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Orbital: Scars (volume one)

Posted: Wednesday, July 15, 2009
By: Penny Kenny

Sylvain Runberg
Serge Pellé
Cinebook
Caleb and the Sandjarr Mezoke, special agents for an inter-galactic multi-species organization similar to the UN, are sent to the planet Senestam to prevent a war from breaking out between the Jävlods and a human colony. However, there are those in the Confederation who would like nothing more than to see the rookie agents fail.

I love this book!

If Babylon 5 was must see TV for you; if C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series holds an honored place on your bookshelves; if you treasure back issues of Teri S. Wood’s Wandering Star; if Crest/Banner of the Stars is your anime of choice, then you need to get your hands on a copy of Orbital: Scars NOW!

Sylvain Runberg doesn’t reinvent the space opera. He simply takes familiar elements and uses them to their fullest potential--making them seem brand new in the process.

The story reads smoothly. Runberg avoids the common Scylla and Charybdis of science fiction--too much or too little exposition. The information necessary for the reader to feel comfortable in this future comes out naturally through the characters’ dialog.

Representatives of the various alien races are either meeting for the first time or running across one another after a separation of some time. In their conversations, important details come out. The discussion concerning Mezoke’s gender is surprising because it both brings up an unusual fact about the character and comes up so naturally in the conversation. There’s nothing forced about it.

Politics play a large part in this story, with several different agendas being served. Not every alien is happy to have humans admitted to the Confederation. Then there are the isolationist humans who don’t exactly like being part of the Confederation. And then there’s the Jävlod-human problem.

The whole issue of human-Sandjarr relations is made flesh in Caleb and Mezoke. Fifteen years prior to the main events in this volume, the humans nearly wiped out the Sandjarr in a war of aggression. There are very few Sandjarr left. The Confederation’s idea is to use Caleb and Mezoke as an example, sort of a “Look! Former enemies can work together.” Whether that’s true or not, remains to be seen.

To Runberg’s credit, Caleb and Mezoke don’t come off as stick figure representatives of two different ideologies. While we don’t learn much about the Sandjarr, we do get some background on Caleb and it will be interesting to see just how big a role his history plays in the story.

As the son of Confederation activists who were killed in an Isolationist terrorist attack, it would seem Caleb would have some issues with those trying to segregate the races. He comes across as a cheerful optimist at first glance, but there are scenes that suggest there’s some anger boiling beneath the surface. He’s also shown to be good at his job.

Don’t let the abundance of politics and ideas scare you away from this book. Runberg provides lots of action. These diplomats don’t sit at tables and talk for hours on end. They’re out in the field dealing with hostile aliens.

There are just so many details in this book to love: the bonding ceremony between agents, the magnetopods test, cerebral sponge, extracted pilot Nina Liebert, and did I mention the giant bugs?!

There’s also one of the bigger mysteries: What exactly is beneath the surface of Senestam?

Serge Pellé’s art is beautiful. His designs for the different alien races are subtle. Their variations grow on you rather than startle you at once. Fans of B5’s Narns will be happy to see a similar-looking race here.

The designs are intricate, but able to be taken in at a glance. The time that Pellé must spend on the alien backdrops, ships, and uniforms boggles my mind!

Then there’s the two-and-a-half-page spread dealing with the entire history of the human-Sandjarr-Jävlod conflict. Pellé uses narrow panels (taking up the width of the page) that are filled with details. There’s no wasted space. Each element in the design contributes added information to the text. It ends up looking like a newsreel--which is basically what the characters are experiencing it as.

Oh, there’s an absolutely perfect panel that I have to mention. The text is describing a horrific moment in the human-Sandjarr war. Rather than illustrate that horrific event, Pellé shows the reactions of each of the characters to the information. This approach invites readers to use their imaginations while simultaneously providing concrete character information.

This first volume of Orbital is a terrific opening to the series, and I really hope it finds a following among comic book and science fiction fans.



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