Gary's Reviews > Dark Orbit

Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman
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it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites

Dark Orbit deliberately harkens back to the Hainish novels of Le Guin, but it is no pale imitation. Set in Gilman's "Twenty Planets" universe (no need to read the previous works, though you may want to when you're finished with this one), the premise of Dark Orbit finds a team of scientists sent to explore a distant, recently discovered planet. The planet and its surrounding space exhibit some inexplicable (and dangerous) phenomena, and the team stumbles upon a long forgotten settlement of humans who have adapted to their surroundings in astonishing ways.
Like Le Guin, Gilman casts a wide net over her setting and its characters - mixing sociological, philosophical, and scientific musings, but never in a preachy or heavy handed way. The novel's intellectual vigor mirrors its highly intelligent and capable, but happily unsophisticated, protagonist, and this reader is thankful for that.
The plot of Dark Orbit unfolds primarily as one of scientific exploration and discovery, but I especially appreciated the way Gilman slowly and sneakily built up the conflicts and obstacles that gave the story its dramatic momentum. I was caught off guard by the book's emotional payoff because the author duped me into thinking I didn't need one. That's just plain great writing, and a hell of a neat trick to pull off.
There are too many fascinating nuances to this book to get into in detail, but if I could quickly sum up its best qualities, I would say it's expansive without being epic, gripping but never melodramatic, and contemplative without ever losing momentum. It's the kind of minor masterpiece that doesn't shine so much as glimmer steadily in the darkness.

(Oh, and if she wanted to, Gilman could probably make a decent living generating sci-fi character names for other people's novels. She's a naming genius. My fave: Dagan Atlabatlow. For real.)
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Reading Progress

April 24, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
April 24, 2015 – Shelved
July 24, 2015 – Started Reading
July 24, 2015 –
page 23
July 25, 2015 –
page 47
July 28, 2015 –
page 72
July 30, 2015 –
page 117
August 1, 2015 –
page 142
August 5, 2015 –
page 186
August 7, 2015 –
page 211
August 13, 2015 –
page 240
August 14, 2015 –
page 268
August 15, 2015 – Finished Reading
July 27, 2016 – Shelved as: favorites

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message 1: by William (new) - added it

William Thank you for the great review!

I’ve pushed this up to my top-to-read list.

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