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Orbital by Samantha Harvey
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Orbital (edition 2023)

by Samantha Harvey (Author)

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1306211,362 (3.77)16
A slender novel of epic power, Orbital deftly snapshots one day in the lives of six women and men hurtling through space--not towards the moon or the vast unknown, but around our planet. Selected for one of the last space station missions of its kind before the program is dismantled, these astronauts and cosmonauts--from America, Russia, Italy, Britain, and Japan--have left their lives behind to travel at a speed of over seventeen thousand miles an hour as the earth reels below. We glimpse moments of their earthly lives through brief communications with family, their photos and talismans; we watch them whip up dehydrated meals, float in gravity-free sleep, and exercise in regimented routines to prevent atrophying muscles; we witness them form bonds that will stand between them and utter solitude. Most of all, we are with them as they behold and record their silent blue planet. Their experiences of sixteen sunrises and sunsets and the bright, blinking constellations of the galaxy are at once breathtakingly awesome and surprisingly intimate. So are the marks of civilization far below, encrusted on the planet on which we live.  Profound, contemplative and gorgeous, Orbital is an eloquent meditation on space and a moving elegy to our humanity, environment, and planet.… (more)
Member:Jonathan5
Title:Orbital
Authors:Samantha Harvey (Author)
Info:Atlantic Monthly Press (2023), 224 pages
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Orbital by Samantha Harvey

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» See also 16 mentions

Showing 4 of 4
Six astronauts (two of them are cosmonauts), all from different countries, some male, some female, orbit the earth in their International Space Station. We visit them for one day only, as they travel 16 times round the globe. We experience with them the wonder of this journey: the brush-stroke beauty of the landscapes they view from afar, as well as tiny detail - headlights, fishing boats. We accompany them as they go about their often mundane daily tasks - inspecting the cabbages one of them is experimentally growing, or the mice another is charged with studying. Or the treadmills that are part of their daily routine to keep muscle-wastage at bay. Or we see their sleeping bags, billowing in weightlessness: the spoons they eat with attached by velcro to the cabin wall. We perceive aspects of their life back on earth - children, a loveless marriage, a trusting partnership. Through all this, the astronauts and cosmonauts never lose their ecstasy at looking at the earth below. The book moves through the spectacular and the ordinary, distance and intimacy and invites us, the readers, to wonder too. ( )
  Margaret09 | Apr 15, 2024 |
Roman, Anton, Shaun, Nell, Chie and Pietro are 4 astronauts and 2 cosmonauts who are orbiting the earth for 9 months, 16 orbits a day. This short novel lets us into their thoughts and gives us the opportunity to sense what such a rare experience might feel like as each character explores their recent history and how they ended up on the project. Certainly the first half I found mesmerising, but sometimes the repetition, which would be hard to avoid baring in mind that the orbit occurs so often in a 24 hour period, dulled sometimes, which is probably the point. It did, and will continue to make me think about life, space, and a possible future for humankind ‘out there’ might mean.

One of the final things Stephen Hawking said was that what we needed to plan for is a home for humankind in the future. ( )
1 vote Caroline_McElwee | Jan 12, 2024 |
"Sometimes they look at the earth and could be tempted to roll back all they know to be true, and to believe instead that it sits, this planet, at the centre of everything."

A simple premise: six astronauts and cosmonauts, living and working on the International Space Station. This slim novel captures one day in their unusual lives, as they hurtle through space at 17,000 miles an hour. This might be one of the biggest surprise reads of the year for me. A fascinating meditation on our planet. A moving elegy of our place in the world and the universe. The writing is so smart, profound and contemplative. I was immediately hooked by her hypnotic narrative. Thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for supplying me with an advanced copy. ( )
  msf59 | Dec 29, 2023 |
This great little novel transports us out to space, where a team of six astronauts observe the world below. Asking big questions about humanity and the fragility of our lives, this is a short but essential read. ( )
  runner56 | Nov 27, 2023 |
Showing 4 of 4
Six characters. A passing day. Stunning descriptions of the planet’s changes, from sunrise to sunset. Meditations on selfhood, togetherness, loneliness, time. Does this remind you of anything?

The critic Gaby Wood has already called Samantha Harvey “this generation’s Virginia Woolf”, in tribute to the author’s philosophically motivated lyrical writing. Orbital, Harvey’s fifth novel, is The Waves in space. Its six characters – the Russians Roman and Anton; the Japanese Chie; the Italian Pietro; the American Shaun; and the British Nell – are cosmonauts (the Russian designation) and astronauts (the American one), each “shot into the sky on a kerosene bomb, and then through the atmosphere in a burning capsule”. Now they orbit the Earth in the International Space Station at a height of 250 miles.

It is quite the perspective. Inside the spacecraft, due to political disputes down below, the WCs bear signs reading “RUSSIAN COSMONAUTS ONLY” and “AMERICAN, EUROPEAN AND JAPANESE ASTRONAUTS ONLY”. But through the windows only one, man-made, border is visible on Earth: a long trail of lights between Pakistan and India – and even that disappears in the daytime. Otherwise there is “no wall or barrier: no tribes, no war or corruption or particular cause for fear”; instead “a rolling indivisible globe which knows no possibility of separation”.

It is so beautiful, that globe. Over the sixteen orbits tracked by the novel, dazzling descriptions of the planet rhythmically recur. There is Africa, “chiming with light” that is almost audible. Gran Canaria’s gorges pile the island up “like a sandcastle hastily built”. There is the “soft brushed nickel” of the Mediterranean; Uzbekistan, an “expanse of ochre and brown”; the “clean and brilliant Indian Ocean of blues untold”. And the light. The light strikes and stabs, sparkles and shimmers. When we are on Earth, Harvey writes, we look up and believe that heaven is elsewhere, but the space voyagers see differently. If we must go to an “improbably hard-to-believe in place” when we die, then that might be Earth itself, that “glassy, distant orb with its beautiful lonely light shows”.

Those light shows are better at night, the cosmonauts and astronauts agree during the early stages of their space tenancy, but their view changes. During the day Earth is easier to see. When they look at it, the “small and babbling pantomime of politics” that arrives over their newsfeed is invisible. And then, they realize, it isn’t: “Every swirling neon or red algal bloom in the polluted, warming, overfished Atlantic is crafted in large part by the hand of politics and human choices”. Cruising in their “phallic ship”, whose lift-off boosters burn “the fuel of a million cars”, they both witness and collude in the disaster.

Harvey has been perfecting her lush philosophical prose in novels remarkable for their range: The Wilderness (2009) featured the Lincolnshire Wolds and factories, bleaching a man’s memory; All Is Song (TLS, March 9, 2012) reimagined the death of Socrates in contemporary London; Dear Thief (2014) was a novelization of Leonard Cohen’s song “Famous Blue Raincoat”; and The Western Wind (TLS, March 16, 2018) was a medieval murder mystery. Harvey’s insomnia memoir, The Shapeless Unease (TLS, April 10, 2020), is in the same strain of lavish rumination as this latest novel. In outer space the author hits on the pure swirlingness that her previous works seem to aspire to. The characters’ thoughts mix and flow with the colours and light. Beauty doesn’t come from goodness but from aliveness, reflects Pietro; and so progress is beautiful. We seek life on other planets as “our consolation for being trivial”; we know we are not special enough to be all there is.

As their craft orbits the six cosmonauts and astronauts are distracted by another space voyage: a rocket is carrying four people beyond them, to the Moon. There is further talk of colonizing Mars. In a moving passage Samantha Harvey plays with the idea that, if the Big Bang happened on January 1 of a cosmic year, humanity would arrive at one second from midnight on December 31. Here, in the final instant, appears a motley assortment of human achievements, including antibiotics, Billie Holiday, birth control and the sprung mattress. It’s a mixture of the sublime and the mundane, but none of it matters because, in another split second, millennia will pass and Earth’s beings will have become “exoskeletal-cybernetic-machine-deathless-postbeings who’ve harnessed the energy of some hapless star and are guzzling it dry”. It is a warning no less devastating for being so sumptuously written.

Kate McLoughlin is Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Harris Manchester College
added by AntonioGallo | editThe TLS, Kate McLoughlin (Dec 1, 2023)
 
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A slender novel of epic power, Orbital deftly snapshots one day in the lives of six women and men hurtling through space--not towards the moon or the vast unknown, but around our planet. Selected for one of the last space station missions of its kind before the program is dismantled, these astronauts and cosmonauts--from America, Russia, Italy, Britain, and Japan--have left their lives behind to travel at a speed of over seventeen thousand miles an hour as the earth reels below. We glimpse moments of their earthly lives through brief communications with family, their photos and talismans; we watch them whip up dehydrated meals, float in gravity-free sleep, and exercise in regimented routines to prevent atrophying muscles; we witness them form bonds that will stand between them and utter solitude. Most of all, we are with them as they behold and record their silent blue planet. Their experiences of sixteen sunrises and sunsets and the bright, blinking constellations of the galaxy are at once breathtakingly awesome and surprisingly intimate. So are the marks of civilization far below, encrusted on the planet on which we live.  Profound, contemplative and gorgeous, Orbital is an eloquent meditation on space and a moving elegy to our humanity, environment, and planet.

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