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Orbital Resonance Hardcover – 1 Dec 1991
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
As for the rest of Melpomene's story, and how it is received on earth, we will never know....
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.
Orbital Resonance by John Barnes includes all these elements but in a deceivingly benign manner. A group of humans have been selected to begin a new life in a space station away from a dying Earth. The initial colonizers, realizing the children are their hope for survival, use genetic engineering, electronic monitoring, and psychological manipulation to socialize and control the actions of their children. Life on the "Flying Dutchmen" requires conformity. This conformity is enforced via socialization of the young such that conformity is second nature; genetic tinkering is used to ensure that this socialization works. The children growing up on the "Flying Dutchman" are truly denizens of space, seeing Earth as a distant, foreign environment. They are completely different and alienated from their parents.
Finding out her life has been closely scripted whereby seemingly free choices were really genetically and psychologically predetermined does little to deter the teenage protagonist, Melpomene. Unfortunately Barnes does not use this strong character to question the cleverly inconspicuous totalitarian nature of the society he creates. Instead, Melpomene goes about her daily routines and the eventual climax has more to do with the unbreechable generation gap than it does with the social control exercised by her parent's generation. The story itself is rather bland but is saved by the interesting characters Barnes develops.
It is odd the lack of attention Barnes devotes toward the worst invasions of human dignity perpetrated by his characters. The children are genetically engineered with certain abilities and are psychologically manipulated to respond certain ways to stimuli. Yet little discussion of the moral or social implications of genetic engineering ensues. Melpomene's father rationalizes the actions of his generation as being necessary for the survival of humans and the children of the "Flying Dutchmen", seeing himself as a benevolent guardian of their future. The normative questions opened by this rationalization remain unexplored. This makes Orbital Resonance less satisfying.
Book Review by C. Douglas Baker
What happens if society decides to experiment on itself by altering the fundamental manner in which it raises its children, with the intent of producing vastly smarter and more responsible youngsters capable of entering the workforce at an earlier age with adult-like attitudes and skill sets that would make a modern college graduate green with envy? What happens to the adults upon whom the responsibility falls to raise the children in such a manner?
Whatever does happen, it had better work, because the Earth is failing rapidly as a result of ecological warfare on an unheard of scale, with the biosphere's state swinging first one way, then another.
Mankind needs new crews to man the great interplanetary transports that are hoped will be able to ship enough people off Earth and enough food back to keep everything from the brink of collapse, and the only way to get enough competent crew, crew who are willing to spend their lives in space and want to stay there, indeed, have every reason to stay there, are to raise them there, so that is their home from the beginning.
And how do you get a crew like that quicker than the 25 to 30 years a typical top-flight astronaut takes to develop? You take a new system of learning that completely revolutionizes the education process. The technical results are impressive, but the social results are interesting, to say the least.
The characters of the novel are the children of the experiment, and a few adults. For the most part, it is a coming of age story told anew, for it is a coming of age to adulthood far earlier than any children in history. It is told with bright-eyed clarity and absolute precision. The author tells of pre-adolescence from the point of view of those going through it.
The technology, its assumptions, and the society built by the expediency of need, and its assumptions, all drive the combination of assertions that create the knitted whole that is Orbital Resonance.
Those who are well-read enough to know of Alexi Panshin's book Rite of Passage (Nebula Award winner for best novel, 1969), will appreciate this book even more.
Orbital Resonance was a Nebula Award nominee for best novel, 1992.