The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Allen Steele’s first novel, Orbital Decay, immediately established him as a major science-fiction writer. Recalling the early Robert A. Heinlein in his devotion to common people and their everyday lives, Steele describes a rambunctious team of blue-collar space workers primarily interested in surviving their work shifts, making money, and having fun whenever they can. When the occasion arises, they prove capable of extraordinary heroism. The story is narrated by computer expert Sam Sloane as he lies dying on the lunar surface after an accident.

Living on Olympus Station, or “Skycan,” as they build solar power satellites, workers suffer from boredom and low morale. Commander Henry Wallace, a former astronaut and demented space fanatic, bothers them with his rambling speeches, piped-in Muzak, and pointless regulations. Notable workers include Virgin Bruce, a boisterous former biker, and Popeye Hooker, a former shrimp fisherman hiding the secret that he murdered his former wife. There are also three “meteorologists” who, everyone knows, are really spies for the National Security Agency (NSA). A new hydroponics engineer, Jack Hamilton, lifts spirits by growing marijuana and getting stoned with crew members, but after stoned workers cause several accidents, he decides to destroy the crop.

One day, Jack meets with Bruce, Popeye, Sam, docks chief Dave Chang, and communications officer Joni Lowenstein to convey startling news. One...

(The entire section is 469 words.)