The setting is New York City, and it is not long after the end of World War I. A woman runs into a hotel, hands her baby to the front desk clerk, and orders that they take her baby and look after him. The clerk then gives the baby to a lovely German couple who just lost their own child and happily takes the baby and names him, Otto.
Otto is a happy child, but bad things are happening back in Germany. As Otto becomes a young man, he falls sway to the philosophies of the country’s Chancellor. He joins the Nazi Party and rises up the ranks of the Reich.
This new book from Seth MacFarlane was originally to be filmed for The Orville’s 3rd season, but production was halted due to COVID-19. It was meant to be shown after the 8th episode. Instead, MacFarlane chose to novelize this episode in case the series did not receive a 4th season renewal (which has not yet been decided). As for the story, I was quite baffled for almost the first half of the book, which apparently takes place almost entirely in Germany, with each chapter depicting the growth of the Nazi Party. The focus is primarily on young Otto as we see him grow up and face situations that enable him to find a certain allure regarding Nazism. There is even a scene that felt as if it were lifted out of Schindler’s List with some horrifying barbarism committed by Otto. And yet, this is supposed to be about The Orville, and just when I was about to give up hope, a twist happens that alters the direction of Otto’s life as well as the story itself.
Since The Orville moved to Hulu (and is now moving to Disney+), MacFarlane has been going out of his way to change the tone of this recent third season from the previous two when they were broadcast on Fox. Gone is the sophomoric toilet humor. In its place, we now have some of the strongest morality plays that rival Star Trek. Sympathy for the Devil is no exception. Basically, MacFarlane is tackling “nature vs. nurture” and the topic of perceived accountability. Sadly, I cannot go into further details without spoiling this book. All that I can say is that this story deserves to be filmed. The story was jarring and, at times, even made me feel sick (clearly MacFarlane’s intent). But there is also a delicate beauty and sense of grace. I will confirm that the crew of the Orville ship is featured, and the role they play is that of pure beauty and compassion. The result is a story that people need to read. This is science fiction at its finest by taking a mirror and showing us our humanity, both good and bad.
If I have any complaint, it is in not seeing Otto’s journey to becoming the person we see in the epilogue. That is a process I would have enjoyed reading. Then again, maybe MacFarlane didn’t want to go down that road for fear of trying to show a tried and true method for dealing with hate. Perhaps it is best to leave that to the mind of the reader. Nevertheless, I think it would have been interesting to see, given my emotional investment in the character of Otto.
For continuing to tell very bold and even uncomfortable stories, I give The Orville: Sympathy for the Devil 4.5 out of 5 Stars.