I have just participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a crazy month where thousands of novelists across the globe try to get 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. It’s rather wild, and there’s a definite emphasis of quantity over quality. During November it’s a really good idea to read a well-written, inspirational novel, fuelling your own writing.
I am telling you this because while competing in NaNoWriMo, I read Orbital Kin by James E. Parsons, and unfortunately it read like a clumsy, messy, confusing first draft. Like many NaNoers, it seems as if James E. Parson picked quantity over quality as well, and wrote his novel in a mad dash to reach the end. And unfortunately it seems as if he never bothered to go back and do the all the important editing.
Orbital Kin by James E. Parsons
Steven and Alan have just graduated from university, each with a Master’s degree in Science. Steven’s father, Gordon, is running experiments upon human beings. The experiments make the patients violent, and when some predictably escape, an epidemic soon begins raging across Britain.
Can Steven and Alan find a cure in time to stop the disease spreading?
Unfortunately Orbital Kin reads like James E. Parsons just dumped down all his ideas and left it at that. The result is messy and it’s not easy to read.
Orbital Kin is so full of black holes that elements of the plots travel through them and never reappear. I couldn’t understand why half of the characters even existed in the first place, as their stories were never really resolved. And I didn’t realise that Steven’s sister and father, Lucy and Gordon, had actually been in space the entire time until the last few pages.
The novel is split into three parts, with the middle section dealing with space and the other two with Earth. This makes sense and is a good way to allow the reader to see the dramatic changes to Earth and the characters. The middle section was by far the most exciting sequence as it was fast-paced and contained some good action, and it was almost believable. However, much of Orbital Kin wasn’t any of those things and I found that the dynamics between characters were weak and poorly thought out, with stories left uncompleted and abrupt. It was the same with the ending: I wasn’t entirely sure what had happened, or if a cure had been found in the first place. To finish reading a novel and not have a clue what has just happened is never a good sign.
Resumption of Disbelief
One of the key aims in sci-fi and fantasy writing is to keep up the reader’s suspension of disbelief – the writing should be good enough and interesting enough to allow the reader to see anything unusual as believable From the off-set of reading Orbital Kin my disbelief was rampant. The style didn’t help. It was often repetitive and full of irritating grammar and spelling mistakes.
But it wasn’t just the style. The story he was telling was fundamentally flawed from the beginning. I could not imagine at all that the space station had been entirely funded and built by a British workforce, and that the scientists working aboard it were exclusively British. I could not see Britain creating a space station with anti-gravity controls in place. It’s just unrealistic, even for SF. Not only that, but Steven, a recently graduated scientist, was treated with huge renown and respect – the same sort of levels that Stephen Hawking commands. It seemed ridiculous that Steven had only just graduated yet made such a huge impression in his field, so much so that he and ex-team mate Jane went up to space at the drop of a hat. Maybe the whole thing wouldn’t have seemed so ridiculous if it was explained exactly how far into the future the novel was set. And how would the scientists in a station miss the secret compartments? And where the hell is all the basic technology and safety procedures? If a space station and a crew this moronic actually existed, it wouldn’t even be allowed to be built, let alone to get off the ground.
Norman Osborne Is My Idol
I think Parsons must have had inspirations to write Gordon as a Norman Osborne character, right down to the tragic and difficult relationship with both power and his son. But it doesn’t work. Gordon is a mad man from the start, and I couldn’t sympathise with him. He was as improbable as he was boring. And Parsons seemed to give up on him halfway through the novel as well. I got near the end and thought, What? Since when did Gordon die?
In fact, all the characters seemed to be based on someone else. Steven was like a younger, pluckier version of Tony Stark, and Alan a very plain Spiderman, without the fantastic one-liners. They were main characters who acted like background characters, and the only person who I liked just a little bit was Jane, who seemed to be the only reasonable voice in the whole novel. And like me, she didn’t know what the hell was going on either.
People often say that if you do not enjoy what you are writing, then the reader will not enjoy what they are reading, so James E. Parsons must have really hated writing this book.
I’m afraid to say my recent trip into NaNoWriMo was far from enjoyable. I realised quite early on while writing my novel that I was making many of the same mistakes as Parsons – plot holes, grammatical and spelling mistakes, undeveloped plots and characters. It almost felt like I was writing something as bad as Orbital Kin – unpolished and appallingly formatted. But unlike Parsons, I plan to edit the hell out of my novel and correct those mistakes.
During NaNoWriMo it’s a really good idea to read a well-written, inspirational novel that will help to fuel your own writing. Unfortunately I didn’t. Unfortunately I read Orbital Kin.
Our reviewer received a copy of the novel from its author for the purposes of this review.