Artist: Serge Pelle
Colorist: Serge Pelle
Translator: Jerome Saincantin
Published by: Dupuis/Cinebook
Number of Pages: 56
Original Publication: 2007
Who can you trust? In most action sci-fi stories, you can’t trust too many people. That holds true here, as well.
Previously, in “Orbital”
Volume 1: “Scars”
The Orbital Cornerstone
The key thing that this entire series revolves around is the partnership of Caleb and Mezoke. They were a risk to put together, but the Prime Dignitary of the IDO thought the time was right. There needed to be that symbolic pairing of human and Sandjarr to show just how far the universe can come. It’s a decision, though, that’s fraught with peril, as it draws a lot of scrutiny and mistrust amongst certain people.
For sure, things don’t get off to what looks like a good start. Mezoke defended Caleb after a training mission in the first volume when he was sabotaged by someone else, but nobody wanted to hear it. She otherwise acts aloof and quiet around Caleb, and constantly questions his judgment and his worldview when she does talk.
Why is she so antagonistic? She’s not trying to beat him up, though. She seems to want this partnership to work, and she’s standing by her partner, no matter what. She just goes about it in a slightly… alien way.
It can be a little frustrating at times, but it creates good drama in the book. There’s no unbelievable sudden realizations or changes of heart. It’s all about what Caleb actually says or does that provokes her responses. He’s not perfect, but he does have a powerfully optimistic point of view that the IDO needs right now.
The Mining Mission
Sending Caleb and Mezoke out to a remote mining planet to evict humans on behalf of the planet’s inhabitants might seem like a routine diplomatic mission, but we’ve seen since page one of volume one that there’s a lot more going on than you might see at first glance. It can be tough to negotiate with people who are so pig-headed, and particularly so when the leadership’s position might not totally reflect the populace’s.
But for those with long memories of setting up the system on the moon in the first place, just leaving is not an option, and they’ll go to all sorts of sneaky tricks to prevent it.
Then, the Stilvulls attack.
They remind me a bit of the bugs from “Starship Troopers” or any of the various enemies you’ve seen in a superhero movie in the last five or ten years who need to swarm the heroes. Picture Ultron’s swarms of robots, or the Chitari swarming on New York, for two quick Marvel examples. The Stilvulls are in that same nasty insect-like alien camp.
It’s a trope of sci-fi action set pieces to include them, and that’s where this book starts. It gives Mezoke a great moment to stand out, as she leads the charge against the Stilvulls by herself, with a relatively simple plan, though one that’s no gimme. Even after she saves the miners, she recognizes that her presence might be upsetting the negotiations with anti-Confederacy humans, and so she heads off to the planet to keep the moon’s owners happy while they do their “diplomatic” best work.
Is it a failure of their partnership that they needed to separate? Or was it just the best diplomatic move? With the constant thread of the Stilvulls’ return and various factions stabbing each other in the back, the situation is getting volatile near the mines. They both get their chances in this book to prove themselves under fire, and they have each others’ backs when it counts.
Caleb has a little bit of cowboy in him, but it tends to save his butt at this point more than hurt him.
Runberg constructs his “Orbital” plots well. The big action set piece at the end of this book really is the peak event that everything else in these two books has been leading up to. Things get rocking fast, and there’s no let up for that twelve page section at the end where everything comes to an explosive (yes, literally explosive) end, with all the car chases and comeuppances you could ask for.
The denouement afterwards moves fast and gives you direct answers to what happens next. It’s the first major example in the series where Caleb crafts his story to avoid exposing all the truths. He’s a good and loyal friend, but he’s a little unsure about everything. That’s OK; he’s new to this job.
There’s also the stuff I haven’t mentioned that Runberg squeezes into this book. For one example, there’s a near-romance between Caleb and the doctor on the mining planet. There’s also a living ship (shhh, don’t tell anyone!) they take to get there, piloted by an older human woman who reminds me a little bit, by attitude and slightly visually, of “The Fuse’s” Klem. And there’s a secondary betrayal in the story that threatens to destroy any plans Caleb and Mezoke might have come up with.
Runberg really stacks the deck against his protagonists hard, and then makes them earn their keep. There are no deus ex machinas in there, or time-based ways out. Runberg earns those outs by placing his characters in such dire danger.
He’s good at revealing the full truth as the story moves along without cheating the reader. The events build upon themselves to the point where something has to give — and it’s a big thing that might not have seemed possible at first.
Yes. Look, if you’ve already read volume 1, then you’re going to want to know how the story ends. This is your chance! It’s an ending that delivers the goods and makes heroes out of both of the series’ stars.
Coming Up in Volume 3: The setting moves back to Earth, where a remembrance ceremony is put at risk by nomadic aliens in the swamp and territorial human fishermen. Caleb has to make some quick decisions and keep the peace, but how much tap dancing can he do to distract from the chaos surrounding him?
— 2018.061 —
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