Review: Orbit One by Mel Jay

Orbit One Modern Promotions cover
Modern Promotions cover

Orbit One by Mel Jay is an interesting find. It is an adventure story of deep space colonization filled with mystery and danger, but the dark reality of man’s selfish desires to expand the universe at any cost is what makes the story palpable.

First published in 1966 by Arcadia House and four years later in 1970 by Macfadden, the print reviewed here is an undated publication from Uni Book / Modern Promotions.

Mel Jay is one of many pen names used by British writer R.L. Fanthorpe. With over a hundred books credited to his name (or names) from the 1950’s into the 1980’s, the subject matter and theme are obviously predicated by the political atmosphere of the time it was written.

Aside from being a meager 144 pages in length, not uncommon for pulp fiction works, Orbit One is a fairly quick read because it has the feel of a theatrical presentation and allows the reader to focus primarily on the mystery at hand. With only a handful of key characters and most of the vital actions taking place through their intricate dialogue of reasoning and conjecture, the story could easily appear on a stage or even a radio broadcast.

Macfadden cover
Macfadden cover

Kolar is the second planet from Sirius, the “moderately habitable” home of a group of colonists hoping to prove the world worthy of extending humanity’s footprint in the stars. Seeing that the fate of the colonization rested in the hands of Administrator Fletcher Starbuck who was expected to make the final decision on weather or not the migration is a success or failure, everything changes when the horrific crash of his rocket ship is witnessed by the highly respected farmer Big Dan Jeffreys.

As the remaining colonists ponder the oddity of the crash and the uncertainty the tragedy left behind, the planet begins to experience a rash of “natural” disasters including fires, floods, hurricanes and tidal waves. The only saving grace is a mysterious source providing cryptic warnings just efore each event. The ensuing investigation takes them to unfathomable discoveries of ancient lifeforms hibernating beneath the planet’s surface.

It seems these Kolarians were waiting for millennia for an unsuspecting lifeform to prove the planet is once again inhabitable. Then, once the new trespassers were scared away by the dangerous forces of nature, the true Kolrians could once again arise and thrive on their newly flourishing home planet.

Arcadia House cover
Arcadia House cover

The final chapter is a social examination of humanities willingness to do anything necessary to survive. This test of wills is argued amongst the colonists and the author provides some interesting arguments for both sides of the debate. Though some of the same arguments could be made in real world current events, the narrow vision from both sides of the colonists would become major stumbling blocks in today’s politics.

As a side note, the first planet orbiting Sirius is aptly referred to as Orbit One, and went otherwise unnamed and somewhat unexplored. Though the settlers did venture to the other world to unsuccessfully investigate possible links to the strange happenings on Kolar (Orbit Two), it played little to no role in the overall plot and seemed an interesting choice for the title.

None of the publications of the book give credit to the cover art, though the Uni Book / Modern Promotions cover looks to be a watered down version of the image on the Macfadden version. Strangely, the Arcadia House has the look of a pulp mystery with absolutely no reference to space colonization (more James Bond’ish than SF). Since cover is what originally drew me to this book in the first place, it would be interesting to know what the sales results were for the first printing. I wonder what demographic ended up buying it.

As far as pulp SF goes, Orbit One by Mel Jay fits the mold. It has many of the classic elements fans usually go for with the touch of social commentary we’ve come to expect.

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