While the American hero may be an orphan, his destiny is to be number one. The Soviet hero's destiny, orphan or not, is to lose the race and be number two - then die, be forgotten and erased from history by the politburo[a].
Yefgenii Yeremin, the hero of this novel, is orphaned before the plot starts, raped on page three, and by the time the book ends he has completed the expected arc.
To be honest, if this book hadn't been written by a Brit, a people known for their stiff upper lips[b], I'd want to throw in a note here about Soviets being real people and not cardboard cutouts of condensed tragedy. But I'll let it slide. Like Victor Pelevin's masterful Omon Ra, this is a book about a wasteful system that brutally abuses and mis-uses its best and brightest, snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory every time. Against that background, Yefgenii's stoicism and superhuman determination in pursuit of his goals shines brightly.
But he is quite a monomaniac, and ultimately it is difficult to care for Yefgenii - after all, he doesn't seem to care for anyone but himself. We end up as detached from Yefgenii as he is detached from the rest of the world. When he struggles alone in space, the book is more like a system log from a robot or any other mechanical system - we read and understand what is happening, but the human character is simply not there. This is what makes the book a good read, but ultimately forgettable. If it hadn't been for my love of Kerbal Space Program, the last chapter of the book would probably have fallen flat as well.
Now that I think about it, I have felt more for the little green kerbals than for Yefgenii.