With Earth in crisis, humans are travelling deep into space. But humanity’s future just took a wrong turn.
A seventeen-year colony-ship voyage – a straight shot to a new planet. Handpicked, single-minded crew, and a thousand settlers in hypersleep. No children, no families, no fuss.
That was the plan, anyway.
Captain Juno Washington commands a ship of loners and oddballs. The teenagers of the Odyssey Earth didn’t ask to be born, and face an uncertain future. And Jordan Booth really didn’t want to be woken up early.
After an unexpected change of course, relationships are tested like never before. If they listen to advice, pull together and stop squabbling, they might just make it.
Yeah, right. Good luck with that.
Juno laughed. “Ah, the age-old question. If you ask Reeves, he says that AI stands for ‘actually indifferent’ to humans, but that’s just his sense of humour. It’s an acquired taste.”
Orphan Planet is the first book in the Odyssey Earth series, and the debut in fiction by Rex Burke. A sci-fi proposal, along the lines of classic books in the genre, with a big component of humour that feels really on the spot, following the adventures of the crew of the Odyssey Earth, in their travel to a planet that might work as an alternative to the Earth. And more concretely, it follows the adventures of Jordan, a history teacher that has been woken up in order to take care of a really difficult task: take care of six teens.
But let's explain it a little bit more: it was planned to take seventeen years to travel to this alternative to the Earth, which Jordan was supposed to pass on cryo-sleep. Plans are not always perfect, and while he was in this state, some of the crew had newborns; so taking care of them become an important task that couldn't be delegated to the own crew.
And while it was first taken by Sam, another of the passengers, due to the circumstances, they feel forced to wake up Jordan Both, as his background seems the more adequate to take care of this lovely group, who are now in their teens.
"I wouldn’t let look after a hamster. We even had hamsters once, for research purposes, ‘had’ and ‘once’ being the operative words. So I didn’t feel I could trust that lot to look after our kids once they got older."
This is the problem that acts as fuel for the plot of Orphan Planet. We become spectators of how Jordan has to adapt to a new life, and more importantly, how he has to take the task of taking care of the education of these teens, born at the Odyssey Earth, and that never know of the original Earth. All of this with a fair dose of humour, a characteristic of this story at which Burke is excellent.
Most of the time, the spotlight will be on Jordan, a great character. He left the Earth as he basically had zero attachment to it; so taking this seventeen-year travel seemed easy. Being tasked with filling the shoes that were left by Sam, and taking care of teens; he didn't ask for it, but once he get into their routines, he starts to really appreciate them. A character that grows with the plot development.
The teens' group is certainly uncommon, as those six characters were born aboard the Odyssey Earth. Not having a real family outside of the others, they are quite particular, as again, they don't have previous knowledge of the Earth outside of films/books they can get. Each one of them is different and unique in its own way.
Among the secondary characters, I would also like to bring the spotlight on Reeves, the snarky AI that controls the spacecraft, and is certainly one of the biggest sources of jokes across the book, in the style of other AIs in classic sci-fi.
Jordan took another sip and shuddered. As coffee, it was a shocker. On the other hand, as a warm drink based on the twin aromas of stagnant pond water and heated armpit, Noffee was a triumph. There were notes of dead badger and crotch, and a cheeky top-end of failure and dejection. It was – and fair play to it for succeeding on its own nominative terms – very definitely Not Coffee.
While the plot is not exactly too complex, it works well to introduce us to the world, and to keep us reading. I would say it's pretty enjoyable, in the way of classic sci-fi, presenting us with a story solid by itself; not excessively technical, soft in the science elements, but really strong on the fiction ones.
Humour is one of the key pieces in this book. Writing a funny book is difficult, but certainly, Burke has done a great job, with a really British sense of humour, that remembers me much to some Monthy Python sketches. And while we have several jokes, they are spread enough to keep the pacing and the plot flowing.
Orphan Planet is a great first book, and it fulfills perfectly the promise of being a funny and feels-good proposal. If you are in the mood for a humourous classic sci-fi adventure, do yourself a favour and pick this book, because it won't let you down, and you will discover your next favourite author.
Rex Burke is a SciFi writer based in North Yorkshire, UK.
When he was young, he read every one of those yellow-jacketed Victor Gollancz hardbacks in his local library. He’s sure there are still thrilling SciFi adventures to be told – even if he has to write them himself.
When he’s not writing, he travels – one way or another, he’ll get to the stars, even if it’s just as stardust when his own story is done.