet it has a focus on personal relationships and personal journey’s of self-discovery amid a complex universe with aliens that are more than just humans-but-different. Maybe not a story for me though.