This novel is a Hugo finalist published by Hodder & Stoughton/Harper Voyager US. It’s Chambers’ second novel and billed as space opera, a sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

Lovelace is a ship’s AI that tech genius Pepper has illegally downloaded from Wayfarer and installed in a synthetic humanoid “kit.” Lovelace struggles to adjust as the two of them travel to Pepper’s home on Coriol and meet Pepper’s partner Blue. Lovelace chooses a new name, Sidra, and goes to work in Pepper’s fix-it shop. In another thread that happens years before, the child-slave clone Jane 23 (later Pepper) escapes from a factory and takes refuge in an abandoned shuttle. She is mothered by the AI Owl and works to get the shuttle running again. The two threads converge as Pepper and her friends mount an expedition to rescue Owl.

This novel is very readable, suitable for young-adult, and seems to be about inclusion. Everyone is respected and appreciated on Coriol and worthy of hugs, regardless of disability, alien race or AI status. This is in contrast to the unseen Enhanced who run the slave factories. The AIs are generally warm, fuzzy and well-behaved, and the story is very character and friendship oriented.

On the con side, this vision of AI falls well on the fantasy side. It’s true the ship’s AIs could be sociable, but these two are just too sweet and lovable to be real. It’s also unbelievable that people would interact with any kind of affordable “kit” and not realize it’s synthetic. The novel is billed as space opera, but there are none of the battles or struggles for the soul of the universe that you’d expect from this sub-genre. Why doesn’t anyone here challenge the Enhanced and their slave-based factory system?

Three stars.

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