“Is a crime defined by the act itself? Or by the harm it does to others?”
THE ORVILLE: SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL is a novella by Seth MacFarlane that is based around a really good concept and was meant to be an episode of the show. However, Covid-19 happened and they weren’t able to finish it. Seth has stated he would make it into an episode if they ever get a season four but we don’t know if that’s going to happen after New Horizons. I also think they should make some major revisions to the story if they do it.
It’s impossible to discuss the book without spoiling its major twist but it’s a good twist so if you want to be completely surprised, don’t read further. However, if you don’t think spoilers are an impediment to enjoying a story then continue on. Okay? Everyone got that? Everyone ready? Good, let’s go on.
The premise is that Otto is a young boy abandoned in America that is adopted by a German couple in the 1910s. Well, they return home and Otto is gradually radicalized by a certain National Socialist Party that proceeds to make him an SS officer. Yep, we’re dealing with Nazis here and no metaphor or symbolism. Otto is genuine scum who has a wife and child that he loves but is the kind of guy who regularly kills Jews for a living. That’s when we find out he’s lived his entire life in a holodeck. Or whatever The Orville calls their holodecks.
Yes, Otto was a baby when his parents left him in the holodeck to look after him while they were being attacked by the Krill. The world’s worst series of coincidences resulted in him ending up in Nazi Germany and becoming a pure example of what is worst in mankind. He’s a mass murderer and war criminal as well as true believer: but he’s never hurt anyone in his life.
Really, this is a fascinating story concept and actually one of the few ones I haven’t seen for something like the holodeck in Star Trek. What do you do with a person who has been living in a video game his entire life but believes he’s a killer of thousands? Is unrepentent about it? That his entire life until this point was a lie. Basically, you discover you’re in The Matrix but you’re an utter piece of crap who awakens in a Trekkian utopia.
The problem is that concept isn’t given room to breathe. We get a bunch of information on how Otto turns from a sweet kid into a Nazi but none of it is necessary. Or interesting. Half the book is about his life growing up in Pre-WW2 Germany but literally, all of this could have been done in one scene instead of five or six.
Otto has a couple of scenes where he’s upset at the Doctor and mad that the Germans lost the war but we really could have gotten a lot more into this. Really, one punch in the face and he’s starting to realize he’s a moron. However, we kind of skip over all the therapy and culture shock the guy had to go into as the book just says, “Yeah, this guy needs to be institutionalized.” I mean, no shit Sherlock, but is that really the best way to write this story’s end?
So, the book is…okay.
But underwhelming for a genuinely clever concept.