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Orbital Burn
K.A. Bedford
Edge, 305 pages

Art: David Day
Orbital Burn
K.A. Bedford
Reclusive by nature, K.A. Bedford writers full-time from his home in Ballajura, Western Australia. Orbital Burn is his first published novel.

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SF Site Review: Orbital Burn

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

Lou is minding her own business at her favorite -- and the only -- local diner, waiting out the last few days before leaving the planet of Kestrel, which is about to be struck by a huge, unknown space object and obliterated. She knows her future is bleak. Years ago an extremely nasty nanovirus began destroying her tissues, killing her. It's only the nanobots constantly repairing her system that keeps her going, but even they will soon begin to fail unless she comes up with enough creds to get another nano-tank treatment. Her newest client, however, won't help in that department. A soulful eyed beagle who can talk named Dog is willing to give himself to her, if she'll help him find the young disposable boy that he's been taking care of. Kid, called a disposable because, like so many engineered servants, he's a humanoid (made with all the same building blocks we are) creation meant to be used up and destroyed. Kid has an exceptional ability. Even though he is riddled with disease, and can't talk, he can broadcast his emotions and mental pictures, which is how Dog found him. Kid and Dog were living a hard but livable life begging for scraps when one day, Kid is kidnapped. What no one realized, especially not Lou, is how much trouble looking for one little throw-away kid would create.

Soon Lou is uncovering a mess of dead bodies, police corruption and intrigue as she uses old fashioned gumshoe work, nifty technology and luck to try and figure out what's going on. A mysterious woman appears out of nowhere, warning her, but her warnings are so crazed that Lou can't find a way to pay attention to them. It's only in hindsight that she's able to guess their meaning. She tracks down one possible culprit, Etienne Tourignon, a shifty businessman. She also receives unsolicited help from the Otaru, an ancient computer consciousness. But is the Otaru helping her, or setting her up? I enjoyed the technology, especially the Papers, a sort of extremely powerful computer that you can fold up and stick in your pocket just like a sheet of, well, paper, and the augmentations on Dog are extremely neat. The technology also scares me. The idea of people just randomly releasing a nanovirus at a party just for the heck of it is terrible, but entirely feasible. After all, the human body would be the ultimate hack.

There's also an interesting theme about what makes a human human. How people treat disposables, who, except for their lack of hair and, sometimes, the lack of life in their eyes, seem as human as any of us. Lou sees a pair of disposables working together seamlessly, their companionship as warm and human as anything she's ever witnessed as they hurry to finish before the planet is hit. In her reality, if they are destroyed, it's no big deal, another set will be pulled from storage. But it begs a lot of questions about what will be lost if they die. Will the next set really be the same, or will they have lost the things the first two learned, the things that affected them and developed them. Also, what happened to Lou's soul when she died? Is she any different? Did she loose it? And, as a dead person, she looses the majority of her rights. Doesn't she, as a thinking being, deserve those rights still? Many of these same questions were asked by Otaru, who fears the idea of machine hell even as he desires an end. When you contrast these thoughts to the real life disposability of humans we face all the time, it's a sobering concept.

A nifty combination of film noir and science fiction, Orbital Burn takes us on a different, thoughtful adventure.

Copyright © 2004 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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