ORION AND KING ARTHUR
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
It has been several years since the last time Ben Bova chronicled the exploits of his eternal warrior, Orion. He has returned to the character in Orion and King Arthur, a retelling of the story of Camelot which adds a later to the traditional tale by allowing Orion to discover the mechanizations of the futuristic beings who are attempting to control the path the world’s history takes.
Although most of Bova’s story follows the traditional path, providing some insight into the “behind the scenes” activities and motivations for Merlin, the Lady of the Lake, and Morganna, it begins by placing both Orion and a young Arthur at Hrothgar’s court in Beowulf before following Orion and Arthur several years later as Arthur collects his earliest knights, including Kay, Bors, Gawain, and Lancelot. The action then skips several years to show the end of Arthur’s reign as Modred seeks to overthrow his father and Orion must try to rescue Arthur from his predetermined death. The action takes in most of the high points of the traditional Arthur story, yet focuses more on Orion and his view of what is happening.
In previous novels, Bova has depicted Orion as the unwilling tool of the nearly godlike Aten, fighting against his creator in an attempt to bring his own morality to the situations for which Aten seeks his own resolution. Despite Orion’s rebelliousness, Aten continues to reincarnate his creation, although the situation is not quite that simple, as Orion finally learns in Orion and King Arthur. Orion is also able to use the support of his lover, Anya, who is one of Aten’s peers but frequently opposes his goals and uses Orion in her own ways. Through the course of the novel, Orion learns more about his creator, Anya, and a couple of other gods who make appearances, as his own grasp on his abilities grows beyond those originally given to him by Aten.
One of the stranger aspects of Orion and King Arthur is that although Orion's does not remember specifics and often comments that his memory is wiped between each of the missions Aten sends him on, he can remember pieces of his history, recounting to the reader, when appropriate, his adventures in other periods, some of which are in the past for him, such as his adventures with Alexander the Great, and others are set chronological later than Arthur's reign. Bova never offers a rationale for this discrepancy, however as Orion is undergoing a change and expansion of his abilities throughout the course of the novel, it may be a side effect. Orion's increased abilities also set the character up for additional books in the series, indicating new life in this character who was introduced twenty-four years ago and who has been in abeyance for the last seventeen.
Had Bova merely written his story about Arthur and his knights, there would have been little to distinguish it from so many other re-tellings of the matter of Britain. The addition of Orion and the gods with with whom he must contend offers a different look at Arthur's struggles. Bova creates an intriguing chessboard on which humans are the pieces, and while there appears to be an overall predetermined destiny for mankind, Bova introduces the possibility that through human agency, or at least through the agency of some individuals, that predestiny can be subverted.
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