the Little Red Reviewer

Orbital Resonance, by John Barnes

Posted on: August 9, 2012

Orbital Resonance, by John Barnes

published in 1991

where I got it: the library










Melpomene Murray sees herself as a completely normal twelve year old. She looks up to her older brother, argues with her Mom, has plenty of friends at school, has just discovered boys, and enjoys math and low-g sports. And like all the kids in her class on the asteroid-turned-space colony known as The Flying Dutchman, Melpomene is fluent in five languages, and studies physics, cybernetics, and calculus during her ten hour schoolday. Yup, she’s a completely normal kid, right?

One of the brighter students in her class, Mel has been asked to write a book about life on The Flying Dutchman, something to help the people on Earth realize that the spacers are regular people, just like them.  Orbital Resonance is in effect, her first draft. Mel might be forced to watch news from Earth with her classmates, but it’s the sanitized version. She has no idea of the disasters of post-collapse Earth, of the horror of life outside the domed cities, of the different pressures that children raised on Earth face. And she has no idea that she’s been conditioned to specifically play well with others.  She has no idea of anything, until a boy from Earth transfers into her class and opens everyone eyes.

You see, the scientists of the The Flying Dutchman had a plan. They needed a fully operational and successful colony in the Earth / Mars orbit in the shortest possible time. The social plan for the colony was to raise the children in such a manner that they would be conditioned to love the colony, to want to work for the colony, and to be educated at a young age in fields that the colony needed.  Most citizens take their “full adult” exam at fourteen or fifteen, and are expected to work full time and begin a family shortly after that. There’s a creepy dissonance happening here – Melpomene is a supremely likeable kid, but how much of that likeability is brainwashing?

Many reviewers have likened Orbital Resonance to books like Enders Game, and while there are no war games in this story, it’s a worthy comparison, as every day is a test for the kids of The Flying Dutchman, they just don’t know it. Humanity is relying on the success of this colony, and on the morally questionable plan of the scientists and psychologists who are raising thousands of children there.

I was expecting a light, fun read. What John Barnes gave me was a completely engrossing, wonderfully addictive, and at times absolutely hilarious book. I certainly wasn’t speaking five languages when I was twelve, but I do remember being that age, of desperately wanting to be liked in school, of not understanding why grown ups were so weird, those tingly feelings of a first crush. I wanted Melpomene to have a happy ending, and when some of her social situations went sour, I wanted to punch her classmates. I would have wanted to have a friend like her when I was that age.

I wish I could recall the conversation I was involved in where someone had recommended this book, because I wish that person had told me ten years ago to start reading John Barnes. I doubt I was looking for a YA recommendation, nor am I sure this is a YA book. Melpomene may be a kid, but she swears like a sailor when she doesn’t think any adults are around, there is plenty of frank talk about sex and sexual escapades, and honestly, I think a younger reader wouldn’t be interested in the heavier issues that make up the crux of the story.

I had some issue with the end of the book, like another YA book I recently read it felt rushed, and somewhat at odds with what leads up to it.  But despite that, Orbital Resonance is one of the more fun books I’ve read this year, and it was a great introduction to the earlier works of John Barnes.

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15 Responses to "Orbital Resonance, by John Barnes"

This looks awesome and just got added to my to-read-list, thanks so much for the review!

no prob, I’m happy it’s one you are interested in. :D I just wish I could remember who recommended this to me, so I could thank them!

Oooh, this one sounds so interesting! Reading your reviews causes my TBR list to multiply… :P

ha! mission accomplished! again! aren’t book blogs evil? ;)

Rushed endings seem to be a curse that some SF books just can’t seem to get away from, which is really unfortunate. Thankfully some books are good enough that the rushed ending doesn’t entirely take away from the joy of the rest of the story.

I haven’t read Barnes but picked up A Million Open Doors recently. This one looks like another good one and is especially interesting because I like the idea that it is about a YA cast of characters, or at least one in particular. The comparison to Ender’s Game also has me intrigued.

And another one goes on my list of things to look for when used bookstore shopping. Dang you!!!

Yeah, Barnes has been putting out a bunch of titles in the last few years, I’d had no idea he was prolific! The ending was quite rushed, but this loosely related series has 3 more books, so there must have been a reason for what happened at the end to have happened that way, and I’d be lying if I wasn’t interested in learning what happens next for Melpomene.

me, cause you to buy more books? isn’t that what friends are for? ;)

I’ve never heard of J. Barnes but this story seems quite interesting. Good review ;)

I was happily surprised, so I hope you get the chance to read it. thanks for visiting and commenting! :D

This one sounds good. I’ve heard of John Barnes but have not yet read him. Will check it out!

I’m not sure if everything he writes is for the teen/late teen audience, but if you’re looking for great titles for high schoolers, this one definitely fits the bill, even though the main character is younger.

Adds another unread author to the list….. (not big and clever you know!)
Lynn :D
Pity about the rushed ending – was literally talking about rushed endings today with somebody else (obv not in relation to this book) and one thing moved onto another and we got onto discussing strange endings that feel as though they’ve been transplanted onto the wrong book. Anyway…)

yeah, two books in a row with weirdly rushed endings. that is the plus on big fat doorstopper books, the ending isn’t rushed!

Tank you for reviewing this book I shall search it out at my local Library now and see how Melpomene gets on regards Votash

Hi Andrea
On a separate note from this. I’ve just named you in a game of tag. I know you probably don’t have time to take part but I had to put you on there (seeing as how I practically live at your blog!). You could just answer the questions – I’d love to see some of those.
Lynn :D

well, as you put Jean Tannen as the person you’d want to be stranded with and “avoid boredom with”, (is that a euphemism? why yes, yes it is!) how can i resist? I’ll pop over to your blog shortly and answer in the comments. :D

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