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Orbiter

Written by Steve Warren Ellis, Drawn by Colleen Doran

Publisher: DC Comics

Format: Hardcover, full color, $24.95

Category: Adult Drama

Dewey: 741.5 ELL or FIC ELL

Subjects: Comics and comic books, etc.; Science fiction; Action and adventure

ISBN-13: 978-1-40120-056-5

Reviewed by: Kat Kan

When the shuttle Columbia crashed on February 1, 2003, just days after the 17th anniversary of the Challenger explosion, it sent a shock through many people, including myself, and including Ellis and Doran, who had just recently finished Orbiter. How fitting that they have dedicated it to the memory of Columbia's crew, for the book offers a hope for our future in space.

Set in the not-too-distant future, the manned space program is all but kaput due to the mysterious disappearance of the space shuttle Venture minutes after take-off ten years before. Now it has returned to the Kennedy Space Center, which had been abandoned and taken over by squatters. Colonel Bukovic of U.S. Space Command quickly pulls together a team to investigate: Michelle Robeson, the last astronaut corps veteran, scientist Terry Marx of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Dr. Anna Bracken, former NASA psychiatrist. The Venture has returned with a strange organic coating, strange new instrumentation, and one crew member of the original seven, and sand from Mars lodged in the landing gear. As the team investigates all the impossibilities that have occurred, they privately confess their dreams of going into space and lament the end of the program. John Cort, the one surviving crew member, reacts psychotically and violently at first, but Anna manages to get him to talk and relive the launch. Meanwhile, Marx is trying to figure out how the Venture could have flown through space for ten years with no fuel or proper engines, and Michelle tries to figure out the purpose of the skin covering the shuttle. When Anna points out a comment made by the initial team who first went into the Venture after its landing, she sparks Marx, who fires up Michelle, and they come up with an answer that should be impossible. The answer they get means that humans aren't alone in the universe. And they feel their dreams coming alive again.

Ellis and Doran have crafted a great science fiction story which is very much of today, but contains a sense of wonder reminiscent of the stories by Asimov, Heinlein, and others. Science plays a strong role in the story, but the characters and their aspirations are just as important. Anyone who has ever looked up into the stars and wondered what it's like out there will love this book. A bit of harsh language here and there would be the only thing keeping this from being appropriate for younger teens. I highly recommend this for public and academic libraries, and for high school libraries where the occasional bad language won't be a problem.