I don’t see a lot of middle grade science fiction – certainly not space-based! – so I was really intrigued when Orion Lost showed up unannounced on my doorstep… It’s a really enjoyable rollick of a spaceship adventure!
Book: Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm
Read before: No
Ownership: Proof copy sent free of charge by Nosy Crow. All opinions my own.
The action kicks off when Beth, a thirteen year old girl who has joined a space colony mission with her parents, is the one of the six children left awake after a catastrophic “Event” has left all the adults in permanent stasis. The ship is stranded far further from home than they should be, everything is broken, and none of the children have enough training to sort it out. It’s a classic sci-fi premise, and one that works really well here, as we watch Beth and friends come to terms with their strengths and weaknesses, and try to survive against a failing ship, hostile aliens, and an AI that may not be acting in their best interests.
I always say that it’s a sign of a great story when you’d be more than happy to keep reading the set up before the first crisis, and that’s definitely true here. Granted, I love an academy story, but I really enjoyed the look at Beth’s spaceship command classes and the tensions between her classmates, and would have been happy to follow her through daily life on the Orion! There are some interesting concepts discussed, especially Beth’s ongoing battle with what makes a good leader. It gets a little too techno-babbly for me in some places, especially around the character of Lauryn, a genius hacker, but that’s a minor flaw considering how well put together the rest of the book is.
And that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the meat of the story! Despite being fairly long for middle grade (the proof clocks in at over 350 pages), it rattles along at a fine clip, and will keep you turning pages to find out what’s really going on with the Orion. The concept of a flawed, possibly hostile AI is a really solid one, and it’s pulled off really well here, with just the right amount of menace. Once you get into the second half of the story, there are so many twists, and things are really, really, not what they seem… I read this in one sitting, and it felt like a great episode of a classic sci-fi show. Things wrap up a little abruptly, but still in a satisfying way – I wondered about 15 pages from the end if we were going to have a cliffhanger leading the way for a sequel (Orion Found, perhaps). But astonishingly, things do somehow manage to come together – and you’ll be cheering when they do!
Four and a half out of five cats!