Retrograde Orbit: A Delightful Tale About the Meaning of Home

Flint the protagonist in Retrograde Orbit cover. Written and drawn by Kristyna Baczynski. Published by Avery Hill Publishing. 22 September, 2018

Retrograde Orbit

Kristyna Baczynski (Writer and Artist)
Avery Hill Publishing
22 September, 2018

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

In a galaxy unlike our own, Flint dreams of Doma, the planet her family once called home before having to leave it in the wake of a nuclear disaster. Flint lives on Tisa, the sixth planet of the solar system, with her mother, a miner like so many others on the planet. Flint’s grandmother, Bettie, was a child when she left Doma, effectively making Flint a third generation Tisa-resident. But that doesn’t stop her classmates from referring to her as ‘Domer’, and it certainly doesn’t change how Flint feels about her ‘home planet’.

Flint takes the train home in Retrograde Orbit page 5. Written and drawn by Kristyna Baczynski. Published by Avery Hill Publishing. 22 September, 2018Time goes by, and Flint grows older, joining her mother as a miner, making friends, finding lovers, graduating school, even meeting the father who abandoned her. But there is one constant in her life – Flint’s adoration of Doma. Sadly, no one believes there is anything to go back to on Doma, and so nobody tries.

Until, one day, when Flint’s elaborate communication system receives a series of faint messages. The unexpected source of the messages is about to change Flint and her family’s life forever. Will Flint finally be able to realise her dream? Or is she destined to look up at the stars while living a meaningless existence?

Writer and artist Kristyna Baczynski perfectly encapsulates the modern dilemma of what makes a ‘home’ when so many people are living away from the roots of their ancestors. She tells the story through aliens and a rich science-fiction backdrop, but this is a story that will be familiar to many, embodying a side of real-world immigrant life that is often forgotten by the media.

Protagonist Flint starts off as an adorable little alien, and grows into a young woman who is as lost as she is idealistic. I love that Baczynski makes Doma more than just an emotional crutch for Flint. Flint has a full life on Tisa – a job, a loving mother and grandmother, a best friend who shares her love for Doma – but that doesn’t mean that she can’t want more.

Flint and her friend watch a shuttle blast off in Retrograde Orbit page 5. Written and drawn by Kristyna Baczynski. Published by Avery Hill Publishing. 22 September, 2018
Flint is always looking to the sky.

It is Flint’s need for belonging that drives the narrative, even if it isn’t one shared by her family. While her fanciful imagination conjures up beautiful landscapes on Doma, her grandmother only speaks of the lack of safety on the planet. Flint’s mother has all but cemented her place on Tisa, and though she has to work extra-hard bringing Flint up on her own, Tisa is her home.

I like that Flint’s family doesn’t actively discourage her from pursuing her quest to reach Doma, no matter how unrealistic it is. When Flint learns that all miners get communication credits to contact people off-world, credits that her mother has never even told her about, the reader learns that there was no malicious intent behind her mother’s falsehoods. Flint’s mom was exchanging the credits for food and other necessities for the family, not hiding them so her daughter couldn’t contact Doma. But, once armed with this new source of income, Flint builds her own communication device to keep in contact with Doma, even though the conversation is one-sided.

And, in the end, when Flint has an opportunity to realise her dream, her mother and grandmother pitch in to help her even if it means her being incredibly far away. Retrograde Orbit shows readers that it isn’t enough to just follow your dreams; you need those around you to have faith in your dreams as well.

I like the concept of the ‘Stepping Stones’ that Baczynski employs in the story — a phenomenon where all the planets line up, making passage to other the planets much cheaper and faster. She also uses this to break up the phases of the story.

In addition, there is a colour scheme in this book that indicates the passage of time, told in three-year increments, in conjunction with the Stepping Stones. Each phase is coloured in a different hue, which we learn corresponds to the colours of the six planets – green for Tisa, blue, purple, lilac, orange and, finally, red for Doma. The hues are also a subtle nod to Flint getting closer to her final destination, which is further elucidated by her learning more information about the planet in each chapter of her life.

A rich and real world.

But it isn’t just the colours that make the art so vivid in this story. Baczynski creates a complete, functioning world that is simultaneously alien and familiar. There is a rich industrial culture on Tisa that is immediately evident, and we continue to learn about it as Flint becomes more immersed in the workforce. We also see the transit systems, trailer parks, the mining offices, even the food — it is all so vivid and makes complete sense.

The only misstep in this story, I feel, was having Flint meet her estranged father. I’m not sure what the point of it was. Flint’s father seems less interested in his daughter and more in boasting about how well he’s done in comparison to Flint’s mom. The meeting is never mentioned again and appears to have no bearing on Flint’s life, which makes me wonder why it was included at all. I would have much preferred those panels being dedicated to Doma.

Aside from this one section, the rest of the book flows beautifully. There is a wistful hopefulness to this story that had me going back through its pages even after I’d finished reading it. I loved Flint and her love for Doma. For anyone who looks up at the stars wishing they could be somewhere else, this story is bound to fill you with hope for a brighter future. No matter where home is, you will find a way there.

Louis Skye

Louis Skye

A writer at heart with a fondness for well-told stories, Louis Skye is always looking for a way to escape the planet, whether through comic books, films, television, books, or video games. E always has an eye out for the subversive and champions diversity in media. Louis' podcast, Stereo Geeks, is available on all major platforms. Pronouns: E/ Er/ Eir