Saturday 8 November 2008

Orion by Ben Bova, plus some films

I haven't read much by this author, but have previously thought of him as concentrating on hard SF. I was therefore surprised by the fact that Orion (in my opinion, at any rate, despite later plot twists) falls into the fantasy camp.

The story begins in the present day and is told in the first person, by a man called Orion. He has some unusual abilities (for reasons which he doesn't understand) and finds himself involved in a titanic struggle between two apparently all-powerful men, Ormazd and Ahriman (the names of two gods in Zoroastrianism who represent good and evil respectively). He is also strongly drawn to Anya, a woman who is connected in some way with Ormazd. Orion is told that Ahriman intends to destroy humanity and that his role is to prevent this. In the attempt to carry out his task, Orion seems to die – only to find himself transported back in time, facing the same enemy yet again. This pattern is repeated, Orion going steadily further back in time towards the prehistoric war which caused Ahriman's hatred of humanity. There he discovers that all was not what it seemed and he has a difficult choice to make.

The cover of my edition has glowing references from Isaac Asimov and Spider Robinson, but I have to say I was rather less impressed. The writing style reminded me far more of a typical 1950s or even pre-WW2 SF novel, rather than a product of the 1980s. It doesn't get off to a good start, the first page being an infodump in which Orion baldly spells out his unusual abilities (clearly Bova doesn't have much time for the "show don't tell" orthodoxy). It does get better as the story develops, and the plot was intriguing enough for me to read through to the end, but I found it difficult to empathise with Orion. His character remains underdeveloped, and it's hard to care much about what happens to people who keep dying and being reborn (all of the "how will they survive this?" tension gets dissipated) unless they are much more strongly written than this.
I had heard that Hellboy (the original, not the recent sequel) was a cut above the average comic-based superhero movie so I gave it a spin. Well, it was watchable, like an episode of Die Hard featuring supernatural beings, and it did have some wry humour, so it gets an "OK".
I've also seen Galaxy Quest, about the jaded cast of a long-running TV space opera who are whisked off by aliens who think that their broadcasts are genuine and need help in fighting a war. The film takes an entertaining swipe at the cliches of space opera and the devotion of its fans. It is an amusing, light-hearted contrast from most movies these days, and is a lot more enjoyable than most "serious" SFF films. A must for all Star Trek fans – or at least, the ones who can take a joke!

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