The novel “Orion” by Ben Bova was published for the first time in 1984. It’s the first book in the Orion series.
John O’Ryan is aware of the fact that he has extraordinary skills but doesn’t know their origin. His life doesn’t seem exceptional but one day ends up in the middle of what looks like a terrorist attack. With him a beautiful woman who caught his attention is involved and ends up killed not in the attack but in the strange events that follow it.
Determined to understand more about it, John O’Ryan starts investigating and finally finds someone who reveals his true identity. He’s not a normal human being but Orion, the champion of all humanity, whose destiny is to save it by fighting Ahriman the Dark One, who wants to destroy it, through time. The woman who charmed him is more than a human and acts alongside Ormazd the Golden One, Orion’s creator.
“Orion” is labeled as science fiction but has fantasy connotations because it’s based on various elements taken from mythologies and religions. Ormazd, better known as Ahura Mazda and other variants, is in the Zoroastrian religion – aka Mazdeism – the creator god opposed to Ahriman, also known as Angra Mainyu and other variants. Orion is a giant hunter from Greek mythology.
At the beginning of the novel, Orion is not aware of either his nature or his mission and the reader discovers various fragments of a great story together with him. When the protagonist, who tells in the first person what happens to him, receives the first revelations together with the first instructions his mission turns out to be crucial for humanity’s survival but at the same time simple in the sense that he’s the champion of humanity who fights Evil incarnate.
When Ahriman tries to sabotage a new generation nuclear reactor, Orion receives confirmation of what was revealed to him and believes he’s on the side of good on behalf of humanity and Ormazd the Golden One. However, the various phases of the war he fights make increasingly ambiguous situations emerge.
In Orion’s mission the end justifies the means but this creates in him doubts that increase with time. He can’t be considered a pawn because he has a key role as a champion of humanity but soon realizes that there are too many things he doesn’t know and Ormazd doesn’t seem willing to tell him.
In the course of the fight against Ahriman, Orion finds himself more than once in the midst of wars fought by normal human beings completely unaware of the fact that there’s something much bigger at stake. There are times when human history can change depending on the outcome of a war and the violence tendencies that are described in the novel don’t give a very positive portrait of the human species.
Almost as a contrast to the violent events in which he finds himself, Orion has a love bond with the woman who, with different names, accompanies him in his mission. Personally I have little interest in these romantic elements and I tend to consider them cheesy. Luckily, in this novel they’re limited and usually connected to the really important events.
These events give the novel a growing sense of tragedy as Orion lives them and gets new information. He tries to be positive as a champion of humanity but the circumstances in which he finds himself offer limited possibilities. Ben Bova is certainly not a philosopher and the adventurous part of the plot is the most important but this novel still offers some food for thought.
In the course of the novel, Orion himself often reflects on his situation. Sometimes this slows down the story’s pace but increases its emotional intensity and helps to give a little depth to the story and the key character in a work in which the protagonists are basically archetypes. The most important development is the one around the initial concepts of good and evil.
In the end, in “Orion” Ben Bova brings together many elements connected to the history of humanity even if the result isn’t very sophisticated because the novel is relatively short. It’s the first book of a series but it has its own ending so you can read it and then decide if you want to go on with its sequels. If you like these themes and you’re not scared by their dark sides, I recommend reading it.