In the fourth and final part of A Closed and Common Orbit, the two dovetailing stories finally come together by way of a rescue mission, and life goes on for our heroes…
Mogsy at The BiblioSanctum is our host this week, and my thanks go out to everybody who took part. This reread helped to make my December more bearable. Onward to 2017, and more Read Alongs!
At the end of the last segment, we got to meet Laurian but this week we got to know him better in Jane’s sections and learn how he factors into these flashbacks. What do you think of his and Jane’s relationship and how has it impacted your understanding of the bond between Pepper and Blue?
I had guessed fairly early on, when I first read this book, how Laurian would factor into the story. I enjoyed getting that background for him, though I kind of wish there had been room to include more of it – his and Jane’s relationship struck me as very important, being as formative as it was for Jane, and very sweet in general. That said, I’m well aware that this was not his story, that his role is a supporting one and that’s how it should be. It’s really just my hyper-curious brain picking at things afterward, once the feelings have quieted down!
In this section, we saw how Jane finally made it to the GC. Sidra, in her storyline, also makes headway in freeing herself from her programming and has developed a new kind of relationship with the kit. In a way, both of them managed to accomplish what they set out to do, but what do you think they each made of their results?
This part was especially interesting because it shows both of them as being so driven toward their goal that, perhaps, they didn’t stop to fully consider what the results might mean for them – though they both make certain realisations in different ways, perhaps.
Jane makes it to the GC, but she wasn’t prepared for the world she’d face when she got there. Pepper falls into the same mindset when it comes to rescuing Owl: she focuses so intently on the goal that she fails to properly consider the best way of achieving it, hence why Sidra decides it’s safer to do the job herself, despite the fact that this will take control of the matter out of Pepper’s hands.
In Sidra’s case, though, her hard truths lie at the end of the process. When it comes to overcoming her honesty protocols, it’s the process of it that distracts her to the point that she’s genuinely surprised by the results, in this case Tak’s reaction: her friend is understandably wary of the fact that, if she wanted to, Sidra could lie to her. The fact that she doesn’t want to isn’t what matters in that moment; the possibility of it bothering her friend hadn’t occurred to her, and it gives Sidra something serious to think about.
In both cases, it’s when they’re faced with someone close to them acting in ways that they don’t expect that Pepper and Sidra are faced with the reality of what they’ve done, or what they might have done. The emotional kicker is that there’s nothing truly negative there to sour their friendships. Tak doesn’t hide her reaction to the change in Sidra – arguably because she can’t, but we’re shown that it would be possible for her to do so. She doesn’t, because it’s important that Sidra understands what this protocol change means not only for her, but for others it might affect. It’s the same deal in a more overt, physically risky sense with Pepper’s rescue mission. She needed to think it through more clearly, and when she didn’t, her friends did what was right to ensure that it wouldn’t all go wrong.
I’ve rambled, because this really is interesting the more I think about it, but it comes down to ‘thank goodness for good friends!’, I suppose!
When the seeds of Sidra’s plan started to form, what were your thoughts? Did you have any concerns about what she might do and how things might end?
I kind of answered that for the last question, but I will note that something I found interesting about her revised rescue operation is something that, in retrospect, probably shouldn’t surprise me – Sidra is careful to think the whole thing through, but she does it very logically. It’s when she’s faced with something happening off-script, as it were, that she’s thrown and gets nervous. That was when I got nervous for her, and worried that she might not pull it off – at least, in my first readthrough. It wasn’t really until the second reading that I picked up on these things, and it’s kind of amusingly ironic that she goes through all of the emotional and personality growth that she does, and at this point she’s still prone to falling into what are essentially an AI’s thought patterns, in a way. She has a step by step plan, and isn’t quite prepared to deal with anything that might not fit into it! It’s another example of the author picking clever moments and ways to remind us that, for all of her growth, Sidra is still not human in those fundamental ways…
What did you make of Sidra’s comments on the nature of “Purpose”? How well do you think her views match with the examples we’ve seen so far in the story?
That scene really blew me away, because it absolutely nails humanity in that sense – and when you really think about that, it’s kind of terrifying. Our potential for creation is immense, but so is our potential for destruction – and we have such frighteningly flighty attention spans. We do things because we can, or to find out if they’re possible. These goals are self-serving, if they’re seen through to the end at all, and anything that goes wrong with these experiments or creations is not on the creations, but on us. Sidra is able to get around her protocols not because she’s smarter than humans, but simply because the possibility was left open to her when she was designed. Consider what might happen if her intentions were not to help others, but only to help herself (and if you’ve seen Ex Machina, you’ll know what a terrifying prospect that is).
And this doesn’t only apply to artificial intelligence. If Jane 23 had never gotten away from the factory that night, would she still be there now? What would her purpose have become if she’d been there when she got older and her task changed – when she moved up the production line, you might say?
By the end of the story, Sidra understands life on fundamental levels that she might never have been able to had she stayed on the Wayfarer. With that in mind, it’s both a relief to see her on a selfless path, and heart-warming to see how she chooses to go down it. After all, what’s the point of having a life if you don’t have a home, or somewhere to share that life with others? Isn’t that the point of it all?
I love this book.