While mythology is a rich mine for fantasy, it doesn’t often come into play in science fiction. That’s too bad, because science fiction as a genre carries many of the same themes and plot arcs as fantasy. So you can imagine how excited I was to find that M. M. Buckner has written a novel that draws heavily on the Greek myth of Orpheus. The Gravity Pilot follows a skydiver and the love of his life as each descends into their own personal Hell.
Orr has given his life to two things: skydiving and his girlfriend Dyce. But when a botched stratosphere dive turns into a record-breaking mesosphere jump, he’s quickly contracted to make jumps to be filmed for a virtual reality world. Dyce can no longer take his obsession with the sport and takes a librarian job in the underground city of Seattle.
Orr later discovers that Dyce has become addicted to fully immersive virtual reality and is a slave to the company who makes it. Orr’s constant pushing of his limits drops him into a dangerous mental state from which he makes jump after jump in increasingly deadly circumstances. But he will give it all up for Dyce, who may be too far gone to save.
I was pleased to see how many different levels Buckner was able to weave into this story. It functions as a sports story, with the descriptions of skydiving and the training and terminology that go along with it. It’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of rampant technology, with the scenes of people helplessly hooked into the full-immersive sims and unable to detach themselves. It’s also a cautionary tale about turning a blind eye to the state of the world’s environment, which underlies the “head in the sand” attitude of the tech addicts who can’t face reality.
There are some obvious parallels to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, although the book is less of an “update” (as it’s being billed) and more of a story infused with elements of the myth. On the one hand, I have to wonder if the publicity linking it to the myth will influence readers in what they see in the tale; on the other hand, I really have to wonder if the majority of readers will be familiar enough with the myth to catch the references. I asked several people at my work if they knew the myth, and no one did—and I work on a college campus!
The setting—a future time when the world is hideously polluted—provides yet another layer to the novel. It all has to do with the choices that we make, not just as a species but as individuals. We can choose to ruin our personal environment or nourish it, just as we as human beings can choose the same for the world as a whole.
While Dyce is the obvious love interest in the book, I found myself much more intrigued with Orr’s relationship with Vera, the lady who hires him to dive for virtual reality sims. Dyce leaves so early in the book that readers don’t get too much of a sense of how she and Orr fit together. The book shows much more of the adversarial relationship between Orr and Vera, and thus I found it the more intriguing of the interactions.
It’s not easy to review this novel because there’s so much going on that trying to describe it would not only take too long, but it would detract from the story. This is a book that you need to read at our own pace and digest in your own way. Rest assured, it’s a rewarding experience.
If readers can let themselves take the story for what it is, they’ll find a richly layered story. The disparate threads of story and theme mesh together, forming a detailed tapestry of love, loss and the forces that draw you towards your destiny. Read this novel to discover why we are all gravity pilots, falling towards our own personal Earth.