Thursday, September 6, 2012

Orphan Ship Review

Jake O'Brien, one of the central characters in Sterling Walker's science fiction novel Orphan Ship, has just received some bad news. The medical school he has been attending is closing down due to financial problems; and to make matters worse, the only other medical program in the world also happens to be on another planet. Thus, in pursuit of his dream to become a doctor, Jake packs his suitcase and jumps on board the passenger ship Atlanta. Destination: Mars!
When Jake and his cousin Lorina Murphy journeyed to Mars Station in search of educational opportunities, they never guessed they would turn into life savers. But due to the extreme poverty and child exploitation occurring on Mars, these two cousins are forced (by fate) to embrace their true destiny. However, they are not alone in their effort to save the impoverished "street kids" from slavery and oppression. Early in the story these two self-sacrificing heroes are joined by the crew of the Ishmael - a passenger craft that, in the course of the story, is converted into a rescue ship and a haven of safety for over one hundred homeless children.
In this multi-dimensional science fiction novel, Walker incorporates a number of different themes and sub-plots. While fighting the merciless villains responsible for selling the vulnerable "street kids" of Mars Station, the colorful characters of Orphan Ship also manage to fall in love, find wealth, and form lasting friendships. Jake O'Brien even fulfills his fundamental purpose for traveling to Mars in the first place: for on board the Ishmael, he secures a position as the ship's physician.
Despite these important novelistic elements - including Walker's careful attention to detail and his uncanny ability to create entertaining dialogue - the real strength of the story rests in the character's expression of "fellow-feeling." Amidst this anarchical milieu in which they find themselves, the characters in Orphan Ship retain a sense of social responsibility and spiritual commitment. For example, at one point in the story, appalled by the way the homeless children have been abandoned by society, Lorina notices "a pair of black children sitting under a streetlight begging food from passersby." Yet "no one gave the children a second glance." Fortunately, however, Lorina and her newfound friends - the crew of the Ishmael, which soon becomes the "The Orphan Ship" - do indeed care for the children of Mars Station; as they join forces to provide them safe passage to earth and also a home. In this way the theme of compassion is the centerpiece of the entire novel.
Containing potent symbolism, which grounds this futuristic narrative within a larger mythic-moral context, Orphan Ship is a sort of spiritual parable; as this tale exceeds the somewhat narrow scope (and subject matter) of your average science fiction novel. Combining elements of humor and romance with a strong theme of friendship, Mr. Walker's science fiction thriller is well worth reading.

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