Sequels and A CLOSED AND COMMON ORBIT

I recently read A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s the sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, a book which began life as a Kickstarter-funded self-published novel, was eventually picked up by a major publisher, and went on to be nominated for a number of prizes and make all sorts of “best of” lists. I read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet last year and really enjoyed it – it’s a fun novel about a multi-species crew traveling through space. It reminded me of Firefly in some ways, particularly in its focus on families of choice, but politically it ran in a very different direction than Firefly, its vision of the future being much more upbeat.

As I wrote earlier this year, I’m worn out with bleak projections right now, and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was well-written and fun and a great antidote to all the dystopias littering the science fiction literature. After finishing it I immediately went to see what else Chambers had written/was writing, and was simultaneously delighted and dismayed to see she had a sequel coming out in 2017 – delighted because more to read, but dismayed because generally I’m not a fan of sequels.

There are a few reasons why I feel this way. Some are ones I know others share: so often sequels are heavy on filling in the backstory for readers who haven’t read the first book; and I find they often suffer from not enough plot, presumably because the author is trying to tie up loose ends from the previous book (as well as fill in backstory).

But the biggest reason I generally don’t like sequels is that, if I liked the ending of the first book, a sequel will often takes away from my enjoyment of that first book – because it’s essentially changing the ending. I know a lot of readers don’t feel this way – some people want to know “what happens next.” For me, though, the ambiguity in what happens off-screen is one of the things I enjoy about reading!

So I had mixed feelings when I picked up A Closed and Common Orbit. I’m happy to report, though, that this sequel was the kind I like – not a sequel exactly (though it does overlap slightly with The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet), but more of a story-set-in-the-same-world. I thought it was fantastic, and am not at all surprised to learn that it’s been nominated for a Hugo.

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