A sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. SF book.
Publication year: 2016
Page count: 365
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
This is not a direct sequel but takes up the tale of Wayfarer’s artificial intelligence, Lovelace. About half of the story belongs to Jane 23, a clone girl on a different planet.
Lovelace has now a synthetic body kit and she’s having trouble adjusting to it. Because it’s illegal for AIs to have bodies, she and the people around her are constantly in danger and she has to hide herself. She was put into the body (or kit as she calls it) after a system reboot so she doesn’t remember deciding to go into a body. A single body is a very limited place; she’s used to running a whole spaceship, “seeing” with sensors both inside and out, being in constant communication with other computers. Now, she has very limited senses and no internal link access. She also has programs which make it hard to interact with people, such as 100% honesty and whenever she’s asked a direct question, she has to answer it. No wonder she has all sorts of difficulty. Fortunately, she has two people to help her: Pepper and Blue. They’re very patient and understanding with her because they know very well what’s it like, trying to fit into a society you weren’t born in. Pepper’s a great mechanic and Blue’s an artist.
Lovelace is actually the name of the AI series, so she has to come up with a new name: Sidra. Her tale is rather a quiet one, when she tries to adjust to her new circumstances. She even thinks of her body as “the kit”. “The kit sighed.” “She swung the kit’s head around.”
In this world, AIs have emotions. There’s never a question of if Lovelace’s feelings are real. Other ship AIs have feelings, also. But we also see low-level AIs which don’t (presumably) have feelings and only limited intelligence: AIs from which people buy tickets or who instruct people or are characters in games. Lovelace is uncomfortable with them.
The other half of the book follows the story of Jane 23, who was created to work in a factory alongside with dozens of other clones. They’re fed and only educated enough to do the work. They know nothing of planets and have never even see the sky outside. The younger girls clean junk and the older girls fix them. Jane is very good at fixing things. They’re overseen by robots who are called Mothers. All the Janes are ten years old when the story starts. There are other girls, apparently one batch per year.
One day, there’s an accident at the factory and Jane 23 has a chance to get away. She hesitates at first, but quickly takes her chance, together with her bunkmate, Jane 64. Unfortunately, Jane 64 is caught by the Mothers and apparently killed. Fortunately, Jane 23 finds a loyal ally: a small shuttle with an AI, Owl. Together, Jane 23 and Owl try to survive and perhaps one day even leave the planet behind.
Jane’s part of the book is focused on survival. The shuttle isn’t in any condition to fly and Jane has to fix a lot of systems. Fortunately, this part of the planet is a junkyard of everything the wealthier people throw away. But it’s also huge. And there are genetically engineered dogs which try to kill anyone entering the junkyard. Food and water are in limited supply. Just survival is a huge task to a ten-year-old but Owl does her best to teach and guide the girl.
I enjoyed Jane’s part of the book more but both were enjoyable. However, this isn’t an adventure book and it’s quite different from the first in the series. The stories are liked thematically. Even though Jane’s and Lovelace (Sidra)’s situations are very different, they’re both people created by others for a specific purpose. They’re both looking for a new purpose, beyond just surviving. The galactic law doesn’t recognize Sidra as a person and the law on the planet where Pepper was created also didn’t recognize her as person, either. (I don’t think it was said clearly if galactic law recognizes a clone as person.) They were both tools.
I enjoyed this book a lot. The aliens were great, too.