Editorial: Orphans of the Sky revisited, a Review of Simon Roy’s “Habitat”

MY FAVORITE TYPES OF COMICS to read as an adult are those that have a definite “beginning, middle, and end.” I don’t care for comics that go on and on with monthly episodes involving the same character, like a TV show. In other words, I like the “graphic novel” format, which is basically a novel or novella in comic format.

As a life-long science fiction novel and short story reader, I also tend to be disappointed by the simplistic story lines of most science fiction comics. With that said, I found enough in “Habitat” by Simon Roy to keep me interested and reading.

The setting is similar to Robert Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky. The characters are either on a “Generation Starship” or an orbiting “Stanford Torus” type of space station. (For simplicity, I will call it “the ship.”)

Unlike Orphans of the Sky, the inhabitants of the ship seem to understand that they are on a spaceship of some sort. (In Orphans of the Sky, the inhabitants believe the ship was the entire universe and that it was eternal.) If you follow some of the dialogue in “Habitat” closely, you will discover that there was some sort of “cataclysmic event” that required “Emergency Procedures” to be implemented. It has been about four generations since this event occurred, and the descendants of the security personnel on the ship have become a tribal group that hunts down and murders “civilians” and then eats them.

There is also a separate “engineering tribe” that maintains the ship as best they can, but the weapon technology of both groups is limited. They fight with little more than stone-age weapons. They do have access to 3-D printing technology, but the designs for advanced weapons have been lost somehow. The security tribe uses “cards” that they insert into 3-D printers to manufacture machetes, which appears to be the most advanced weapon available to them at the start of the story.

The “inciting incident” occurs when the protagonist, a young member of the “security tribe,” Cho, takes an “amulet” from one of the captured “civilians” that his tribe will kill and eat. When Cho chips away at the amulet, he discovers that it is a card for one of the 3-D printers. Curious, Cho sneaks to the 3-D printer one night, and inserts the card. What comes out is a hand-held “beam weapon”, which they call a “phaser” (the author makes a lot of Star Trek references – members of the security tribe are referred to as “red shirts,” the beamed weapons are “phasers,” etc.).

Cho then escapes with the hand phaser, along with the punch card for making more, and falls in –literally- with the “engineering tribe.” The rest of the story is Cho and another, young female engineer, trying to make it back to the hub of the habitat where the engineering tribe is located. The “solution” involves the use of another piece of technology that they were afraid to use due to some sort of “attack” that happened in the past. It was this attack that caused the emergency procedures to be implemented, although I was a little unclear on what that “attack” was (I was also a little unclear on what happened at the end of the graphic novel).

“Habitat” seems like what I’ve heard Orson Scott Card describe as a “milieu story,” where the important part of the story is showing the reader a fascinating and unusual setting. So, the ending was perhaps a bit weak, but the interesting part was the world that was shown, anyway. (http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/write-first-chapter-get-started/4-story-structures-that-dominate-novels)

What I liked about “Habitat” was the fact that it was similar to Orphans of the Sky. The Heinlein novel was always a fascinating premise to me, so I enjoyed revisiting it. The author of “Habitat” also did a good job of showing the cultural and technological remnants of a futuristic society that had “devolved” back to a tribal, stone-age level. On top of that, I liked how the technology has become like “magic” to the people there, and I think it actually reflects the use of technology be some people in our society today.

There are too many individuals in the here and now who use computers, air planes, and cellular networks without the slightest notion of what it takes to build such devices. They have no desire to understand, even on a rudimentary level, how to engage in the sort of logic and reason-based thinking that would go into understanding reality sufficiently well to build a stone axe, much less a microchip or penicillin. But, they gladly wander around the world snapping “selfies” with their “magic smart phones.”

There were two aspects of “Habitat” that didn’t work well for me. First, it should have been about twice as long. The author built a complicated “world,” and he didn’t spend enough time explaining it to the reader. This might not be his fault, though. It might have been a function of the economic realities of publishing that required the short length. Second, as already mentioned, the ending was a little rushed, and I had a difficult time understanding what had happened to solve the “problem.” You really have to pay attention to some of the background shots of previous scenes, as well as the previous dialogue, to have any chance of understanding how the story’s “problems” are solved at the end.

Overall, I’d give “Habitat” three and a half stars out of five, and recommend it, if you enjoy science fiction comics.