Monday, February 16, 2009

Review: Orphanage by Robert Buettner

Title: Orphan
Author: Robert Buettner
Copyright: 2008
Publisher: Orbit Books
ISBN: 0316019127

First book in the Jason Wander series


Military Science Fiction for the Rest of Us (4 stars) - a book review
We crabbed shoulder to shoulder down cargo nets to our landing craft bucking in the Channel, each GI's bilge-and-sea-soaked boots drenching his buddy below. In that moment I realized that we fight not for flags or against tyrants but for each other. For whatever remains of my life, those barely met strangers who dangled around me will be my only family. Strip away politics, and, wherever or whenever, war is an orphanage.

-Anonymous letter fragment, Recovered on Omaha Beach, Normandy June 1944 (an excerpt from the beginning of Orphanage)
Brief Synopsis:
The story starts with Jason Wander, a somewhat misguided youth with two options: join the military or go to jail. Enter the devastation caused by the alien race later termed as "the slugs." The story follows Wander and his exploits in basic training and the planning behind the first counter offensive against the slugs on their base on one of Jupiter's moons.

Overall Impressions:
ORPHANAGE, by Robert Buettner, may remind many readers of STARSHIP TROOPERS, by Robert Heinlein, and rightfully so. I have seen some discussion about how it was written as a tribute or to STARSHIP TROOPERS. The basic plots are the same, but they are different enough for mutual appreciation.

As a side note, STARSHIP TROOPERS is one of my favorite books. I judge military science fiction on two things:
  • How often the phrase "bought the farm" is used; and,
  • How many moments there are that are only funny when taken outside the context of the military and wartime.
While somewhat superficial, at face value you can derive a lot from military science fiction from those two criteria (and by no means am I serious that a book like this is only good based on these two things; especially since ORPHANAGE only says "bought the farm" once). For one, even though ORPHANAGE is set in the future, the moments that are only humorous outside the context of war, only bring a real time element to the book. It is easy to relate to a story, however far into the future it may be. Believability is incredibly important, and by using elements that are prevalent in today's society, an author (in this case Buettner) makes the story believable and easy in which to relate.

More importantly than the plot, Buettner has created a cast of characters that go on a roller coaster of emotional responses. Wander has superior officers and friends that he interacts with that the reader with which the reader becomes attached. The characters are given countless moral dilemmas that add to their depth. Upon the invasion of Jupiter's moon, war becomes war, and with casualties amounting the way Wander and the characters respond is remarkable. Promotions, demotions, and stress exacerbate the chaos that is war. ORPHANAGE has everything that a military science fiction book should: believable and memorable characters, a tragic premise, and lots of action.

Closing Comments:
One problem I have with the book is the fact that it is written in first person from the perspective of Jason Wander. Unfortunately, as explained previously, there are many great characters and I would have liked to hear more of their internal dialogue. However, I do not believe the story would be as compelling if not told from Wander's perspective. I normally do not prefer first person stories, but ORPHANAGE is a wonderful exception.

Another thing that separates ORPHANAGE from STARSHIP TROOPERS is the fact that ORPHANAGE is just the start of a series. At the conclusion of this book the reader only has more to look forward to.

If you enjoyed these books, you will enjoy ORPHANAGE:
  • STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert Heinlein; and,
  • THE FOREVER WAR by Joe Haldeman

Good reading,

Plants and Books

1 comment:

  1. Years ago, I invited Robert Buettner to my bookstore, but all of his books sold out before he got there! He was a great sport about it, though, and handed out Orphanage swag. I asked him recently about his latest book, Orphan's Triumph, and he had all kinds of fascinating things to say about being compared to Heinlein, getting published overseas and the root of modern science fiction. He also told me that Overkill, the first novel in the Orphan’s Legacy series, will be released in early 2011. (If you're curious, you can read the interview for free at )


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