I grew up with two physicists for parents. We often had great dinner conversations about subatomic particles and cosmology. When I was ten, I was allowed to stay up late to watch the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. My friends and family can tell you that started a loyalty right then to space exploration and the Trek universe. As I grew up, I was allowed to raid my father’s expansive collection of classic science fiction, from 50s era onward. I’ve always loved the wonder and yearning for exploration that space still holds, and it dismays me to see the lack of wonder many of my fellows feel for the possibilities space holds.
Seeing my history, you can probably guess why Orbiter is definitely the book for me. The basic story is classic sci-fi through and through: after a space shuttle, the Orbiter, mysteriously disappears without a whisper of warning, the U.S. manned exploration of space is completely suspended. Ten years later, that missing shuttle returns to an abandoned Kennedy Space Center full of mysteries and carrying an apparently insane captain, the only surviving member of the mission. Old experts, from ex-astronauts, physicists, and a psychiatrist, are brought in to discover Orbiter’s secrets. They, of course, discover much more than they can comprehend. Thus follows a tale of broken dreams and rerouted destinies suddenly put back on course, whether the human race is ready or not.
Warren Ellis always writes passionate, critical dynamite, and Colleen Doran, ever since I devoured A Distant Soil, is an intriguing and appropriate choice for a creative collaborator. As it turns out, they’re also great friends and space enthusiasts. In the end, Orbiter is a story about not giving up the dream of space. With email, voice recognition, cell phones, and the Internet, we’re already living in the science fiction I grew up with. But where’s the shuttle to Mars? Where are the cities on the moon? Ellis acknowledges in his introduction (which I admit made me get teary), this title had a frightening prescience within its echo of the recent loss of the Columbia shuttle and the grounding of the U. S. space program. The necessity of books like Orbiter, and their ability to make us dream, can be summed up in his words, “Human spaceflight remains experimental. It is very dangerous. It demands great ingenuity. But we are old enough, now, to do these things. Growing up is hard. But we cannot remain children, standing on the shore or in front of the TV set.”