Review of Orbit by John J. Nance

July 27, 2006 by · 1 Comment
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Science Fiction Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Orbit by John J. NanceOrbit
By John J. Nance, read by the author
1 MP3-CD, Approx. 9 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 2005
ISBN: 1593356919
Themes: / Science Fiction / Near Future / Space Flight

Poor Kip Dawson, not only is he saddled with a shrewish wife who doesn’t support his aspirations, an estranged son who doesn’t understand him, and a humdrum job he doesn’t enjoy, but when he finally realizes his one true dream of flying into space on a private space-tourism ship as the winner of an international contest, he finds himself stranded there with a dead pilot and no way to start the engines or contact the earth. Even worse, he seems completely unaware that he is nothing but a static clip-art character dragged and dropped into a dull exercise in word processing.

The story has the potential to accomplish so much: Thrilling adventures as those on the ground seek to help our man in space by shooting down a large piece of space debris headed his way and scrambling not one but four spacecraft to reach him before his air scrubbers give out; gripping human drama as he spins out his entire sexual history, his shallow self-reflections, and his talk-show psychologist advice to the world in a blog he doesn’t know is being sent live to the ground; and even a hint of heart-warming romance with the head of PR for the private space tourism company. Alas, John Nance’s handling of this potential reads like a To Do list scrawled in the margins of an outline. The tale is boosted by a few interesting complications and the feeling that it could technically all happen tomorrow, but it is brought crashing back to the launch pad by an infantile understanding of the politics of the space program, an even more infantile understanding of men and their desires and fears, and a supremely infantile understanding of women and love.

I’ll give the audio version this: At least it’s brief. This is due to Nance’s remarkable ability to produce syllables rapidly. But there is a distracting microphone lisp throughout, and a remarkable sameness to the delivery of the dialog, the exposition, the inner thoughts of the characters, and the chapter numbers. Nance shows he’s a good sport with his hilarious rendition of father and son Australian accents, but other than that, there isn’t much you hear that you won’t soon gladly forget.

This book aims high, and for that I can forgive a lot. But it is betrayed by haste and inattention. The moments that should be the most involving and emotionally satisfying instead read like the author would rather be somewhere else, doing something else. And that’s how you’ll feel too, should you be unfortunate enough to listen. Take my advice: Don’t.

Posted by Kurt Dietz