Year of The Orphan is a major achievement on many levels. There are debut novels aplenty. Daniel Findlay’s debut sci fi/dystopian work is not merely another of a large pile.
Here is a novel which speaks uniquely and specifically of Australian issues with universal contemporary appeal and relevance. It uses gutsy, earthy, yet spirited language sprung from gritty hard-edged characters of deep intensity.
“There were a heat. Air hotter’n blud.”
She is being chased across the desert by a mythical, feared being called The Reckoner, as she pushes towards the safety of home base, The System.
Orphan’s outback Australia, many centuries in the future, is still a sandblasted wasteland with hidden life and water sources. Shifting with clear, sophisticated ease from Orphan’s life before Reckoner’s chase back to the present, Findlay reveals a tale of a world long broken off from its technologically and socially advanced past; a world at the point where nearly all knowledge acquired is lost, bar scraps of it in maps, old books and papers, all extremely rare.
Year of the Orphan is post-apocalyptic, obviously, but without an overblown plot line, characters, invented science or fantasy. It is firmly bolted down to the harsh realities of an unforgiving environment traumatised by fatal disaster, characterised by disciplined restraint in unpacking a deftly structured, powerfully compelling, questioning tale.
Findlay’s ebbing flow of voices and actions, past to present and back, holds the reader enticingly; from Orphan, The Reckoner, Karra who becomes her overseer, Old Man her owner, and Block, the savvy ambitious one of The System.
At the novel’s crux is old school science, history lost or dying, and hidden history. The Orphan becomes unwittingly drawn into things of the past desired by those with the knowledge of them and those without a clue. Her challenge is what she chooses to do with what she learns.
It’s a choice and circumstance filled with great peril, outlaid with tremendous imaginative force. The Orphan is an extremely powerful, heart and mind gripping character, a tremendous articulation of so much that is of the Australian desert, past, and plausible future, as are the other key characters, including the land itself.
Findlay is in comfortable territory with Frank Herbert of Dune trilogy fame and Australia’s Tim Winton for an ability to express the inner life of an environment tied to flesh and blood humans, but with a remarkable twist involved.
Year of the Orphan is that must-read, high-calibre Australian sci fi/dystopian novel you’ve been waiting for.
Reviewed by David O’Brien
Rating out of 10: 10
Distributed by: Penguin Books Australia
Released: May 2017
RRP: $32.99 trade paperback, $12.99 eBook