Orbitsville – Bob Shaw

Orbitsville_-_Bob_Shaw_cover
Orbitsville #1

Spaceship commander Vance Garamond, fleeing from the imperious president of Starflight, follows an old map and discovers a vast empty Dyson sphere with only one entrance.

I was on NetFlix the other day, and noticed a movie about two worlds floating one above the other. It sounded a lot like Bob Shaw’s Ragged Astronauts, so I checked it out. Unfortunately, the first five minutes were so awful that I gave up. But perhaps that’s why, when my wife asked for a recommendation, I offered Orbitsville (The Ragged Astronauts being a little too out there for her). She didn’t like it, so naturally I re-read it – in the course of putting it back on the shelf.

I first found Bob Shaw through a paperback collection called Cosmic Kaleidoscope. I was struck by his ability to write SF stories about people, and not just gadgets – at the time, a relatively uncommon skill. I’d heard of Orbitsville, but my suspicion of ‘popular’ books meant I put off reading it for a while. My mistake.

Orbitsville is one of those rare books deserving the praise it receives. It’s a small book, and relatively simple, but it works so well that it just sticks with you. There’s no one point where you say “wow, that was cool”; I think that it’s just the realism – of a story about a world the size of 5 billion Earths – that works so well. That plus the fact that despite cool technology, the story is about people. Garamond is one of the few characters fleshed out, but he’s credible – at no point did I think “Well, I wouldn’t do that.” In fact, Garamond acts as I think/hope I might, despite moments of doubt, self-doubt, and fear.

Shaw is a known author, and this book was a pretty big hit. I’ve never understood, though, why he didn’t make it big. Not all of his books are great, but some of his work is on a par with Arthur C. Clarke, and somewhat similar in style. Definitely under-rated, and I encourage you to check him out. Start with Orbtisville or Cosmic Kaleidoscope, if you can find it.

A very good book that I recommend to anyone who likes a good SF story about people.

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