January 2004
2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Orbital Burn by K. A. Bedford
Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing Trade: ISBN 1894063104 PubDate: 09/01/03
Review by Lucy Schmeidler

305 pgs. List price $14.95
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What do you get when you cross a hard SF adventure novel with the kind of weirdness usually associated more with magic realism? Orbital Burn, a short  trade paperback by an unknown Australian from an unknown Canadian small press publisher. Nonetheless, Orbital Burn is an extremely readable book, with characters who are easy to identify with, and one interesting scene following another.

"Lou" Meagher is a down-on-her-luck unlicensed PI, waiting to be evacuated from a planet threatened by an unstoppable "doomsday rock," when she takes on one last case. But Lou is clinically dead, and her client is an enhanced, talking dog, whose companion. a defective, "disposable" android boy whom he knows simply as "Kid," has been snatched away.

This book has a delightfully strange feel to it, even though the setting and plot seem normal enough, as if any science- fictional world can be considered truly "normal," in line with a reader's actual experience. But Bedford manages to mix the known with the imagined, as in the opening scene in which Lou sits drinking espresso in a rundown diner, alone except for the proprietor. An ordinary enough scene? But then they exchange comments on Lou's physical condition, dead but functioning, as long as her nanosystems can manage the maintenance. The juxtaposition of the routine and the unusual is just enough to keep the reader aware that he's definitely not in Kansas any more.

In a private communication, Bedford wrote: "I tried hard on the weird bits. I think the far future will be very weird, at least from our point of view. If anything, I'd have opted to make that book more strange and more satirical, given the chance."

My one reservation concerns the conclusion, in which everything is tied up by a sort of aliens ex machina, which neatly explains all the most puzzling events: Who kidnapped the Kid, and why? Why wasn't the planet destroyed? However, since there is a sequel coming, I can still hope that there will be further divergences from life as we know it, to restore the sense of unreality.

2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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