Inspirations and Influences

Dark Orbit: Carolyn Ives Gilman on Inspirations & Influences

Carolyn Ives Gilman talks about writing her new novel, Dark Orbit

“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their Inspirations and Influences. In this feature, we invite writers to talk about their new books, older titles, and their writing overall.

Today, we are participating on the blog tour for Dark Orbit, the new SF novel by Carolyn Ives Gilman, with an essay from the author on writing the book.


Please give a warm welcome to Carolyn!


In Search of Home

When I was younger, I used to have the same recurring anxiety dreams as everyone else—taking a final exam for a class I hadn’t attended, that sort of thing. Later, when I started traveling a lot for my job, my anxiety dreams became about showing up at the airport without my passport, or trying to pack when my transportation was leaving in 30 seconds, or arriving in the wrong city by accident. I expect I am not alone in these dreams, either.

As a whole, we have become increasingly unmoored from place. Casual party conversations in my present home town, Washington, D.C., generally start, “So, where are you from?” The assumption is that no one is from here. This city hosts an entire population of global migrants. People attend condo meetings by Skype from Nigeria, and my boss commutes from Canada.

Aside from anxiety dreams, what is this restless, rootless existence doing to us? I became interested in this question when I started waking up confused about which city I was in. And so, as with most things I wonder about, I started writing stories.
Dark Orbit, my latest novel, belongs to a series of stories I have been writing about a group of interstellar migrants called Wasters.

In a future civilization known as the Twenty Planets, people travel by coded light beam—but because the distances are so vast, even lightspeed travel takes years. The Wasters become detached from sequential time because whenever they travel, years pass on the planets while they cross space in a beam of light. Our jet lag is nothing to theirs. For them, nothing is permanent—not companies, cultures, or empires. The daily concerns of the planet-bound seem trivial and fleeting.

What sort of people would go on a journey that required them to give up home and family, to skip forward in time? I think they would be a lot like science fiction readers—motivated by curiosity, avid for new experiences, willing to take chances to see something new. Many would be knowledge workers—scientists, professionals who carry their vocations in their heads. Some would go to escape something, others for gain. I know there would be people like this, because every time a one-way expedition to Mars comes up, there is no shortage of people who say they would go.

The group of Wasters in Dark Orbit is an exploratory expedition to the farthest planet yet discovered. They know their mission is risky, but they have no idea how risky until they arrive on Iris and find a glittering, deadly planet where everything is illusion, and they have to pioneer new ways of seeing and thinking to survive.

The two main characters, Sara Callicot and Thora Lassiter, are both escaping something. Sara, an irrepressible rebel, is fleeing the consequences of her last, botched research job, which has left her unemployable. The introspective Thora is escaping a diplomatic scandal that has been covered up so effectively, even she does not know exactly what she did. Exiled to the faraway planet of Iris, she becomes suspicious that her memories have been altered. Finding spiritual roots in a village of ordinary people becomes critical not only to her sanity, but to the survival of all her companions.

Readers may recognize the universe of the Wasters from my novellas The Ice Owl and Arkfall, and from my previous novel, Halfway Human. All of these, in different ways, are about people uprooted from their homes and striving to find new connections in a universe of disruption and discontinuity. In that way, it’s not so very different from our own world.


Dark Orbit

Carolyn Ives Gilman is a Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated writer and real-life historian at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. She imagines a strange and compelling new world in DARK ORBIT (A Tor Hardcover; 25.99; On Sale: July 14, 2015). It was selected as a Top Pick from RT Book Reviews, which describes DARK ORBIT as “A novel that will make you think about perception, human nature — even the nature of reality — while remaining consistently gripping and moving.” Io9 lists it as one of their “Mind Blowing Science Fiction and Fantasy Books to Watch in 2015,” and Ursula K. Le Guin calls it: “Intellectually daring, brilliantly imagined, strongly felt.”

Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate, Thora. Upon arrival, the team finds an extraordinary crystalline planet, laden with dark matter. Then a crew member is murdered and Thora mysteriously disappears. She finds that the planet, thought to be uninhabited, is in fact home to a blind, sentient species whose members navigate their world with a bizarre vocabulary and extrasensory perceptions. Lost in the deep crevasses of the planet, Thora must battle her demons and learn to comprehend the native inhabitants in order to find her crewmates and warn them of impending danger. But her most difficult task may be persuading the crew that some powers lie beyond the boundaries of science.

Carolyn Ives Gilman’s DARK ORBIT is a gripping tale of first contact that challenges our concept of who we are and how we see and understand the universe. A compelling novel about human nature written by a devoted academic and historian, DARK ORBIT stretches the concept of what is possible, and will impress and challenge readers this summer.

You Might Also Like


  • Paul Weimer
    July 15, 2015 at 8:02 am

    I liked “The Ice Owl”, so I think I need to pick this one up…

  • ARC Review: Dark Orbit | Mental Megalodon
    July 16, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    […] check out this really cool guest post that she did over at The Book […]

Leave a Reply