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Brute Orbits by George Zebrowski

Brute Orbits (1998)

by George Zebrowski

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Title: Brute Orbits: They sent away the good, the bad, and they ugly. They had no idea what they lost.


This is the story of the Rocks and the “long orbits”. In the not to distant future the rising costs of the correctional system, and the rising populace of those incarcerated within, has the countries of the world looking for new ways and places to deal with those that cannot follow the rules of the society that they live in.

An answer comes in the form of an asteroid that narrowly misses hitting the Earth. While it didn't hit the Earth it was close enough were it could be easily caught and mined. This led to a faster expansion into near earth space and more asteroids were captured that could be “near misses” . Eventually someone had the idea of moving prisons up to the moon and then to the asteroids themselves. This allowed the governments of the world to ship their criminals somewhere “out of sight and out of mind”.

The idea of the “long orbit” sentences met little resistance and the first Rock was launched outward with a group of all male prisoners that were convicted of violent offenses such as assault and murder. Their sentence was a fifty year orbit. Unknown to the prisoners, and the general populace, there orbit is miscalculated and these men are given a death sentence. With only a few knowing this however the Rocks continue to be launched. Some adhere to the to the original idea, some are used to get rid of those who disagree with various administrations and some are used to get rid of those that have mental problems. For the most part these Rocks have a miscalculated orbit.

Fast forward in time and the first Rock comes back fifty years after it was supposed to. Only ghosts observe a earth that has changed so much from the planet they left over a hundred years before and only silent remains greet those who come to investigate the fate of those on the Rock.

The peoples of Earth have come far in dealing with the issues that those sentenced to the Rocks represented. While not a perfect future for the most part a squabbling humanity has settled down and now focuses more finding ways to get along and expanding humanity's knowledge. There are those who wonder though what happened to the populace on other Rocks and whether they now differ greatly from the main branch of humanity.

Soon a expedition is created to find the remaining rocks and determine what happened to the prisoners on board. What they find will show them that the human race may not have made as much progress as it thought.


I've had this book for a while, but for some reason or another I never got around to reading it until now. In a way though I'm glad I didn't read it when I got as I was more into to action heavy books and would have probably skimmed through it without really reading the story. Don't get me wrong though, there are still a few parts that I skimmed through that were kind of dense but over all the story moves at a good pace as it bounces between the different characters that end up on the rocks and the guy who for the most part ends up putting them there. The really interesting part of the story comes toward the middle when a hundred years have passed and Earth rediscovers the Rock's and starts to investigate the fate of the prisoners.

The story does ask some interesting questions and it's conceivable that one day we will have “space prisons” of some sort. It also makes sense that some people would decide that out of sight is better coupled with out of mind. At the end of the book the author also discusses the research that he did for the book and gives references for several books that examine ideas that are presented in the story and also gives several examples of similar situations throughout history that are similar to the story. If your looking for a sci-fi book that asks some interesting questions and is not entirely reliant on violence and explosions and takes a futuristic look at an idea / practice that has been around for a while then you might enjoy giving this a read. m.a.c ( )
  cahallmxj | Sep 8, 2014 |
...[A] meditation upon the subject of crime and punishment: what is a crime, it asks, and what is appropriate punishment? ...[Brute Orbits] points out that what is criminal depends on who makes the laws and who benefits from the crime. The novel does not shrink from punishment, but it does point out that so far nothing much has worked as intended. -- Masterpieces of Science Fiction
  Rickmas | Dec 23, 2006 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Zebrowski, Georgeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Galian, Carl D.Cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061058076, Mass Market Paperback)

Centuries After the death of Old Earth, an earth-like, fundamentalist community on the environmentally volatile planet of Tau Ceti IV has declared evil the science that caused the homeworld's destruction. But His Holiness Peter III himself harbors doubts, engendered by his love for his unacknowledged and illegitimate rebel daughter, Josepha.

And suddenly there is another assault on the sacred traditions he has devoted his life to uphold. For the first off-planet human visitor ever has arrived on Tau Ceti -- bearing remarkable, hated technology that could shred the fragile emotional fabric of a family...and bring devastating chaos to their world.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:23 -0400)

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Jails are built in space on asteroids in this critique of our penal system. On one asteroid there is a revolt which spreads to other jails and the convicts unite to form a colony. Contrary to expectations, they create a vibrant new civilization. By the author of Stranger Suns.… (more)

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