By Sylvain Runberg and Serge Pellé
I didn’t do my research at the end of the first couple of volumes of Orbital (reviews – Volume 1 & Volume 2) and really thought it was a simple two volume series. But what I did see I thought was a decent enough slab of European Sci-Fi, albeit a little too limited in its storyline and one whose flaws were a little too large to be overlooked:
“…..However, all of these criticisms can’t take away the fact that Orbital is actually rather an entertaining Sci-Fi thriller with a lot of good stuff on it’s pages. ….But it’s a book that can’t quite decide what it wants to be, as evidenced by the sudden, dramatic change of emphasis right at the end of volume one.”
“(the) return to the political sci-fi thriller is, of course, a good thing, because Orbital is a rather entertaining example of good, huge sci-fi that European comics seem to do so well. And it almost, nearly, just about pulls it off. And then we get a particularly clunky deux ex machina ending that almost completely ruins the whole thing. … It doesn’t completely spoil the Orbital experience, it’s still a fun sci-fi story, but the ending does somewhat deaden the enjoyment. Shame.”
A quick recap of the setup here; It’s the 23rd Century and humanity is now the newest member of an 8000 year old intergalactic multi-species alliance, but only as some perceived overly violent toddler of a species. This view of humanity wasn’t helped by our first act of interplanetary contact being the slaughter, almost to extinction, of the pacifist Sandjarr people, simply because their planet was a valuable mining resource.
Into this mess steps Caleb Swany, the first human to join the alliance’s peace-keeping force; the Interworld Diplomatic Office (IDO). And just to add a little tension to it all, his assigned partner, Mezoke Izzua, is one of the Sandjarr race.
Following the events of the first two volumes, Caleb and Mezoke are on Earth for the celebrations to mark the end of the Human-Sandjarr war. But what initially seems like a simple diplomatic mission quickly derails as an incident in the freshly repopulated seas off Malaysia threatens to overshadow the pomp and ceremony of two cultures coming together.
The investigation, into the alleged aggresion of the nomadic alien race the Rapakhun against the fishermen, soon brings up several mysteries, and it’s quickly clear that there’s a lot more to the simple incident that Caleb and Mezoke first think.
As with Volumes 1 & 2, it’s good, old fashioned European sci-fi here. But where those first volumes were all about big action with a backdrop of looking at the political environment leading to Caleb’s induction into the IDO, this volume is knee deep in political manoeuvring and diplomatic agendas. It helps that the scale of the book, essentially a simple investigation of a fishing dispute caused by a rogue predator farmed by the Rapakhun, allows a far more thoughtful, diplomatic story, full of move and counter-move to come to the fore.
It’s a subtle, but interesting shift in the book’s focus. As is the altering relationship between Caleb and Mezoke. Where once she merely tolerated this humnan trainee, now she’s far more accepting of this proven member of the IDO. Caleb becomes far more confident in his role, taking the lead in the investigation. Mezke is more reticent, reluctant to interfere as events in her past, tied to Sandjarr’s political and social elite, plays too heavily on her mind. But Caleb’s past is also under the spotlight here, and it’s a past that could yet threaten his position in the IDO.
Orbital is good, but I just don’t think it’s as epic a sci-fi tale as others seem to. However, with the new focus on the diplomatic and political intrigues it’s become a far better story than the first two volumes led me to believe it could. I’m looking forward to Volume 4 of Orbital, the concluding part of this story that should be published in July.
One thing in Orbital that does really live up to an epic grandeur of the best sci-fi however is the invention and scale of Pellé’s artwork. It’s an interesting look, and somewhere in there I can see elements of artists as diverse as Moebius, Sam Keith, Ted McKeever, Jim Mahfood and Enki Bilal. But when it comes to artists I’m sure you’ll be able to add your own. What I do know is that there are panels and pages that are simply lovely to look at – with that quiet page of Caleb reflecting on past misdeeds one of my personal favourites.