[Book Review] Dark Orbit

Dark Orbit / Carolyn Ives Gilman

I'd managed to both hear a lot about Dark Orbit and yet retain nearly nothing about it going in.  It seemed like it would be a good Virtual Speculation pick, so I threw it on the list for October.

On the surface Dark Orbit is a SpecFic re-imagining of Country of the Blind (with less xenophobia).  Saraswati Callicot spends her life leaping across decades as she explores new worlds reachable only through FTL travel.  When she's sent on a new mission to secretly keep an eye on Thora Lassiter and the trouble that may seek her out, she expects little issue.  But the world they visit defies expectation or experience, and presents dangers that could never be anticipated.

In many ways this is a book about perception.  How our perceptions shape everything we encounter, and how others perceptions shape us.  For all that the story involves both a murder and a missing persons investigation as well as natural disaster, the narrative tends towards the cerebral over action yet retains some of the grandeur of a space opera.

Discussion Fodder:
  • How does the story discuss the concept of self?  How does translation and reconstitution effect the self?  What about beminding?  How does perception of the characters shape and effect the narrative?
  • Does, as Thora say, understanding destroy unfamiliarity?  What exactly does that mean?
  • What exactly is beminding?  Is it unique to the application of wending, or is it something that ties into real life?
  • In a conversation between Ashok and David we hear "That's what buzzwords are.  Tranquilizers."  "Thought suppressants, you mean."  What do you think the roles of buzzwords are?
  • How does the story handle blindness?  What did the author get right, what is wrong?  How do the characters (mis)interpret sightedness and blindenss?  What examples of assistive and adaptive technology show up?
  • The women of Orem worship Witassa, the Shameless One in secret.  What is the power of shame or of being shameless?
  • How does the narrative balance mysticism and science?

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