SF/F Read Alongs: A Closed and Common Orbit, Part 2

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In the second part of A Closed and Common Orbit, certain themes in both narratives are beginning to dovetail in very touching ways, as both of our protagonists start to learn more about the world – and about themselves.

This week, Anna over at There’s Always Room For One More is our host as we cover the second half of Part 1. Spoiler alert!


Sidra has quite the range of emotional (and physical!) crises this week. What do you make of the ways she tries to cope/adjust? Do you think she can come to terms with herself?

This part of the book really hit me in the feels where Sidra was concerned, because on one hand she’s fully aware of what some of her issues are and knows how they could be resolved in an ideal situation. She has a problem with lack of memory capacity; permanent wifi access would resolve it for her. Taking that on its own for a moment – how many of us wish we could grasp and resolve our problems so easily?

On the other hand, it might provide gratification but, as Pepper points out, it would only increase the risk of discovery, which would bring a ton of bigger problems down on them. This is adulthood in a nutshell: we could simply do as we pleased, so long as we didn’t give a damn about the long-term…

Which leads to another interesting point. Sidra is very, very young, in the sense that she’s so very new to the world. She may look like an adult, and having access to so much information solves part of her problem, but information is not experience. She has plenty of one but she’s sorely lacking in the other, and that shows in the way she sees the world, in a way. She’s advanced enough to have a range of emotions to deal with on top of everything, but she was never supposed to have to deal with them like this, and so of course she’s struggling. She’s behaving very much the way I think anyone who’s going through a sudden, lifechanging upheaval would in that situation, and in that sense she’s completely human. It’s kind of heartbreaking.

As for the last part, I’ll steer clear of answering that for now since this is a reread for me.


How would you choose what memories to delete to save new ones? Is Pepper being sensible or is it an impossible thing to ask?

Oh god, that’s a horrible question to ask! Or at least, considering the answer is so damned difficult. As for Pepper, I think she understands on one level that what she’s asking is difficult for Sidra, but perhaps she doesn’t fully understand how difficult, because she isn’t in Sidra’s shoes. She isn’t the one who has to face that sort of choice, and for Sidra it’s about more than information. She’s conflating her stored information with valuable knowledge, and in a sense, right now it is all valuable to her because it’s all so new. But if the buildup of that information is becoming a problem for her, then it is best if she gets a bit ruthless and cuts some of it out, even if doing so is difficult for her.


It really is an impossible question to answer for me, because of course there are memories I’d delete if I could – but at the same time, those memories matter because they make the better memories all the more valuable, if you know what I mean. There are some times in my life that, on reflection, make my ‘here and now’ better because I’m not still in that place, or at that point in my life. This is what growing up, physically and emotionally, is about, and Sidra’s right in the middle of discovering that. My heart hurts for her, but I’m here for it all the same.


What are your first impressions of Owl?

Owl is incredibly interesting to me because I keep forgetting that she is an AI, somehow. Becky Chambers does an amazing job of taking on that old SF question regarding artificial intelligence and human life, because in many ways in this book (and the first) it is so difficult, given the points of view, to keep in mind that technical difference. Nothing about any of these characters is inhuman, despite that we know some of them aren’t human. It’s a deeply fascinating and really beautifully handled way of exploring that philosophical question.

So I suppose I’m saying I really like Owl, and I’m glad she’s there to help Jane. The thought of what might become of Jane if Owl hadn’t found her and offered her safety chills me.

“Owl is my parent” = me crying for days. Little sentence, biiiiiiig feelings.


There are lots of big big themes being unpacked as we get to the end of the first part. Which one(s) stand out for you? (How) Is it explored through each timeline?

Well, the most obvious theme or idea being explored here is what it means to be human. Jane 23 is human, even if she wasn’t ‘born’ in the usual way. Owl is teaching her what that means by offering her a place and a purpose that she would never have had in the factory. Lovelace was not human; Sidra is learning how to be. I think that in a sense, Pepper is trying to do for Sidra what Owl once did for her.

There’s definitely a sense of ‘found families’ also being a theme here. Neither of these women have had a family in any traditional sense, but I think the possibility of it is something that’s emerging as well, with Pepper and Sidra having had their first real argument and needing space to deal with that, and with Jane and Owl settling into their cohabitation even as they’re working toward an end goal that might separate them. That’s family.

5 thoughts on “SF/F Read Alongs: A Closed and Common Orbit, Part 2

  1. I’ve become a huge fan of Long Way so I wanted to read this but stopped myself- since I’m just starting Orbit and am literally in the first chapter. I can’t wait to see what people think once I’m a little farther along though. Fun!

  2. I think we all seem to like Owl very much – and you’re right – I did forget about her being AI – plus, yes, I hate to think what would have happened to Jane if they hadn’t found each other.
    Lynn 😀

  3. As someone who has a mild case of hoarding behavior, I practically go into fits at the idea of having to give up something in my treasured collections to make room for other stuff, so I can only imagine Sidra’s distress at being asked to choose what memories to delete to save new ones! Strangely, that was how I put myself in her shoes, but man did I feel for her this week.

  4. Yes yes yes. I couldn’t help but get teen strop vibes from Sidra in her argument with Pepper, even though that felt unfair (she’s facing an awful dilemma just down the road). I loved that this was followed up by the Picnic transcript of a n00b getting banned for over-simplifying everything because they lacked the experience and perspective to understand what they were getting themselves into.

    I’m right there with you about memories. They all make us who we are, and give our current context meaning. It reminded me of Between Two Thorns, where Poppy steals Sam’s memory of happier times. Good or bad, they all count. Although I’d happily lose the memory of eating garlic ice cream. It’s as bad as it sounds (and blue cheese ice cream is just WEIRD). Wait – unless losing the memory left me open to eating them again, as I clearly have a track record for saying ‘sure, I’ll try that’ to inappropriate ice cream flavours. Argh.

    Found family <3

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