Orbit, out now
Space station Outer Earth holds humanity’s last hope, after Earth has been wrecked by nuclear war. Riley is a tracer – a courier who runs around the station delivering parcels the contents of which she’s not interested in. But when she inadvertently discovers that she’s been taking an eyeball to one of the more dangerous people on board, it’s the cue for her to run not just for her life, but for that of all around here…
Rob Boffard’s novel is an adrenaline-fuelled race against time as Riley and her fellow tracers (the word comes from the title for practitioners of parkour – at which Riley is an expert) become involved in a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of the command structure of Outer Earth. Boffard focuses on three characters – Riley, whose chapters are told first person; scientist Prakesh; and Darnell, who’s positioned as the villain of the piece right from the start. Luckily, there are others involved who have more obvious shades of grey than these heroes and villains, and it’s fun trying to work out who exactly is going to betray whom and how.
The parkour sequences are very well portrayed, and Boffard has worked out how such running skills would translate to lower and zero gravity environments – the latter’s solution reminded me of the counterintuitive way in which pilots have to deal with phugoid motion on an aircraft (the rollercoaster effect). Riley is put through the wringer throughout the story, and there’s a sobering sting in the tail: not a surprise as such, just a reminder that people’s responses aren’t necessarily those that you’d like them to be, and that mud sticks.
To an extent the characters outside a central half-dozen are sketched in, but this is very much a plot-driven tale, and it’s a novel you’re likely to power through in a couple of sittings.
Verdict: An enjoyable SF thriller with a different twist for its heroine. 8/10