Tuesday, 5 August 2008

‘Orphanage’ – Robert Buettner (Orbit Books)


Earth is under attack from a slug like alien race that are throwing rocks at us, from somewhere near Ganymede, and our hero is one of a brave band of soldiers that represent our last hope. He’s going to go through a hellish boot camp where his mistake will lead to the death of a comrade and he must ponder long on what it means to be an infantryman. The woman he loves will fall for a dashing star pilot and the next woman he loves will die in battle. Ultimately though, our hero will stand up to be counted and turn the tide of war when all else fails…
No, I’m not talking about the movie ‘Starship Troopers’ although I very easily could have been. What I have for you today is the first book in Robert Buettner’s ‘Jason Wander’ series, a ‘military sci-fi’ adventure that suffers through its similarities (to other works in the same sub-genre) but also has enough flashes of promise to make me want to see what happens next…

Like I said, if you’ve seen ‘Starship Troopers’ (or any ‘rites of passage in boot camp’ book or film) then you will know what’s going to happen in ‘Orphanage’, there’s no need for me to go into this part of the plot in any great detail.
To be fair, I guess this kind of approach is needed in order to set things up for future events as well as lend some plausibility to what the soldiers will be seen to do as the plot progresses. In this respect it’s done very well, not a lot left out that I could see, but I just couldn’t escape from the feeling that I’d seen it all before…

The rest of the story suffers from ‘déjà vu’ as well. Don’t get me wrong, I found it fun to read with plenty of gunfights (I love gunfights!) and enough attention paid to fleshing out the characters so that I found myself getting into their heads and empathising with what they had going on. I’ll definitely be picking up the next book just to see what Jason Wander has to contend with next.
Again, the problem was that I’d seen all this play out already in ‘Starship Troopers’… I could take a pretty good guess at what was going to happen next (and where Jason would be at the end of the book) and would be proved right nine times out of ten at least. Luckily there were other things that kept my interest but if this hadn’t been the case then I would have had to ask myself why I was reading a book that I found to be very predictable.

However, ‘Orphanage’ redeems itself though with flashes of originality that make the book an entity in its own right and promise good things for future books in the series.
One thing that I particularly liked was the emphasis that Buettner placed on the environmental after affects of the alien projectile attack on Earth, painting a picture of a dust covered earth slowly choking to death and running out of supplies. Even though I knew how it had to turn out, I still liked the way that this background picture lent a sense of urgency to humanity’s mission on Ganymede. The military decision only to use orphaned soldiers, on the Ganymede mission also gives things a poignant air and is another good way to get inside the heads of each character.
I also liked the way that Buettner placed the book in a real life context by looking at how Earth would really cope in terms of striking back against alien attack. This isn’t a vision of a gleaming sci-fi future, this is a world thirty years away where you have to scavenge what you need (from much older spacecraft) in order to get your ‘new’ spacecraft off the ground. There’s no laser weaponry either, just whatever can be hastily adapted to service on another planet. This ‘gritty’ approach makes things seem a little darker and I personally like that in a book!

‘Orphanage’ is a book that I found to have too many similarities, to other media, to really stand out. Having said that though, it’s an entertaining read which promises good things to come. I’m sticking around for the next book at least…

Seven out of Ten

3 comments:

Mark Chitty said...

Sounds interesting and seeing as I've heard some good things about the series it might be worth putting up with the inevitable similarities.

I doubt it will be anywhere near as good as Old Man's War, looking forward ot see what you think of that one :)

Rich said...

Got this delivered from Amazon yesterday AM. I saw it in my local Waterstones but didn't fancy doing £6.99 for it or taking up the 3 for 2 offer and getting the three available. I didn't fel confident enough about it to pay that much. Reading your review and having recently rewatched Starship troopers 1 and 2, I'm glad I spent only £3.56 free delivery from amazon. Sounds about the right price.

BTW Starship Troopers 3 is a total stinker. Watch drunk and think MST3K.

Graeme Flory said...

My review for 'Old Man's War' should go up tomorrow, I loved it :o)

Rich - It's actually not a bad read, just really similar... (Although I do find myself wanting to watch Starship Troopers now!)