Not so long ago, space operas were populated by macho starship captains rescuing damsels in distress. (We miss you, Captain James T. Kirk!) The gender-bending roles of modern science fiction make romantic relationships more complex. Who is the damsel, and who’s the hero? Why keep fighting the battle of the sexes when you can shack up with a compliant Artificial?
Author Leigh Hellman has fun extrapolating on current gender trends in her novel, ORBIT, as well as exploring a secret Earth history, an interplanetary conspiracy, and A Handmaid’s Tale-type infertility crisis. Earth exists at the center of a ring of orbiting Project Planets, and information is the ultimate commodity. The science fiction in ORBIT is a backdrop for a story about loyalty to family, friends, and ideals. Our hero, Ciann, is a born rebel, a girl who can’t stop fighting. Her outlaw antics will land her in a permanent detention center if she doesn’t get her job as a shipping clerk right. But the job brings her in contact with interplanetary smugglers carrying unexpected “live” cargo. Human trafficking takes on a whole new meaning in ORBIT.
ORBIT is as much a mystery as it is science fiction, as Ciann’s search for answers brings her face-to-face with long-held family secrets. Hellman’s use of allegory is impressive, with the p-plants representing the downtrodden sadness of housing projects everywhere, as the shadows cast by mothers loom large over their troubled daughters. Childhood sweethearts don’t always end up together, but with whom they belong…even if your soulmate is a sentient robot.
Like all good science fiction, ORBIT leaves readers with plenty to think about, not only the potential for man-made orbiting planets, but the social and political hierarchies it might take to support them. Plus, how cool would be to have a Right Hand, the super-smartphones that the characters of ORBIT rely on so heavily? Toss in an edge-of-your-seat, stormtroopers vs. Millennium Falcon-style climax, and you’ve got a swashbuckling space opera with thoughtful, modern twists.
Mystery and intrigue meet politically social science fiction in ORBIT, a novel rich in ideas and believable characters. Ciann is a hero you can root for, and Hellman a writer to watch!
~Rob Errera for IndieReader