Orbital v2 ("Ruptures") cover detail by Serge Pelle
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Orbital v2: “Ruptures”

Writer: Sylvain Runberg
Artist: Serge Pelle
Colorist: Serge Pelle
Lettering: Imadjinn
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”

Orbital v1 "Scars" cover detail by Serge Pelle

 

The Orbital Cornerstone

Caleb and Mezoke share a moment

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.

The Stilvulls swarm around the miners, Caleb, and Mezoke

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.

Mezoke is a badass in action

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.

 

Story Structure

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.

Caleb and the doctor have a near-miss at love

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.

 

Recommended?

Orbital v2 ("Ruptures") cover by Serge Pelle

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.

Orbital v3 cover detail by Serge Pelle

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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What do YOU think? (First time commenters' posts may be held for moderation.)

12 Comments

  1. Fascinating to see how everyone (me included) can’t help but call Mezoke ‘she’, when the author makes a point of telling us that there’s no way to tell and ‘she’ could be a ‘he’ and we wouldn’t see a difference and it’s none of our damn business anyway…

    But we see … rotundity, and so we go ‘female!’ Nice trap by Runberg. :p

    1. Pride Month was so LAST month, Jerome.

      Kidding.

      It’s something I will be bringing up in my review of volume 6, because Mezoke says something in there that’s different that I explore for about two sentences. Stay tuned, I’m getting to it. For the most part, it simplifies writing the review to go this way so far, particularly since it hasn’t been a plot point at all yet.

      Actually, through all seven books, it hasn’t been an issue at all, and it almost feels like a tacked-on piece of dialogue from volume 1, really. Eventually, I’m sure Runberg will do something with it.

  2. I can’t help but feel that this gender-fluidity thing is nothing more than buzz, and as everyone begins to do it, in all media, it’s becoming a cliché, or even a trope, faster than anything before. Remember when it was kinda edgy to have gay males in a book? Wasn’t that long ago and it served a purpose in the stories (most of the time), and took ages to fully develop. Now… This sounds more and more like a “woke” or post-modern version of Valerian and Laureline.

    1. In the 90s, sit-coms here went through a phase where they all had the one episode where a guy’s new friend turns out to be gay and the guy didn’t realize what was going on until it was too late and — well, it seemed funny the first time, but got old fast. (That “Frasier” episode was funny, though.)

      I’m not sure what the purpose of that trait in this character in this series is. Is this an upcoming plot point that Runberg is setting up? Is he planning on using it to strike a parallel to gender dysmorphia (I think that’s the term)? Was he just desperate to give the alien one more “different” trait to set them apart? Is this all a part of their culture of secrecy, in general? The first book was written before the latest wave of transgendered rights crusading that started at about the time it was becoming clear that gay marriage was about to be legalized and everyone started to look for the next thing…. So I can’t say that Runberg is riding a wave here.

      I’m still not sure. I’m betting it’s going to become an issue in a future album somehow….

      1. My guess, from just reading your review (so that’s spitballing at best, but just for fun) is this: the main guy Caleb will turn out to be a closeted gay and the indeterminate one who still looks mostly like a chick will turn out to be a dude with a secret crush on the other one. Let’s place bets now 😉

        1. Sylvain Runberg isn’t the type to use such issues for buzz or as a gimmick. Only he could tell you exactly why he made the Sandjarrs that way, but to me it’s always read as one more aspect of alienness Humans have to deal with, one that does create a handful of problems/situations early on in the series – helping also to point out that our species is so clearly the backwoods newcomer out there – while not being overused; just as the Sandjarr just don’t make an issue of gender, once the main Human characters have gotten over it, the comic stops making much of an issue of it as well.

          Also, remember Sylvain is half-Swedish and lives in Sweden, which is well ahead of the curve in terms of social advances. We make a big deal of some things in France or the US that very few bat an eyelash over in Sweden…

          1. I should take your word on it Jerome but just from reading the book I couldn’t tell. He shouldn’t have to explain it to me, he should have shown it to the reader; problem is, half of the stuff he throw in the first volume doesn’t go anywhere. The first scene: it’s meant to define the character of Caleb but he could have done that in one phrase, what about the other characters there? are they important? why the setup on the roof? he doesn’t do anything with that. The training exercise scene: it feels like unnecessary conflict that goes nowhere, the scene could have been structured way more efficiently. The gender scene feels like a throwaway, if he’s got a big reveal planned in years, it it worth it really? All those names and alien races we’re supposed to memorize even though they are only on for two panels, that all sounds very amateurish, that’s all I’m saying. If he has a big plan for all of that, good for him, but it could have been done more subtly, progressively, over the course of the story, when a bit of information actually means something for the plot or the characters. Sounds like writing for me. My impression is that he absorbed a lot from watching american SF TV shows but he just throws everything on the wall in the first story; we’ll see what sticks, if we are courageous enough to keep reading in spite of that. I’m saying that overall, the story is not that captivating, the main plot is kinda generic, so… I’ve read decwe will see if I keep reading or if all those flaws compel me to give up and go watch/read something better constructed.

          2. Aaaargh this posted itself mid-sentence, I didn’t even have time to reread and correct the typos. Be kind to me.

          3. So Jerome, if it’s not a big deal in Sweden, why put it in the story at all? it just adds obviously artificial “relevance” to a very generic story, so it’s actually detrimental to the captivating of the reader since he’s not doing anything with it so far. A man-woman pairing, done right, would have a lot more potential for snappy dialogue and plot developments. Having to wait years for a payoff on such a minor subplot is not efficient at all. This series’ writing feels like Claremont’s X-Men without the subtlety (yes that’s sarcasm).

  3. Perhaps there doesn’t need to be a ‘payoff’? Perhaps the man-woman pairing has just be done to death already and he wanted to introduce something a bit different, neither the inevitable potential-romantic-duo, nor the same-sex ‘buddy cop’ pair, but something in-between – thus subverting the expectations of readers who have grown up on Hollywood movies and TV series…

    I don’t know. In the end, you’re obviously not a fan of the series, and that’s fine. On the other hand, I really liked it right away, and never had an impression that someone was tricking me into reading generic, pointless crap. And all those little bits with no payout you decry are the sort of background details, world building, that I love in a sci-fi series.

    Heh. To each his own, I guess. 🙂

    1. Fair enough, I guess you can’t argue with feelings and points of view.
      So far, what I’ve read of this didn’t convince me that this guy had a story to tell or a point to make, for the same reason I gave up on Lost and modern BSG after a few episodes, for the same reason I don’t read anything by Brian K. Vaughan or Mark Waid any more; to avoid predictable disappointment.
      Writing 101 indicates that anything that doesn’t serve a purpose should be removed from a script, for clarity and efficiency. Unless the writing style is so brilliant that you follow anyway, which doesn’t seem to be the case here, as far as I can tell.
      Still, the artist is good, in the Moebius/ Mézières vein, nothing too original but solid, so I’d like to see him draw something better, that’s all I’m saying.

  4. Ok so volume 2 is more of the same. A bit less exposition. More beige, some orange. The color scheme is distracting, it’s taking me out of the story, which isn’t that compelling in the first place. why color characters the same tone as the background? Yellow on yellow, green on green, brown on brown. Makes no practical sense.
    The lettering improves slightly, yet I’m beginning to see what you mentioned, some captions where you’re wondering who’s talking. Stilted dialogue, feels “written” rather than “spoken”; is french the author’s native language, I wonder? Sounds a bit like kids reading a classic school play. Could use a proofreader too, there’s a funny typo right in the middle, and a couple of grammar faults.
    Still too many names dropped that I can’t help but think “who’s that again?”.
    Some scenes where you can immediately say which movie or show it’s lifted from (the recruit singled out by the general on the vessel is almost verbatim from Diehard 2, the pilot bonded to the starship that’s Farscape clearly), unless it’s a tired cliché (magical insight before the fire, the child saved against all odds, the racist has a change of heart, please…).
    Everyone talks about the high stakes, the danger of the situation but the tone of the dialogue is extremely pedestrian, you don’t feel any tension, any urgency. Most faces have zero expression, especially the alien ones. Everyone stands like a mannequin, arms on the sides, no hands gestures, except for the very brief action scenes. Everything including the filming angles feels like an average american TV show. Too many close ups prevent us from having any sense of scale, of perspective. The resolution in the last 2-3 pages feels really odd, rushed.
    At this point I’m really wondering if I’m going to keep at it. There are so many good books I could be reading instead. I’ll sleep on it.