Orbital by Runberg and Pellé

A while back, spurred by this and this , I found myself falling into a French Science Fiction Comics hole. One of the things I found down there was Orbital, a series by Sylvain Runberg and Serge Pellé.

 

In the first two volumes, Scars and Ruptures, we open on the eve of Earth’s induction into a galactic confederacy of worlds, something that some of the worlds (and some of the Earthlings) aren’t crazy about. It turns out that we kind of botched this invitation by almost immediately going to war against the Sandjarrs, making everyone roll their eyes at our boorish ways. We pick up a few years later where the first Earthling, Caleb Swany, has been allowed to join the Interworld Diplomatic Office, much to the consternation of many folks who think Earth should be tossed out of the Confederacy completely. To make matters more interesting, his partner is a Sandjarr named Mezoke. Together they have to settle a dispute between an alien race and (who else?) humans before things get even uglier than they already are.

 

The second story is contained in volumes 3 and 4, Nomads and Ravages. This time the tables are turned, as a celebration in Kuala Lumpur commemorating an end to the Earth/Sandjarr war is threatened by a series of attacks on the locals, seemingly by a group of nomadic aliens who have settled nearby. Once again, Caleb and Mezoke have to prevent a volatile situation from exploding into disaster.

The series is gorgeously drawn and reproduced, and the translation is well done. It’s cracking good science-fiction, with just enough grounding in reality to keep it sharp and relevant. The characters are also well crafted, with real depth and conflict to them. (One thing, though: Mezoke appears, by human standards, to be female, but a point is made that the Sandjarrs don’t display secondary sexual characteristics as we do, and there’s just no telling. This is almost immediately abandoned and Mezoke referred to as “she”, though. That’s a shame, because it’s an interesting idea that ultimately goes nowhere.) The pacing can be a little odd, especially when the action starts; sometimes it’s hard to follow what just happened.

The only downside to the series is that it ends rather abruptly and unexpectedly. Ravages, the final volume (to date), came out in October of 2010, so it seems like if more was coming, it would be here by now. It’s not that there isn’t an ending, it’s just an odd and unnerving one.

Nevertheless, it’s a great ride while it lasts. Prompted by this I now have ordered the Cinebook (also publishers of Orbital) translations of Léo’s Aldebaran series.

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