Orbital Decay Critical Essays

Allen Steele


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Most science-fiction readers of the baby-boom generation share two experiences: They grew up reading juvenile science fiction by Heinlein and others, and they matured in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the era of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Both experiences are reflected in Orbital Decay.

Steele displays his knowledge of and affection for science fiction with numerous references: Station cats are named for famous science-fiction writers, Sam is writing a science-fiction novel, and crew members discuss many science-fiction novels and films. Steele also rebukes science fiction for typically featuring only the best and the brightest, boy geniuses and mighty warriors. The space workers of Orbital Decay are misfits, losers, and eccentrics. The character most similar to earlier science-fiction heroes—Wallace, the overachieving former astronaut who pontificates about humanity’s destiny to conquer space—is presented as a lunatic. Steele implicitly asserts that space should be the province of blue-collar workers who will be stirred from inertia not by the romance of space adventure but by the need to oppose a threat to their freedom. Thus, Steele both celebrates science fiction and attacks its implicit elitism.

References to 1960’s rock music are as frequent as references to science fiction. Many readers find it incongruous that Steele’s characters should be so devoted to the music of their parents. One critic parodied Steele...

(The entire section is 483 words.)