Orbital volume 3: Nomads


By Serge Pellé & Sylvain Runberg, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-080-1

The truest thing that can be said about French science fiction is that it always delivers amazing style and panache even when the underlying premise might be less than original. In Serge Pellé & Sylvain Runberg’s beautiful Orbital series a seemingly-mismatched pair of Diplomatic Peacekeeper agents are deployed to quell incipient brushfire wars and mediate internal pressures within a vast pan-species intergalactic alliance, but the hoary “buddy-movie” format is a mere skeleton for eye-popping missions, star-spanning intrigue and intense personal interactions which are always are handled with deft wit and great imagination, never failing to carry the reader along in a blaze of fantastic fun…

What you need to know: after decades of pariah-status galactic exclusion, Earth in the 23rd century has finally been allowed to join a vast Confederation of interstellar civilisations, despite grave and abiding concerns about humanity’s aggressive nature and xenophobic tendencies.

A militant “Isolationist” faction on Earth had moved from politics to horrific terrorism in the immediate run-up to formal induction, committing atrocities both on Earth and distant worlds where mankind had developed colonies and mining bases, but ultimately they failed to prevent humanity’s inclusion in the pan-galactic union.

One particular Confederation worry was the way humans had treated the alien civilisation of the Sandjarrs, whose world was invaded in Earth’s all-consuming drive for territory and exploitable resources. The subsequent atrocities almost exterminated the stoic, pacifistic desert creatures…

Interworld Diplomatic Office operatives are assigned in pairs to troubleshoot throughout the galaxy, defusing crises before they can become flashpoints of violence. IDO’s first human recruit Caleb Swany had been surprisingly teamed with Sandjarr Mezoke Izzua, a situation clearly designed as a high-profile political stunt, as was their initial mission: convincing an Earth mining colony to surrender a profitable planetary mining industry back to the aliens who actually own the moon Senestem it was situated on…

Moreover, even though Earth is a now a member of the Confederation, with humans well placed in all branches of interstellar service, the Isolationist cause is still deeply cherished by many, needing only the slightest spark to reignite…

Orbital: Nomads is the third epic album published by Cinebook (originally released in 2009 as ‘Nomades’), and picks up soon after Caleb and Mezoke’s hard-won solution was implemented.

The Galactic Great-and-Good have arrived on Earth to very publicly celebrate and affirm the end of Human/Sandjarr hostilities in a series of spectacular Reconciliation Ceremonies, but the political glad-handing looks to be upstaged by another interspecies crisis…

One of the greatest benefits of induction into The Confederation has been the infusion of alien technologies which have cleansed and reinvigorated the ecosystem of long-abused and much-polluted Earth.

Now however an incident has occurred in the newly restocked, abundant seas and mangrove swamps around Malaysia, with the sudden death of millions of fish leading to a bloody clash between local fishermen and an unsuspected enclave of a race of nomadic space-gypsies called The Rapakhun

In Kuala Lumpur Caleb is reminiscing with his old mentor Hector Ulrich – instrumental in brokering Earth into the Confederation and Swany into the Interworld Diplomatic Office – when news arrives of the trouble.

This will be tricky: much of mankind is still anti-alien, and locale economies are fragile, whilst the Rapakhun are no innocent angels. Many space civilisations despise them: the stellar nomads are flighty wanderers who go where they please, refuse to be represented in or on Confederation Councils and worst of all, practice cannibalism…

Many Confederation races despise them and by the time Caleb and Mezoke arrive on scene events have escalated and tensions heightened to fever pitch as a committee of human fishermen face off against Rapakhun spokeswoman Alkuun.

The ancient tries to explain that the problem was an escaped Elokarn. The wanderers’ gigantic domesticated aquatic beasts have all been excessively agitated since arriving on Earth…

With the Diplomatic Agents assuring all parties that tests are being undertaken to ascertain not only why the Elokarn went crazy but also why the fish are dying off again, the situation seems contained, but when Alkuun invites the human guests to join in their holy consumption of a still-living and eager Rapakhun male they are physically revolted.

No amount of explanation that the willing, deeply spiritual and hugely prestigious sacrifice is meant to strengthen and invigorate the gods of Earth can offset the grisly sight…

Returning to Kuala Lumpur, Mezoke and Caleb are anxious. Although the Malaysian Navy are policing the area, the IDO agents know full well the tenuous trust humans place in any alien species, but their attention is unfortunately diverted by the sudden arrival of Caleb’s old friend Lukas Vesely.

The scrawny teen of his youth has become a hulking, good-natured member of Ulrich’s security force and seems very keen to relive the good old days. Caleb, of course, has no idea of Lukas’ usual duties, which include brutally and mercilessly dealing with any isolationist protests which might give visiting aliens the wrong impression about Confederate Earth…

In the mangrove swamps fish are still dying and when another group of fisherman get too close to the agreed-upon neutral zone Ulrich’s forces overreact and vaporise them, outraging many watching members of the Malaysian Navy…

Caleb and Mezoke are otherwise fully occupied as the delegation of Sandjarr dignitaries have arrived. The aloof and stand-offish nature of the guests of honour provoke Mezoke to surly silence, and reports from Senestem take the shine off their supposed triumphant solution whilst test results from the mangrove swamps all prove inconclusive. No contamination of any sort has killed the fish: the culprit is some unknown form of energy…

Caleb attempts to downplay and even suppress the concatenation of bad news in hope of keeping the Reconciliation Ceremonies alive over Mezuke’s objections until she reveals a shocking truth about her life before joining IDO…

The death of the fishermen meanwhile has reached the populace and a “patriotic” clique in the Navy peacekeeping force has colluded to look the other way if the fishermen want to deal with the nomads once and for all…

By the time the IDO agents learn of the incursion the appalling bloodshed has ceased and, wading through a site of unspeakable carnage, Caleb and Mezuke decide to split up. The rapidly destabilising situation on Earth must be carefully managed but most crucial is to send an urgent investigation team to the last world the Rapakhun visited and find out exactly what the wanderers are really capable of…

To Be Continued…

Fast-paced, action-packed, gritty space-opera with delightfully complex sub-plots fuelled by political intrigue and infighting elevates this tale to lofty and exotic heights, proving Orbital to be a series well worth watching…
Original edition © Dupuis 2009 by Runberg & Pellé. All rights reserved. This edition published 2011 by Cinebook Ltd.