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Orbital Decay (Near-Space) Mass Market Paperback – November 1, 1989

3.9 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews
Book 1 of 10 in the Near-Space Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The beamjacks are the builders of the future: the zero-G workers who are assembling satellites in the vacuum of space. Management and the military think they have the beamjacks under control -- but they're wrong.

From Publishers Weekly

Steele's debut is an ambitious science fiction thriller somewhat marred by amateurish technique. The central story is skillfully plotted and written with gusto: narrator Sam Sloane and a group of 21st-century hard hats called "beamjacks" foil an Orwellian venture into global wiretapping by the U.S. National Security Agency. The author uses a familiar device effectively by setting his story in the near future, 2016, with the culture of the 1980s serving as a believable past. But his straightforward adventure tale is encumbered by two unconvincing and poorly integrated complications: a clumsy narrative framework consisting of memoirs dictated by Sloane, stranded in space without the likelihood of rescue; and a series of flashbacks recounting a crime of passion committed by Sloane's buddy, who eventually becomes part of the space-station work crew. In addition, the narration alternates confusingly between the first and third person.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Series: Near-Space
  • Mass Market Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ace; Reissue edition (November 1, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0441498515
  • ISBN-13: 978-0441498512
  • Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 0.9 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,316,864 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Allen Steele is a science fiction writer with nineteen novels and six collections of short fiction to his credit. His works have been translated worldwide and have received the Hugo, Locus, and Seiun awards, and have been nominated for the Nebula, Sturgeon, and Sidewise Awards. He is also a recipient of the the Robert A. Heinlein Award. His first published story, "Live from the Mars Hotel," was published in 1988, and his first novel, Orbital Decay, was published in 1989. His best-known work is the Coyote series -- Coyote, Coyote Rising, Coyote Frontier, Coyote Horizon, and Coyote Destiny -- and the associative novels set in the same universe: Spindrift, Galaxy Blues, and Hex. A graduate of New England College and the University of Missouri, he is a former journalist, and once spent a brief tenure as a Washington correspondent. He was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, and now lives in western Massachusetts with his wife and dogs.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on September 16, 1997
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"Reads like Golden Age Heinlein" my butt. It's a down-to-earth (eventually) yarn about a blue-collar construction crew in orbit, a pack of misfits as fascinating as they are bored. They happen to save the free world but, honestly, that's incidental to the drift. A treat for anyone who can't stand swords, sorcerors or space opera.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Originally published in 1989, Orbital Decay was Allen Steele's first published science fiction novel. Why it took so long to bring out the Kindle edition is beyond me, but I'm glad that Open Road Media has just done so.

For anyone who has NOT had the pleasure of reading Steele's work: If you enjoy `hard' science fiction, you're missing out on something. I first discovered him via his Coyote series.

Even in his first book, Orbital Decay, the careful development of the characters is evident. You get to know them as if they were friends of yours.

When you consider that the book was written in the 1980's, you can overlook a few anachronisms (cassette-taped music) because the large plot involves something that is making headlines this very day; a project by the NSA to track and intercept all phone, internet, and other transmissions between all Americans and others, in the name of "national security." Talk about prescience and an SF story becoming reality!

A few members of a space station construction team discover the real intent of the stations they're working on or affiliated with. They are the only ones who can sabotage the "Big Ear" to keep the government from spying on all Americans.

Steele gives the right amount of day-to-day details of life in space, personal interactions, and `moving the plot forward' mechanisms to keep the story moving along. Unlike many science fiction novels, the last section of the book moves at breakneck pace.

A fine read!
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
The story follow the memories of the unlucky Sam Sloane as he lyes waiting for his inevitable death at the bottom of a canyon on the moon. As the story progress the reader learns how a bunch of misfit (ex convicts, ex druggies, and one by the end slightly redeemed crime of passion commiter)beam jacks manage to save the world from the tyrnanny of the super spy satellite called "Big Ear" and how exactly Sloane ended up in the canyon.
The great thing about this story is that it treats it characters as humans, there are no gung ho were going to conquer the universe types. Well there is one but he goes insane by the end book. Most of the characters are just there to escape their past and try to make some money while there at it. The reality is also protrayed that people are people where ever they go, the crew is mostly bored, the space stations are mostly functional and everything is regulated to death. There is realistic science in the book, I wouldn't call it hard Scifi since most of the crew are non scientists it wouldn't make since for them to rattle on about why this or that does this or that. The book also has what I have noticed in the other Allen Steele books is that there is always a main characther who toward the end of the book usually reveals him or herself as working for an organization that is trying to save the earth from somthing. Its not bad and usually puts a different spin on the story that came before, but it happens alot in his books. All in all i would recommend this to any one who likes off beat scifi stories that are about ordinary people that are in extraordinary situations.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Overall this isn't a bad story and reading it as someone living 20+ years after it was written it is easy to see parts of the book that are almost prescient. It shows how the public consciousness concerned about government surveillance is not limited to recent events and has been a concern for a very long time.

While the moral of the story does hold up the rest of the book feels highly dated. This is definitely a work from a Cold War mindset and you can feel that throughout the story. There are also many references that were topical at the time but no longer hold the same relevance. This is the issue of trying to look forward to what the future will be like, if it is later being read around the time the "future" story is set the reader cannot help but compare it to their actual lives. Since it was written a while ago you can't really hold the anachronisms against the book, but it is something you notice.

There are moments later portions of the book where the story really picks up as events come to a head, but those seem to take a long time to get to. The first half of the book reads very slowly and much of the character interaction is not all that interesting. Anything dealing with the surveillance system on the station holds the reader's attention but pretty much every other part of the book drags. This is unfortunate since the first chapter starts the book off with an interesting setup only to have nearly all of the rest of the book set in flashbacks that bring you back to the point in the first chapter. I can see what the author was going for but it just did not work for me.

The characters themselves are also not terribly interesting. You get essentially two types of characters, either widely over the top or totally bland.
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