Friday, February 26, 2010


Orbis by Scott MacKay
Mass Market Paperback, 408 pages
Roc, 2002
ISBN-13: 9780451458742
Science Fiction

From Booklist
Here is an intriguing alternate history, in which Christianity is a tool of the Benefactors, who have been around since the time of the Roman empire and perhaps earlier. Rome was destroyed resisting conquest by them, and they have dominated Earth more or less ever since, claiming to be heavenly angels. Now, after centuries of oppression, the truth will be known: the Benefactors are beings from the center of the galaxy, who fled a home that became uninhabitable. Designated to broadcast the truth are a heretic passing as a priest, a disillusioned church father, and a young teacher. The price of the knowledge may be higher than anyone thinks, and more is at stake than first meets the eye. Its catchy premise makes this alternate history appealing, and the contrasts between the high-tech stagnation of the Benefactors' society and the low-tech innovations of rebels against it spice a good liberation-quest adventure. Real understanding comes too late to save everyone, but soon enough to realize the promise of a brave new world. Regina Schroeder
My Thoughts:

Orbis is an alternate history science fiction novel. In it the Benefactors, aliens posing as angelic beings, have set up a world wide theocracy with them in charge. In this alternate history, the earthly enemy of the Benefactors, the Romans, left earth on spaceships two thousand years ago. I found the premise in the beginning of the novel to be quite intriguing and interesting. The novel is very much plot driven, however, and suffers slightly in the middle where it slowed down. Obviously since this is an alternate history, you have to suspend disbelief. Some of that disbelief involves the Catholic Church (which is the system the Benefactors use to control humans) and Native Americans (who are depicted as savages confined to the Restricted Zone). I'm hesitant to say Mackay is showing prejudice by these depictions. I think it was all a device, a tool, he used to highlight the alternate history. I'm not sure all of it was completely necessary, however. In the end I don't think the message was as much anti-Christian as it was aimed against blind faith in following an institution. I would have rated this novel as highly recommended until the last quarter of it. At that point I felt Mackay was coming out as a bit too strongly opposed to organized religion, even though I understand the novel is fiction. It was interesting and I will read another Mackay novel. Recommended, with reservations


He changed the subject. "I can't believe the Benefactors are made of ... what did you say again? Hydrogen?"
"A special kind of hydrogen," she said.
"And the Prussians actually caught one?"
"We went over this at the meeting, Mickey." pg. 4

Everything George sent was always a revelation. Oh, to reach back through the stagnant years of the Dark Ages, to unearth and understand all those archaeological sites the Benefactors had put off limits, to finally know what had happened. Especially to know that the Romans, that wondrous race of ancients who had been chased away and crushed two thousand years ago by the Benefactors because they had dared to put up a fight. pg. 8-9

She wanted to tell him that George was in Prussia fighting against the Benefactors, and that it was largely through his efforts as an agent of the Prussian Abwehr that the Benefactors and the soldiers of the Holy League were finally being turned out of Paris. pg. 13

June spread the photographs on the kitchen table. Amy looked on with wide eyes as June explained to her how the Romans had made it to the moon. pg. 15

And would he actually be able to fool her now that he was human? Or would she still somehow sense the difference? pg. 38

Even as the Cardinal spoke, Eric felt a sudden sharp pain in his head. He glanced behind him and saw that the Benefactors were upon him, big black spheres blotting out the light of the sun, casting disorienting shadows everywhere. He felt dizzy....Why would they pursue him like this? His head felt gripped by a vice. He was one of their most devout servants in the territory. He rolled onto his back. Tears came to his eyes, the pain was so bad. He saw the six of them circling above. One of them came down close and hummed like an angry bee. He smelled the awful odor of energy coming from it.
"Oh, God, please help preserve me," he murmured.
Just when he thought he couldn't stand the pain anymore, the thing backed off and in the blink of an eye was gone, back out to the Restricted Zone with its five brethren. pg. 50-51

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