Review: Dark Orbit

Posted: March 20, 2020 by in Books We Like (3.6/5 single_star) Meta: Carolyn Ives Gilman, Science Fiction

Despite my constant frustrations with the Science Fiction genre, I keep finding myself pulled back into its orbit. I can’t help but love all of the things that make great Science Fiction great. I tried to start this one a number of times, and just wasn’t ever able to get into it. But, instead of passing on it altogether, I’d stick it back in the TBR pile for another chance. I even tried to listen to the audiobook but bailed on that pretty quickly because I felt like I seemed to be missing a lot of the story. And then, as I did once long ago with Memories of Ice (EBR Archive), I decided to just push through and do it. Feels good to be on this side of the divide. Only took me five years to get here…

DARK ORBIT (Amazon) is a story of parts. It revolves around the idea that humanity has found the ability to teleport matter by lightwaves as long as there’s a physical transmitter and receiver. Sound kind of pointless? I mean, any kind of teleportation is cool, but if you’re going to go anywhere significant (a lightwave trip from the Sun to Earth only takes about eight minutes), you still have the issue of slow-boat travel to take a receiver anywhere you might want to go. And yet, humanity has found a way to spread out to twenty different planets and they’re always seeking for the next new planet to inhabit.

So, when one of their computer-controlled seeker ships radios that it’s found a suitable new planet to inspect, there are loads of people that are just raring to go.

The story is told from the persepective of two women. One, Sara Callicot is an exoethnologist, which is essentially a space anthropologist that is sent out into the black to gain information about intelligent life that can then be used by humanity. At least, that’s my impression of what they are. The occupation is a made-up one after all. She’s been placed in the crew that has been chosen to travel to this new planet under the guise that she’s studying the crew. Her true reason for being there is to keep an eye on a woman named Thora Lassiter. Thora has recently been banished from a planet, Orem, after starting a revolt of sorts, but she’s one of the interplanetary elite, and so instead of being punished, she’s exiled.

Sara’s story really feels like the main driver of the book, as we get all of Thora’s POV from “recorded journal entries”. Sara is familiar with some of the crew, and does her best to fit in without ever outing her real reason for being on the ship. Regardless of this, she’s excited to be part of the first team of people to visit this new planet. She even sees to it that she’s part of the first exploration party that descends to the surface and wanders around a little. It is during this excursion, however, that Thora Lassiter, another of the company, disappears.

Both of the characters of interest are well-wrought and believable. I think I connected more with Sara though and her quest to find out what happened to Thora. She has to navigate the politics and authority of those that are in charge on the ship, and then once she’s given the chance to actually search for Thora, there’s a whole lot of exploration and adventure through the unknown that she tackles.

DARK ORBIT is an interesting read with intriguing aspects to both the science and the characters that didn't quite pull off bringing everything together.

The science is a bit hand-wavey, but that never really bothered me all that much. That fact did allow things to get quite intriguing once they figure out that gravity and the dimensionality of space doesn’t exactly work the way they’re used to in this region of space. It was this anomalistic aspect of the science and almost weather-like behavior of gravity around the planet that allowed for the main source of tension as the story progressed.

This allowed for the story to shift gears as Thora’s journals take more of the main stage. These sections are heavily weighted toward the fascination of the people that they find living on the planet and how they survive. Her experiences were just enough to keep me engaged and dragged along with the flow. I did find myself somewhat annoyed with the recorded-journal presentation of her POV at about the halfway point. She starts having dreams and almost vision-like experiences that just didn’t translate well to that method of storytelling.

If anything, the ending was a bit of a let down. This is largely because of the piece-meal build of the rest of the story. There just wasn’t enough “glue”, so to speak, that allowed the separate pieces to feel like they were part of a whole, and the final climax was there and gone before I’d really even settled in to the idea in the first place.

This was definitely one where I enjoyed the Science Fiction aspects of the book more than I enjoyed the character story, but I still left the experience with a positive taste in my mouth. This is one for someone looking more for the wonder of new places and the fascination of what science can bring. Interesting but not amazing.

  • Recommended Age: 15+
  • Language: Pretty mild
  • Violence: A bloody decapitation
  • Sex: Some sensuality and a brief threat of rape

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