Fiction Reviews

Orbital Resonance

(1998) John Barnes, Millenium, 5.99, pbk, 214pp, ISBN 0-75281-659-4

I must say that I so enjoyed Barnes' previous offering, Kaleidoscope Century, that I was favourably disposed to this book before I began reading. However, even had I not been, Barnes quickly creates a charming world, and a simple but beautiful tale, that seduces the reader effortlessly.

The copyright on this book is 1991, but I don't know if this was a "previously released, sunk without a trace" or a "picked up and dusted off and shoved out" type of thing, but either way I think it's a shame we haven't seen the book before. The plot is fairly easy, basically an observation on adopting new paradigms over old, the changes in individuals as maturity beckons, and the consequent changes in society. All fairly obvious and unsurprising. However, the Devil is in the detail, so to speak.

The central character, Melopmene, is a schoolgirl in an Orbital run by the corporation NipponAmerica. Some aspects of the universe are familiar from Kaleidoscope Century, eg. the Great Die-Off, the Eurowar and mutAIDS. Mel is on a heavy industry orbital which trucks between Earth and Mars (where a terraforming project is taking place), and all the children are being socialised according to a plan designed to optimise their place in society (and make them good corporate drones). However, some children are led to explore individuality more than others. Then a new bully (from Earth) takes over that spot from Mel's class bully, and the children's allegiances shift and change...

I definitely recommend this book, not just to those who have enjoyed Barnes' earlier work, but also as one of those rarities (these days) "a good book to get someone started on SF with".

Tony Chester

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