Spotlight on “Orbital” by Samantha Harvey

by LitStack Editor

A Most Anticipated Book of Fall from the Guardian and Los Angeles Times 

Orbital by Samantha Harvey

About Orbital

Profound, contemplative and gorgeous, Orbital is an eloquent meditation on space and a moving elegy to our humanity, environment, and planet.

A slender novel of epic power, Orbital deftly snapshots one day in the lives of six women and men hurtling through space—not towards the moon or the vast unknown, but around our planet. Selected for one of the last space station missions of its kind before the program is dismantled, these astronauts and cosmonauts—from America, Russia, Italy, Britain, and Japan—have left their lives behind to travel at a speed of over seventeen thousand miles an hour as the earth reels below. 

We glimpse moments of their earthly lives through brief communications with family, their photos and talismans; we watch them whip up dehydrated meals, float in gravity-free sleep, and exercise in regimented routines to prevent atrophying muscles; we witness them form bonds that will stand between them and utter solitude. Most of all, we are with them as they behold and record their silent blue planet. 

Their experiences of sixteen sunrises and sunsets and the bright, blinking constellations of the galaxy are at once breathtakingly awesome and surprisingly intimate. So are the marks of civilization far below, encrusted on the planet on which we live. 

Praise for Orbital

“Beautiful . . . [A] gorgeous meditation.”Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“Coming from five different countries, the space travelers represent a microcosm of humanity. This is a beautifully written, deeply thoughtful meditation on planet Earth and our place in it.”Library Journal, Starred Review

“Luminous and profound, Orbital is hard to put down and even harder to forget.”Booklist, Starred Review

“Samantha Harvey is a beautiful stylist; in Orbital a group of astronauts look down on our fragile Earth. It’s a slim, profound study of intimate human fears set against epic vistas of swirling weather patterns and rolling continents.”—Guardian (UK)

“A meditation, zealously lyrical, about the profundity and precarity of our imperiled planet. Elegiac and elliptical, this slim novel is a sobering read.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Radiant . . . With Orbital, Harvey gives readers a powerful novel that, in less than 200 pages, manages to explore questions of philosophy and religion, faith, existence, meaning-making, art, grief, and gratitude, just to name a few. In showing one day in the lives of just six individuals, she probes deep into the human experience as it teeters between the profound and the mundane—even, or perhaps especially, as experienced from the rarified vantage point of space. Her luscious and lyrical language is as close to poetry as it is to prose . . . Orbital is a gift of language, a meditation on meaning, and a beautiful exploration of perspective.”—Kerry McHugh in Shelf Awareness

“Powerful . . . The strength of this book lies in Harvey’s stunning and rhythmic descriptions of this constantly unraveling world . . . She moves unnervingly between the intimate and the epic, while subtly unpicking the essential threads that bind them . . . The beauty of the prose engages the reader fully and, overall, this is an uplifting book. Like the astronauts, the reader is left with no firm foothold. We nevertheless come to understand the words “Mother Earth” in new and positive ways. And Harvey reassures us that, although the world may seem fragile, “no negligible thing could shine so bright”—The Sunday Times (UK)

“A clarion call for our planet through existential awe . . . In contrast to the bleak apocalyptic tone of much contemporary climate fiction, Orbital’s luminous descriptions remind us of the beauty at stake when humanity plays fast and loose with our single, and singular, blue marble.”—Financial Times (UK)

“A radiant explosion of a novel.”—Jamie Quatro, author of Fire Sermon

“One of the most beautiful novels I have read in a very long time.”—Mark Haddon, author of The Porpoise

“This is such a beautiful book you have to adjust your readerly heart to take it all in. The plot is simply and extraordinarily our planet, watched by a handful of souls. Orbital wonders what it’s like to be a human ‘with a godly view’ and because Samantha Harvey is such a spectacular prose stylist the wondering takes the form of breathtaking color storms and brilliant encircling epiphanies of time and scale, technology and love, ambition and faith. It is an awe-inspiring and humbling love letter to Earth and those who reckon with the gift of it.”—Max Porter, author of Shy

“A gorgeous song of praise from on high, a hymn sung in starlight to celebrate mankind’s courage and endeavour. And without preaching or speeching it also serves as a lyric reminder of all we might lose if we do not mend our ways.”—Mike McCormack, author of Solar Bones

“I admire Orbital even more than the rest of Harvey’s work… I don’t think I’ve read anything else with such love for its characters and such clarity about the state of the planet, and I was deeply grateful for the novel’s refusal of despair or cynicism.”—Sarah Moss, author of Summerwater

Orbital is a magnificent, thunderous work and yet so brief, so fleeting. It is an elegy to planet Earth in all its splendour and fragility. Exquisitely well-written, it confirms Samantha Harvey as a singular talent.”—Nathan Filer, author of The Shock of the Fall

“Six astronauts on a space station are working, sleeping, and watching the world go by. They think about typhoons, algal blooms, seascapes, cities at night, Velázquez, frog calls, fried eggs, family. Orbital is a lush description of the gorgeous earth, and a broad-minded, level-headed, affectionate take on what goes on down here.”—Daisy Hildyard, author of Emergency

About Samantha Harvey, Author of Orbital


Samantha Harvey is the author of five novels, Orbital, The Western Wind, Dear Thief, All Is Song, and The Wilderness, which won the Betty Trask Prize, and one work of nonfiction, The Shapeless Unease. Her books have been shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Guardian First Book Award, and the James Tait Black Prize, as well as longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Baileys Women’s Prize. She lives in Bath, UK, and teaches creative writing at Bath Spa University.

Titles by Samantha Harvey

Other LitStack Resources

Be sure and check out other LitStack Spotlights that shine a light on books we think you should read.

As a Bookshop, Amazon affiliate, LitStack may earn a commission at no cost to you when you purchase products through our affiliate links.

Related Posts