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Orbital Resonance Paperback – 4 May 1998

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Paperback, 4 May 1998
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About the Author

John Barnes is professor of English and theatre studies in the US. He is a Hugo and Nebula award shortlisted author.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 21 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
The Tale Begins..... 31 Dec. 2000
By Philip Manitta - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is the book that introduced many of us to John Barnes. For many of us, it is still our favorite. A lot of very "Barnesian" ideas are established here. For one thing, all of his books except for Mother of Storms and One for the Morning Glory are written in the first person. What probably hooked me more than anything else on his writing is that he chose to make his debut with a book written from the first person of a 13 year old girl. Personally, I can't think of any demographic that I have LESS in common with than teenage girls. And I certainly wouldn't attempt to write a novel from that perspective. Barnes has an incredible gift for putting himself in his characters' shoes and telling it from their point of view. Regardless of how radically different their personalities are, they always seem authentic. How the different personalities of Melpomene Murray, Currie Curran, Joshua Ali Quare and Giraut Leone could all spring from the same mind and all feel unique and authentic is a trick I'll certainly never master. (I guess that's why he's published and I'm not.) Comparisons to Ender's Game are appropriate. Even though Melpomene and Ender have very little in common, they are both written by superb authors who managed to authentically empathize with children.
Another precedent here is that he doesn't pull any punches. Melpomene is a 13 year old girl. Well, she's gonna face situations that a 13 year old girl would likely face, and she's going to deal with them the way a 13 year old girl realistically would. That means it might make you occasionally blush. (However, despite a certain reviewer's knee-jerk reaction, this is NOT a book about adolescent girls describing their orgasms.) But don't worry - when you graduate to "Kaleidescope Century", you'll get the same treatment from the point of view of a mercenary assassin. And yes, that book will SCARE you. But this is what makes his writing so powerful and authentic.
You're also going to find that John Barnes NEVER writes 1 dimensional characters, nor does he ever let them get the easy answers. There are no "good guys" and "bad guys" in his books. Well... OK, Kaleidescope Century has some pretty unredeemable people, and Phil and Monica from Candle are archetypal saints - but I suspect he's saving them for a full treatment in another novel. But on the whole, every character is going to do something you wouldn't be proud of at some point. And every character has some noble spark of humanity. You can't just divide up his characters into column A - the ones I don't like, and column B - the ones I like. Nope. Fortunately, they actually have personalities and relationships.
But Barnes's greatest strength is his world-building skill. He could have just said - in 2026, people will live on colonized asteroids because Earth is over-populated, and terraforming of Mars has begun. But.... no. The whole back story behind why the Flying Dutchman exists and why the people there live the way they do is extrapolated back to the end of the 20th century. At the end of the book, you know that all of the events here are part of a very logical flow of ideas in a very thoroughly thought out history. Nothing feels really contrived. At the same time - you know that you haven't heard the whole story yet. While Melpomene gives us considerable background on the situation on earth, ultimately that is not the story she was trying to tell. Two books later (Kaleidescope Century and Candle - which are not precisely sequels but do take place in the same universe) and we STILL don't have the whole picture, and the canvas keeps getting bigger!
Now, despite all the literary kudos, the most compelling reason to read this book is that it's simply a damn good fun read! Yeah, sure, essentially, it's "just" a well-written coming of age story. But what makes that a bad thing? I rarely read novels more than once. Why would I want to waste time on a book I've already read when there are so many more out there to discover? And I can count the books (or rather, series of books) I've read more than twice on just the fingers of one hand. With the recent publication of Candle in paperback, my thirst for John Barnes was rekindled. (pun deliberate, sorry!) To keep all the events straight in my mind, I just added Orbital Resonance and Kaleidescope Century to that prized list.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Where's Ender? 17 Jun. 2001
By Michael Battaglia - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
All told, this was a fun book, and Barnes should be given lots of credit for writing from the viewpoint of a thirteen year old girl (which I can say from experience is one of the most self absorbed groups on the planet . . .) and making it utterly entertaining, he definitely pulls you into the world he's created and makes you care for his characters. What we have here is a future Earth that is being ravaged by diseases and wars and the usual stuff that always happens in the future, and so a lot of people have pulled themselves into an orbiting colony in an attempt to get above it all while the earth pulls itself together. Enter our protagonist, Mel (I won't even try to spell her whole name) who is concerned with the usual thirteen year old fascinations, puberty, boys, classwork and friends and . . . oh yeah, saving the world. Or at least getting ready to run it. But all of that seems almost secondary to the writings of this young girl, we get a peek into her and the life of teenagers and how their social pecking order works. Mel's a fascinating character, she loves her family, can act real annoying sometimes and alternates wallowing in angst and self congratulation. When her father admits that the kids are being conditioned psychologically to want to help save the world and run it, her reaction is quite realistic considering the circumstances and you can't help but feel for her. However, Barnes doesn't have much to say about the interactions of teenagers other than the usual amazement of how cruel and kind they can be to each other at the same time, most of the clique stuff you can see coming a mile off once the gears start rolling and that familiarity takes away from some of its emotional impact. Most of the adults except for maybe her father are ciphers, especially her mother. Still, her growing relationship with a boy she has a crush on is touching and does make you want to cheer her on, the scenes involving races are gripping, the science fiction is as good as it comes and Mel's writing can be aggravating, but it can also be moving and exciting at the same time. Some of the negative comments about this story I can't understand, the organism scene lasts for about three lines and is mentioned only one other time and being that teenage girls are teenage girls, is a valid subject for any novel about them, in my opinion. The things that struck me the most were the rather abrupt ending and the mental comparsions I kept making to Orson Card's classic, which this approaches but alas doesn't surpass or even equal. Taken on its own terms, it's a highly entertaining young adult novel in the vein of early Heinlein (which is the other author this reminds me of), swift and fun and maybe a little more sophisticated but not much more than that. Still he hasn't done a bad book yet and if you find this to your fancy, go read A Million Open Doors which is even better.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A must-read for John Barnes fans 3 Jun. 2000
By joe_n_bloe - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Now that with the end of the 1990s the scope of John Barnes's work has become clearer, it's possible to put his first "hit" novel, Orbital Resonance, into perspective. It's a very Heinleinesque SF novel about a spacebound culture told from the first-person perspective of a thirteen year old girl. It's also a coming-of-age story, but ... with a twist. It's a sort of an-entire-spaceship-coming-of-age story. If there's one pattern that Orbital Resonance begins to establish, it's Barnes's interest in cultural change and evolution and the planning thereof. (Sounds like Heinlein again, doesn't it?)
A well-written book that needs that "almost a short story" feel, Orbital Resonance is a good introduction to John Barnes. It won't give you much of a feel for what his longer books are like, but then again, they don't resemble one another all that much either.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Enjoyable, classic SF reminiscent of Heinlein 3 Nov. 2003
By Matic - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book is a worthy addition to the sub-genre of SF which focuses on the young man or woman growing into themselves within a new frontier of space. It stands well alongside books like Heinlien's immortal "Have Space Suit, Will Travel" and "Space Cadet," Or Clarke's "Islands In The Sky." I have found it to be entertaining, stimulating and as good as anything written in SF in the past 5 years. Anyone who enjoys this particular sub-genre will enjoy Orbital Resonance immensely.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
lim kopey! 15 Jan. 2002
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The most common themes that seem to emerge in Young Adult science fiction are the same that we face upon becoming adults: realising the world isn't as it seems, feeling the burden of responsibility, the way we begin to resent adults as we realise that they have to do things that are unpleasant, and that we ourselves will have to do things that we are not entirely comfortable with, during our passage to adulthood. John Barnes has addressed these themes in a stellar book that I think was intended for adults, but makes wonderful and enlightening reading for smart kids and young adults alike.
Melpomene is a young woman living on a corporate space-station who must deal with everday life like everyone else, its triumphs and its embarassments. She does well in school, has good status with her class-mates, but must deal with the embarassment she faces when her mother quits her station job (exposing her to be unproductive, not socially responsible, basically an oddity to everyone else on the station, an outsider) and spents all her time lounging round their apartment reading boring novels sent from earth. The story is told through Mel's journal entries, written in retrospect, and is an account of the arrival of a newcomer to the station: a boy from earth who has been shuffled around by unwanted relatives and is 'different', too earthlike, for the tastes of our mature, space-station reared class of children. With his arrival comes that of bullying, something that children on the space station haven't experienced before...
This book succeeds so well as young adult fiction because the characters are complex, there is no clear cut good and bad, and Melpomene faces adulthood sooner than she would like as her sense of fairness and her leadership qualities come into play, forcing her to take a responsible role that reveals the station's plans for her for the future. A discovery with which comes a jarring understanding of what it means to be an adult. In the tradition of Growing up Weightless and The Giver: a well-concieved, unusual and original read. Superb understanding of what it means to grow up, from one of the genre's best authors.
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