Brute Orbits by George Zebrowski

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It is the twenty-first century. Suffering from global warming and overpopulation, Earth is opening the solar system to industrialization. One of the largest growth industries"corrections"capitalizes on the opportunity, sending convicts to mine asteroids diverted into near-Earth orbits. Like the condemned digging their own graves, the convicts hollow out their own prisons, as the mined-out shells become deep-space cell blocks. Then an administrative genius realizes that the asteroid prisons can be inserted into solar orbits, timed to return to near-Earth space when terms run out. This not only adds further security, it removes the problem of abuse by guards, since they are no longer needed.

The orbits grow longer, tending to run out the inmates' lives in the vast swing beyond the solar system and back. Ambitious administrators soon discover that small "errors" in boost velocity can rid them of selected groups altogether, whether sentenced to life or not. Political prisoners can be easily included in these planned mistakes, along with the hopelessly violent and mentally defective: the mix of felonsboth male and femalemakes few distinctions.

In time the abyss in every direction from Earth is dotted with receding prisons. Human rejects endure the black vise of interstellar space-timesoft bodies in hard shells, surviving along open orbits, free to live and reproduce as they wish, to seek what law they can amongst themselves, never to return....

But as Earth's societies recover and prosper, attitudes toward crime and punishment change. The sky's constant reproach spurs a sense of sympathyand curiosityabout what has happened in these "brute orbits." When an advanced propulsion system makes it possible to overtake the scattered habitats, a courageous team of social scientists sets out to go where no free human has gone before. What they discover about this lost humanity is both provocative and moving.

Zebrowski's latest work is an innovative novel about the future of crime and punishment, in which conflicted hearts and minds find new ways to war over the great prize of history called justice.


About George Zebrowski

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Zebrowski's 30 books include novels, short fiction collections, anthologies, and a book of essays.
Published September 1, 1998 by Harper Prism. 240 pages
Genres: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Literature & Fiction, Children's Books. Fiction

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""This use of distance as a better prison wall"" is more than just an ingenious application of technology to the penal system: it's also a convenient trick for disposing of the socially misfit, since orbits are ""accidentally"" miscalculated to prevent their return.

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