by Gary Tarulli
Cover Artist: Phil Young
Review by April Disney
Gary Tarulli Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780615563435
Date: 16 November 2011 List Price $12.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Writer Kyle Lorenzo is the only non-scientist along on an extrasolar visit to an unnamed planet. He, along with five others and his dog, must find a way to survive the little known ocean world, not to mention the other expedition members, or the anxiously awaiting public back on Earth. This novel, Gary Tarulli's first, hits the sweet spot between riveting science fiction and psychological case study.
Orb is told from Kyle's point of view, via his journal. His personality is wonderfully flawed, and his story-within-a-story is told in such a manner that it is easy to get through despite the lack of serious action. Introspection is well mixed with dialogue, creating continuous readability without awkward starts and stops, or worse yet, pages of boring scientific explanation. Indeed, Orb is more a story focusing on character development and human possibility than flashy gene splicing or theoretical physics. The focus is on the biological and psychological aspects of science fiction, which are hard to write well but are handled without a hitch here.
Psychologically, Tarulli puts forth an interesting question: how would a small group handle a long extrasolar trip into the relative unknown? His hypothesis: even the most well-adjusted among us would have trouble in such a situation. The story outright states this, but perhaps more importantly, the fear of such an outcome is clear in the writing of the main character. It casts a shadow on everything Kyle says or does, in such a manner that the reader is aware of Kyle's bias even as Kyle is. The way Tarulli defends his hypothesis through the writing of Kyle is realistic enough that the reader won't have to suspend disbelief to enjoy the story. Even better, the conclusion that despite humanity's troubles with each other and with personal expectations, the beauty of a given situation can be grasped and appreciated even in the face of adversity.
Biologically, the novel presents a more esoteric but nevertheless fascinating question: how does one define life? Can a rock be alive? An ocean? Perhaps not, at least not according to our definition. But what if our definition is the anomaly, and the true meaning of being alive is beyond our ability to even understand? How would we even know to look for it in that case? Humanity's knowledge, great as it seems, might only occupy a small corner of the truth (and probably does, despite the fact that many of us are loathe to admit it). In a larger sense, the novel speaks to the reader of not only acknowledging the limitations we, as a species have, but also in learning to overcome it by considering even the most unlikely of possibilities.
Orb is highly satisfying for a first novel. The scientific questions raised are not cliché and the author deals with them in a mature but entertaining manner. Recommended for anyone with a thirst for good character study or deeply speculative science fiction.