From Nebula and Hugo Award-nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel of alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable world have reached the 20 Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate. Thora was once a member of the interplanetary elite, but since her prophetic delusions helped mobilize a revolt on Orem, she's been banished to the farthest reaches of space to minimize the risk her very presence may pose.
Upon arrival the team finds an extraordinary crystalline planet laden with dark matter. Then a crew member is murdered, and Thora mysteriously disappears. Thought to be uninhabited, the planet is in fact home to a blind, sentient species whose members navigate their world with a bizarre vocabulary and extrasensory perceptions.
Lost in the deep crevasses of the planet among these people, Thora must battle her demons and learn to comprehend the native inhabitants in order to find her crewmates and warn them of an impending danger. But her most difficult task may be persuading the crew that some powers lie beyond the boundaries of science.
©2015 Carolyn Ives Gilman (P)2015 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
As a scientist, I love it when scifi authors really GET the science their stories touch. Gilman's sussinct, insightful views into real physics and cognitive psychology are top-shelf, and her reasoned extrapolation from them are clever, original and interesting.
Dark Orbit stands apart, though, for its thoughtful use of themes from social science. Cultural appropriation, imperialism, sexual violence and prejudice all play a role in the story, but Gilman manages to handle them responsibly without being preachy. These are things that happen, even when people know about them and try to do the right thing. Gilman is more interested in exploring HOW they happen than in passing judgement.
If Star Trek's Prime Directive strikes you as absurd comic-book moralizing, Dark Orbit approaches the issues around first contact with a more professionally informed pallet of concepts. She brings in the social science in with a very Show-not-Tell kind of way, and it works wonderfully.
The book itself has some interesting ideas and a decent story. It bogs down a bit in places, and there is a bit too much sophomoric philosophy
Unfortunately, the narrator is pretty awful. She over-enunciates and over-emotes, frequently mispronouncing words (e.g. "solipsist" with the accent on the second syllable), and while her use of a second accent is good, there is little else to distinguish the voices of the characters.
I love the BBC and British mysteries, but my tastes are very eclectic. I live with my husband and menagerie of rescued cats and dogs.
First, in spite of the low star rating, this is not an awful book; it just has some deal breakers for me.
I was intrigued by this book for the first hour or so. It moved quickly and introduced some interesting ideas about perception and identity. (I'm not going to go into any real plot information; you can find that anywhere.) The framing with switching between diary entries and direct first-person narrative is also well-handled, and the narrator was good.
Gilman's point in writing Dark Orbit was obviously to explore the issue of perception. How much can we trust our senses? How integral are our senses to our ability to our experience of reality? On a related note, she also deals with identity. These are great ideas, and the initial introduction of these concepts is well handled and fascinating. I love science fiction for its ability to do exactly this. I'm not a battles-in-space sci-fi reader.
Unfortunately, the novel bogged down when Moth, a planet native boards the ship and asks to be taught to see. The descriptions of trying to teach not just "her," but her brain to see quickly become tedious and take over the book at the expense of everything else. Gilman had made her point, to me anyway, quickly and did not need to belabor it. Over. And Over. And Over. At this same time, a member of the crew is trying to learn to live without sight. ~sigh~ same song, second verse. I get it, already.
I think this would have been a stellar (pun intended) short story, with all the repetitiveness eliminated and everything tightened up. It could have worked; it should have worked. It didn't. At least not for me.
It's not that nothing happens; it's just that it's so long between things happening that I stopped caring about the plot or characters. These philosophical science fiction novels only work when the philosophy is integrated, not superimposed.
Would I try another Gilman book? Well, Yes and no: The characters were well-developed, and the ideas were worth exploring, but I'd be more apt to pick up another Gilman book in print so that I could just skip over the digressions once I got the point. I don't need ideas pounded into my head with a jack hammer.
The first person account in Thora's voice drove the story.
This was an interesting story of Epistemology. What is known and knowable?
I read sci-fi to explore the future; a speculative vision of the future rooted in the bleeding edge of science and technology. This book has teleportation. That is it for the future tech. Sure there's an information economy, but it is by talking to people. The first protagonist doesn't carry a smartphone, tablet, nor augmented reality visor. The info economy belongs to information technology, Not local yokkels. There is mention of "exploring modes of thought". There is brief mention of dark matter. There is some dabbling in 5th dimensional concepts. A bit pertaining to headscaning tech that recorded what the wearer sees and hears.
Then there is the bait and switch to convenient amnesia girl...
" Feminist goddess claptrap, muscle bound violent murdering black men are her sexual fetish, and the only white guy with a description is described as the devil. To top it all off, there is "the secret" of closing your eyes and avoiding "observers" to teleport, to posses others, time travel, and stay young forever...
Yeah, I could have skipped all this.
This book made me sick of reverse racists and the distorted psychology of feminism.
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