Orbiter-Review

Orbiter

2003

Vertigo

104 pages

$18

This was a “what the hell” type purchase at my local Half Price Books store.  I was bored and like Warren Ellis so…

Boy was this a pleasant surprise.  Written by Ellis and drawn by Colleen Doran, this is a book for people who like what Warren Ellis is good at (Planetary, Global Frequency) and delivers in every way.

It is the story of the near future where the US Space program is dead.  It died ten years earlier when the Space Shuttle Venture disappeared in orbit during a mission.  Without any trace or explanation, it simply vanished, and manned spaceflight vanished with it.  Then the orbiter unexpectedly returns and lands at NASA.  The mission commander is the only one left aboard, the rest of the crew gone without any trace of ever having been there.  NASA brings out its best to find out where it has been, how it made the trip and what exactly happened while it was gone.  The mystery only gets deeper when they find sand in the landing gear, Martian sand.  That and the fact that the shuttle now has something very much like skin covering its exterior.

This cannot get as deep into the theoretical science as I was wishing for while reading it, but there is enough to make you want to grab for a physics book to see just how much of what Ellis is on about is real.  To one degree or another, all of it.  And the characters, while not fully developed by any means, have enough life to make them interesting.  Ellis’ books are very often not about the characters anyway.  They are there to serve the plot, which is there to allow Ellis to tell you what is on his mind at the moment.  Having been written around the time of the Columbia disaster, this book is a love letter to manned spaceflight, a lament that manned spaceflight is dying a slow death and a call of joy and hope at the possibilities still out there.

Colleen Doran’s art is also very nice and appropriate to the book.  A heavier line style than I remember from things like A Distant Soil, but very well applied to the tone of this book.  Her art has had a fairly anachronistic feel in the past.  No matter when a story was set, her art always felt like a fairytale.  That is nothing like what you get here.  This book looks and feels very modern and much like an Ellis book.  The art has to carry a lot of the load for tone, mood and characterization, while the text is very heavy with exposition to keep the reader connected to the science.  It was not a long read given its size, but a very engaging one.  I read it hungrily as it was a real page turner.

This is a much lighter book in tone compared to much of Ellis’ other works, but easily one of the best from his very fertile mind that I have seen in a long while.

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