A Tunnel in the Sky

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by Warren Ellis, art by Colleen Doran

Reviewed by SFExplorer
Posted November 30, 2003

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Orbiter is dedicated to "the lives, memories, and legacies of the seven astronauts lost on space shuttle Columbia during mission STS-107."

The story begins ten years after the space shuttle Venture disappeared without a trace shortly after reaching orbit around the Earth. This was the final straw which led to the end of NASA's space program, and Kennedy Space Center is now just a crowded tent city of people living in poverty and squalor. That is, until the Venture returns to the Kennedy Space Center as suddenly and unexpectedly as it disappeared.

On board, the only person to be found is Mission Commander and Pilot John Cost; he is alive but apparently out of his mind. The military calls in a motley group of three experts from different fields, each of whom previously had a role to play in the former space program, and each of whom is trying to recover something they lost when the space program was abandoned. These three assemble their teams to try to uncover the mystery of what happened to the shuttle and its crew. As the unravelling of the "weird" alterations to the shuttle itself commences, John Cost begins to recover enough to start telling his story, and the truth that is revealed is fantastic indeed.

The artwork has more of a realistic look (in a comic book sort of way), and the imagery is stark much of the time while using darker muted colors which work well with the story rather than taking anything away from it.

When all is said and done, this science fiction story in graphic format is an offering of support for a return to a much more active interest in the space program. In the forward Warren Ellis states that he wrote the final scene for ORBITER a couple months before the Columbia tragedy, which prompted a business associate of his to email and call him a prophet after the Columbia broke up on reentry. That sentiment does seem to fit the overall message this tale imparts, even though the story, in its telling, is quite different.

If I have one minor complaint it would be length. 100 pages in "sequential art" format goes by too quickly, especially as the artwork is fairly direct and to the point, and I would have liked the book to have been a little longer. And yet it did manage to tell its story, brief though it was.

According to the author bio in the back, among other things Warren Ellis is also "the creator of the award-winning TRANSMETROPOLITAN SF graphic novel series." Colleen Doran has an impressive body of work in comics, books, and magazines as well.

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Warren Ellis

Colleen Doran


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