By Mike Glyer: In T. A. Bruno’s In the Orbit of Sirens, a Self-Published Science Fiction Competition finalist, the remnants of the human race have fled the solar system ahead of an alien culture that is assimilating everyone in reach. Loaded aboard a vast colony ship they’re headed for a distant refuge, prepared to pioneer a new world, but unprepared to meet new threats there to human survival that are as great as the ones they left behind.
Eliana Veston is in the advance party assigned to prepare a site on the planet for these refugees. At first they struggle with something deadly in the air that is killing off colonists. The hunt for a cure leads to contact with the Auk’nai, a civilization of sentient bird-like beings, but also results in waking a Siren— a hostile being with godlike powers.
The cure is found before Denton Castus, his brothers, and parents are revived to set up the machine shop they have brought with them to Kamaria. But he’s soon torn between family loyalty and his ambition to join the Scout Team, composed of Eliana and other scientists who explore the planet, learning about its plants, creatures, and resources.
The novel frequently intercuts past events with present-day events, and readers already know why the Scout Team has vacancies.
When the original team of scientists finds a strangely preserved scene of Auk’nai carnage they follow the evidence to a cave – at which point anyone who’s ever seen a horror movie should be yelling at the screen, “Don’t go in!” But guess what? They go in. They find the dead body of an alien and take it back to their base where they learn – again, guess what? – that it’s not exactly dead. It takes over one of the team as a host, which sets off the calamities that occupy the rest of the book.
The author says this story is the matured version of ideas he started drawing as a comic in elementary school. The influence of comic writing may explain the tendency for characters to be developed only enough to fit into archetypal relationships – parents and brothers in Denton’s family, his scout team colleagues, his romantic interest Eliana, and her reciprocal network of family and team members. Not to mention the Siren, the human body’s own consciousness, the Siren’s sister, and various Auk’nai.
Denton Castus is a rare science fiction character who works with his hands, and there are neat bits about the challenge of competing for business on a new planet. Kind of like the real-world knowledge woven into a Heinlein juvenile. His brothers have their own life ambitions, and passions for sports and games in their free time. Then there are the incumbent members of the Scout Team, as well as other recruits besides Denton. These are likeable and interesting characters, and it would have been interesting to spend more time getting to know them and watch their relationships and friendships grow.
Indeed, it might be that the most thoroughly-developed character is the alien enemy. However, that effort is certainly not wasted. A convincing villain generally makes a better book.
Despite the fact that I wanted to see even more interplay between the human characters, the author didn’t set out to write a million-word book (or at least not in one volume) and can’t let their activities set in the present outpace the flashbacks — where much of the alien’s story is revealed. Until those two story streams finally merge, it seems you can always count on something violent to happen to obscure or destroy evidence that otherwise should clue the humans into the real cause of events.
And once the streams do merge, it’s time for the climactic battle that takes up perhaps the last quarter of the book. There is heroism, sacrifice, and reason to despair before the day is saved. At least as saved as it can be. The conclusion plays fair with the reader; however, it also paves the way for sequels. Sirens is, after all, the first in a three-book series.