A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

A classic story of love and friendship, sacrifice and resilience, A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers also just happens to be located in a fantasical world of distant planets, casual space travel and aliens of every variety.

Lovelace is an artificial intelligence (AI) that has been transferred into a humaniod form (a “kit”) by an alien named Pepper. At first confused and disoriented (her previous work had been within the walls of a spaceship) she names herself Sidra. She quickly gains intelligence, but struggles to live in chaotic world without walls.

Jane 23 is an enhanced human bred to work in a factory sorting scrap. Her life is strictly regulated and anything outside of the factory is completely unknown to her. One day an explosion blows a hole in one of the walls and she sees sky for the first time. Consumed by curiosity, she goes back to see it again. Nearly caught by one of the Mothers (robot caretakers) she runs blindly, is chased by wild animals and is almost caught until a small shuttle in the massive scrap pile opens a door and helps her escape. The shuttle is run by Owl, an AI that lives in the ship.

Many years later Jane, with Owl’s help, escapes the planet and arrives in Port Cortisol, a busy international space port where she changes her name to Pepper and blends into the world around her. However she is haunted by the loss of the shuttle and her beloved Owl who had raised her as a true mother would and for whom she is always searching.

I would categorize this as a “cozy sci-fi”. There are no space battles or massive alien invasions wiping out civilizations. Bad things happen – witness the factory planet of enslaved girls – but there is a lot of good too. Many diverse aliens with many diverse forms co-exist, mostly peacefully and respectfully.  These stories quickly connect in interesting and satisfying ways. Friendships are formed, adventures are shared and the line between AI and humanoid blurs. The world building is intricate and well developed but never intrusive. A lovely and heartwarming novel.

How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life by Signe Johansen

 

Spending more time in nature. Cuddling up on the couch with a good mystery. Taking breaks for cake and coffee. Lighting candles.Between fall weather finally approaching and the busy school year settling in, I’m trying to remind myself to make time for rest and comfort. How to Hygge, by Signe Johansen explains the Danish and Norwegian word hygge (pronounced hoo-guh) doesn’t have an exact translation in English, but it suggests coziness and slowing down to enjoy life. Johansen applies the lessons she learned growing up in Norway to her busy life in London, as well as how people from other cultures can adapt the philosophy of hygge to their lives.

The book doesn’t offer all of the answers to life’s problems, but a lot of little ways to be happier. The author offers her own stories balancing being a high achiever with hygge, such as her father making her take a break from studying for important high school exams to gather wild lilies of the valley. She didn’t think she had time to fit everything in, but after taking time to slow down, she was able to put her exams into perspective and resume her studies more focused and less stressed out.

The advice Johansen offers is easy to apply in small doses until they become habits. One I’ve taken to heart was to take time to exercise in nature. I took a (very slow) job along the Mississippi the next day, and came back with my mind clear and ready take on the rest of my day. To counteract some of that exercising, the book  includes over 90 pages of recipes for comfort food (I had to smile at a cocktail recipe that involved sparkling wine and gummi bears.) It’s heavy on home care and decorating suggestions, that tend to favor easy to clean, simple items.

However, as the book continues, it moves past cooking and decorating tips to sections about how connect more with the people we care about and prioritize the things that make us happy. In the end, the message is to focus on the little details that make your life warmer and cozier.

How to Hygge is available at all three branches of the library. If you are interested in learning about the concept from another point of view, we also have The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking.