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Orbitsville #1


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Fleeing Elizabeth Lindstrom's anger at the death of her son, Vance Garamond, a flickerwing commander, leaves the solar system far behind. Pursued by Earth's space fleet, Garamond finds a vast, alien-built spherical structure which might just change the destiny of the human race.

192 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1975

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About the author

Bob Shaw

191 books78 followers
Bob Shaw was born in Northern Ireland. After working in structural engineering, industrial public relations, and journalism he became a full time science fiction writer in 1975.

Shaw was noted for his originality and wit. He was two-time recipient (in 1979 and 1980) of the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer. His short story Light of Other Days was a Hugo Award nominee in 1967, as was his novel The Ragged Astronauts in 1987.

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5 stars
172 (20%)
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322 (38%)
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265 (31%)
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72 (8%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 83 reviews
Profile Image for Metodi Markov.
1,342 reviews319 followers
June 21, 2023
Поредицата на издателство "Офир" ми е от любимите и имам почти всичките книги, които са част от нея.

Незнайно как съм пропуснал "Орбитсвил", но сега се поправих и мога да кажа, че този кратичък роман е точно от типа твърда фантастика, който аз много харесвам и уважавам!

Смели идеи, история с размах и интересни приключения са добре съчетани в него и водят читателите в едно размирно, но възможно близко бъдеще. Дали ще имаме шанс да просъществуваме като цивилизация?

Моята оценка - 4,5 *, основно заради слабо изградените герои.

За съжаление, другите две части от трилогията Боб Шоу остават непреведени.
Profile Image for Dirk Grobbelaar.
554 reviews1,094 followers
January 2, 2019
[He] was a man who had looked on many worlds in his lifetime, yet his face was the face of a man in shock.

You’ll be forgiven if Orbitsville reminds you a lot of Ringworld. Both deal with megastructures around a star. Around a star, just in case you missed that part; these things are huge. Where the Ringworld is, obviously, a ring, Orbitsville is in actual fact a Dyson Sphere (you can go look it to up). That’s to say, it’s completely enclosed, like one of those hollow Christmas decorations. Now imagine the sun as a pinhead exactly in the middle, to get an idea of scale.

'As far as I can tell…' [He] swallowed painfully. 'As far as I can tell, the object out there… the thing we have discovered is a spaceship over three hundred million kilometres in diameter!'

Before everybody is up in arms: these aren’t spoilers I’m chucking around here. You only need to read a few of the synopses on the novel and you’ll already be aware of all this. There just happens to be an actual story with actual plot events surrounding this artifact. The problem, as with Ringworld and other similar novels, is that the Big Dumb Object inevitably upstages everything else, turning plot and characterisation into a footnote of something much, much bigger. And that is probably where Orbitsville’s shortcomings start shining through.

On the question of whether it was a natural or an artificial object he would venture no professional opinion.

That’s not to say Orbitsville is a bad book; it’s everything but. I still prefer Ringworld, but I really enjoyed reading this novel. It’s big idea Science Fiction on Sense of Wonder overdrive. There was a time when good ol’ sensawunda was considered de rigueur in the genre. That, and a cracking yarn could sell books! I just love the way novels like these can bend my mind.

As a tale of exploration, Orbitsville isn’t as successful as I would have liked. Inevitably, there are precious few answers provided to the enigma that is O, and due to the sheer size of everything only a miniscule part of the artefact is actually “explored”.

The novel sits somewhere between the adventure tales of the Golden Age of Science Fiction and the more edgy and harder modern stories. However, it doesn’t sit quite as comfortable as, say again, Ringworld, in my opinion. The story in Orbitsville gets wrapped up very abruptly, after a rather winding build-up, and not to my complete satisfaction. However, this is a bona fide classic and recommended for lovers of Artifacts in Science Fiction. There are two sequels, as far as I know.

[He] found that trying to comprehend its size produced an almost physical pain between his temples. The object was big enough by astronomical standards, so large that with Sol positioned at its centre the Earth's orbit would be within the shell, assuming that the outer surface was a shell. It was so huge that, from distances which would have reduced Sol to nothing more than a bright star, it was clearly visible to the unaided eye as a disc of blackness against the star clouds of the galactic lens.

Now that’s what I’m talking about!
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
September 23, 2014
This a whale of a science-fiction novel, ample in scope, awash with imagination, and chock-full of ideas. The hero, an intrepid space explorer, finds a Dyson Sphere around a star. That means that the whole star has been enclosed in a huge spherical envelope - Ringworld, eat your heart out! What's its surface area? Let me do the math. Hm, the sphere's radius is about the same as the distance between the Earth and the Sun... 4π r squared... I make it about 2.7 x 10^17 km^2. Wow!

The rest of this review is available elsewhere (the location cannot be given for Goodreads policy reasons)
Profile Image for Two Envelopes And A Phone.
229 reviews23 followers
August 27, 2022
I read this for the first time 38 years ago, and since then I have always thought of this as my favourite SF novel. I knew that status might wobble off the top of the chart, if I ever re-read it - but suddenly I gave in to a wild impulse and have just finished a return visit to Orbitsville at the time of humans discovering it. Result: if this is no longer my favourite SF novel, it’s certainly the sentimental favourite, and I got chills going through the whole story again.

This is certainly the first SF novel that blew my mind. Orbitsville, the place - descriptions and secrets gradually revealed - gave my first full-fledged SF-based Sense of Wonder. I’ve wanted to be there ever since…at least, after the battle for it was done.

If this is indeed “trad” SF, Orbitsville the construct is what makes me uncomfortable with just agreeing it is that. The Big O is the star of the book and, in attaching itself to what I admit is a “traditional-style” plot, wrecks any feel of “formulaic”. For me, Orbitsville feels like religious allegory - heaven, if we could find it out in space, but with no sign of the maker, and no rules. Just evidence that wars have already been fought for paradise, and somehow no one won. The section of the book detailing the blasted derelict ships clogging the solitary, teeny - teeny relative to the size of Orbitsville - entrance to what could be a perfect place for everyone to live beyond borders and possessiveness, made me wonder what humanity would do with their shot at paradise. Just move in, or ruin it? I knew the rest of the story would show me. Heaven must be earned, or we don’t deserve it. And killing each other to get in and sell tickets would mean we are only the universe’s latest failures.

Flashback: just as teenaged me was digesting what the themes of the book might be, the novel quickly moves on to the first humans entering Orbitsville, and discovering what’s inside. Cut to re-read: fair to say that I wasn’t blown away by this magical section - my head didn’t seem to expand and transport me somewhere I had never imagined - like when I was sixteen…but my breath caught and I was indeed moved, by the reveal of the gift in the shell. Not First-Time Awe, but Re-Read Sublimity. This also happened at the various twists in the story, and there are many, of the “trad”, but against “formula”, type. And Orbitsville’s last big surprise - blame mysterious long-gone meddlers for this final secret that needs to be exposed and stripped away - still hits me hard, as it reinforces the theme “let pettiness and wickedness no longer keep us from peaceful existence”.
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 2 books347 followers
May 19, 2019
180612: third review: no, this is not beautiful writing to read again- just happened to be on the shelf while i was watching sports, not something to read seriously, just fun, so...

second review: i read this again, not that it is better but somehow my enjoyment has changed… this is of the subgenre of sf known as the Big Dumb Object, and no these ideas do not get bigger: a dyson sphere, that is a sphere the diameter of earth’s orbit, trapping a sun in the middle, atmosphere, gravity, night/day, seasons shadow bands, leaves an inner surface of five billion earths! at the time written that is one earth/person. i like this better than ringworld where it is a simple band on the orbit, i like this book more because it focuses more on what happens to human concerns when faced by this immensity...

as with the first reading, i somehow saw this as a musical comedy- a slapstick farce generated against measuring humans to this absurdly endless living space. maybe the idea is more fantasy than sf. but the idea! the absurdity! only sf can come up with such plausible or at least possible big dumb objects. i could complain certain literary-type virtues are missing or undeveloped: you know, complex characters, compelling and rational plot etc. this does not matter. i smile just thinking about this immense sphere that changes- everything! i had to put it in favourites (once) though many people might question its inclusion… for sheer conceptual power this is a great book...
Profile Image for Martin Doychinov.
461 reviews28 followers
June 6, 2021
Човечеството е успяло да открие само една планета, подходяща за населяване, а корпорация "Старфлайт" е единствената, извършваща междузвездни полети. Капитан Ванс Гарамонд е капитан на един от много кораби, издирващи нови обитаеми планети и инцидентно се превръща в най-големият враг на невротичната психопатка, която притежава корпорацията. Той успява да се добере до кръжащия си в орбита около Земята кораб с жената и сина си и да избяга в космоса, по следите на тайнствена звезда от звездна карта, открита в разкопки на планета, обитавана от отдавна изчезнала цивилизация. Гарамонд открива дайсънова сфера, а това е само завръзката на романа...
Макар и доволен от прочетеното, имам и няколко проблема с прочетеното:
- Персонажът на капитана е праволинеен до безобразие, а и го превръща в не особено положителен персонаж.
- Развръзката е едва 4-5 страници, чието темпо е въз-бързо след почти приспивното преди това.
- Основната тема, която би следвало да се разработи, а именно - значимостта на Орбитсвил за човешката раса (и не само), е разказана стегнато в последната страница на прозиведението, която е епилог, който не е отделен като такъв.
Боб Шоу е положил основите на нещо, което спокойно би могло да от ранга на "Пръстенов свят" на Лари Нивън, но не е успял да го осъществи достатъчно добре. Има още две произведения, развиващи се след това - "Orbitsville Departure" и "Orbitsville Judgement", които вероятно ще прочета, защото въпреки недостатъците си, "Орбитсвил" е една добра космическа фантастика.
Profile Image for Karl Stark di Grande Inverno.
515 reviews17 followers
May 1, 2020
Un romanzo con delle premesse affascinanti, ma con un'esecuzione zoppicante.
L'idea di fondo è buona: una sfera artificiale ricopre una stella lontana, creando sulla sua superficie interna un ecosistema completo e, soprattutto, immenso.
La scoperta di questo sistema innesca una corsa all'oro analoga a quella del West.
Sembrerebbe una tavola apparecchiata per un'infinità di avventure, ma purtroppo Shaw si ferma prima, utilizzando questo scenario solo per narrarci una storia di vendetta personale, e mancando di approfondire le cose che invece incuriosiscono di più il lettore, ovvero: chi ha costruito la sfera e perchè?
Anche gli incontri con razze aliene, che inevitabilmente popolano questo mondo (non è uno spoiler: non penserete mica di essere soli nell'universo, no?) sono gestiti in modo superficiale, senza ripercussioni sulla trama.
Nonostante questo, e complice anche la brevità del romanzo, si lascia leggere, ed il lettore rimane moderatamente curioso circa gli interrogativi di cui sopra, che immagino verranno trattati nei due volumi successivi.
Alcuni lo hanno paragonato, giustamente, a Ringworld di Larry Niven; il paragone ovviamente ci sta, anche se i romanzi procedono su binari diversi. A me onestamente ha ricordato di più il "Mondo del Fiume" di Farmer, nel modo in cui si sviluppa la trama.
Profile Image for Glenn Schmelzle.
187 reviews14 followers
January 2, 2018
Orbitsvile is a fairly small book hinged around a big idea. Well, actually, a big setting. A Dyson Sphere. These things are such a great plot device, and I liked how Shaw's imagination played with it. The scale of it certainly had a significant impact on how characters acted.

I don't want to impose our social standards on characters written 40 years ago, but Vance Garamond was an unapologetic boor, bad qualities for a leader who asks his crew to risk their lives carrying out his agenda. His wife Aileen is way too ditsy and subservient; and though it paints Vance as the heroic husband, she's not very believable.

All in all though, I would read this book again.
Profile Image for Bill.
948 reviews316 followers
January 31, 2008
Mind expansion time, kiddies. Man discovers a big sphere. How big? Well, pretty big. Like big enough to contain an entire solar system. It's the size of five billion Earths.
I got dizzy a couple of times reading it.
Profile Image for Beata.
121 reviews21 followers
November 10, 2019
Zdecydowanie odradzam lekturę ze względu na ryzyko wystąpienia zmian w mózgu. Dotarłam do miejsca, w którym autor objaśniał, na jakiej zasadzie lata statek kosmiczny, którym się bohaterowie przemieszczają. Mianowicie on, ten statek, porusza się ze stałym przyspieszeniem, a jednak jego prędkość ostro rośnie (proszę bardzo, jak Hiszpańska Inkwizycja - nikt się nie spodziewał, a jednak rośnie. "Zwykła" fizyka tego nie ogarnia. A jednak.) - i jest to zdaniem autora zupełnie nowe zjawisko, niewystępujące w układach niskich prędkości. Do wyjaśnienia tego fenomenu konieczne było odkrycie nowej fizyki.

Doprawdy, paradoks. Ostro rosnąca, bez powodu (sic!), prędkość.

Wymiękłam. Nie czytam dalej.
Profile Image for Rog Petersen.
80 reviews1 follower
June 12, 2021
The concept of Orbitsville is bigger than its plot, which is bigger than its story, which is bigger than its characters. Just the way I like my SF. Concepts lend themselves to visualizations, and this book summons a lot of visual concepts that, to my mind, evoke the art works of Moebius, particularly his Edena cycle books: Vast endless plains, Mile wide pools of stars in the ground, worlds within worlds, endomorphic rainbow hued aliens, ancient architecture reclaimed by nature, and the shedding of the trappings of the (future) modern world and the embrace of the pastoral.
Profile Image for Walt O'Hara.
130 reviews18 followers
June 17, 2021
A personal favorite. Maybe the only mention of a Dyson Sphere that I know of in SF.
Profile Image for William Ellingsworth.
45 reviews2 followers
May 27, 2023
I’m loving Bob Shaw..I read this book in one day, something I never do. Absolute non stop action. Almost every chapter ends on a cliff hanger and don’t worry, it has great science ideas and problem solving. At just over 200 pages, this is definitely in my wheelhouse. The absolute definition of a classic SF page turning paperback.🚀
Profile Image for John Tetteroo.
251 reviews4 followers
January 22, 2022
De lichtsnelheid blijkt geen grens als je maar snel genoeg vliegt. Dat is de wonderlijke wijze waarop Bob Shaw zijn space opera mogelijk maakt. Hij voert gewoon een nieuwe geleerde ten tonele die het beter weet dan Einstein. Tot zover het niveau van de wetenschappelijke onderbouwing van deze roman. Een beetje sneu omdat Dyson even later ook zijn opwachting maakt en dan heb je eigenlijk nog veel meer wetenschappelijke onderbouwing nodig. Of je wuift het gewoon allemaal weg als schrijver en vertelt een verhaal over een ruimte exploratie kapitein die met zijn gezin (en honderden bemanningsleden) in zijn ruimteschip moet vluchten voor zijn leven, als hij door een onoplettendheid de enige erfgenaam van de psychopathische leidster van de totale aardse exploratievloot om het leven laat komen.

De Melkweg is in dit boek een lege plek, aards leven is alleen mogelijk op een enkele andere planeet en voor de rest is de mensheid ondanks de sneller dan licht motoren er niet in geslaagd om een derde voor kolonisten geschikte planeet te vinden. Vervelend, want we hebben onze goeie oude aarde stevig uitgewoond. De exploratievloot zoekt met de moed der wanhoop naar leefbare planeten om de bevolkingsdruk te ontlasten, maar eerlijk gezegd geloven de explorers er zelf ook niet meer echt in. Totdat onze vluchtende kapitein zijn leven zet op een gok en koers zet naar een plek waar eeuwen eerder een ster is verdwenen. Nu voel je Dyson natuurlijk op je klompjes aankomen.

Onze kapitein wordt een wereldster, de redder van de mensheid en zo onaantastbaar voor de grootkapitalist die nu haar monopolie bedreigd ziet en nog steeds zint op een wijze om onze held te laten bloeden voor wat hij haar heeft aangedaan. Van hier af wordt het vooral een avontuur dat onderbroken wordt door bespiegelingen de omvang en afstanden waar onze held mee te maken krijgt. Voor mijn gevoel dacht de schrijver hier naar een climax toe te werken terwijl we te maken krijgen met een wat langgerekte sisser en onbeantwoorde vragen na de laatste pagina is omgeslagen.

Het schijnt dat er nog twee vervolgen zijn waarin de onbeantwoorde vragen voorzien worden van een antwoord, maar ik weet niet of die ergens in mijn boekenkast rondzweven. Dat ga ik dan maar eens onderzoeken, want ik ben best wel benieuwd, al heb ik mij nu en dan geërgerd aan het semiwetenschappelijke toontje dat volledig steunt op nonsensicale argumenten. Doe het dan niet en vertel alleen je verhaal, dat was al voldoende geweest voor drie sterren. Nu tweeëneenhalf met wat voordeel van de twijfel afgerond naar drie.

Profile Image for Metaphorosis.
756 reviews55 followers
November 12, 2014


4 stars

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.
46 reviews
April 2, 2018
The sci-fi term is ‘Big Dumb Object’: a gigantic artificial alien habitation floating in space, the mystery and exploration of which provides the impetus for your 1970s paperback novel with its Chris Foss cover. As the term implies, there’s rarely a convincing explanation as to why anyone would actually build such an expensive and elaborate folly in the first place. It’s simply there to furnish the author with a convenient source for his novel’s Sense of Wonder (science fiction has a lot of terms in capital letters). Orbitsville is interesting for turning this customary arrangement inside out. The Big Dumb Object in question has a purpose, it’s just not a very exciting place to visit.

In the somewhat sterile future of space captain Vance Garamond, the control of strictly limited living-space underwrites an entire despotic world government. His discovery of a Dyson Sphere with practically infinite terrain has the potential to change everything. It’s just a shame that’s all Bob Shaw wants to explore. He actually goes out of his way to depict a world that’s empty and unexciting: the few alien races encountered are boring, the whole place is mostly just grass plains. They don’t call it ‘the big O’ for nothing. Or rather, that’s precisely why they do: O = nothing.

With that gigantic mega-caveat to one side, Orbitsville is an enjoyable British SF novel of its time. It gets off to an incredibly gripping start, and events thereafter unfolded at a brisk enough pace, and with enough surprises, to keep me pleasantly engaged to the end. But if you’re looking for a fascinating alien world to explore, as I was, there are much bigger, dumber objects out there.
Profile Image for Patrick Scheele.
160 reviews1 follower
July 24, 2022
Well, it started off strong. A starship captain has to flee for his life after the young son of the crazy super-powerful empress of all mankind (not her actual title, but might as well be) accidentally dies while he's supposed to be babysitting him. It's an old-fashioned device to speed the story along, but it worked for me.

Then came the discovery of the Dyson sphere and suddenly the story stopped making sense. The captain and his family were suddenly protected by his popularity? Hmm? The story kinda petered out at that point, but not for long. The crash inside the sphere and the journey back gave it new life.

In the end, the captain vs empress thing worked as long as he had to flee for his life, but when it became all about headbutting and hatred... blech. The story I wanted to read a lot more about was how and why the sphere was made. The (very bleak) final notes of the book suggest that it was a trap, a way to give races that found it all the room they'd ever need to stop them from expanding into the galaxy. But that doesn't make any sense, considering how hard it was to find in the first place.

The two other races they met inside the sphere were both not very interested in them and their tech level must have dropped from space-faring to barely able to build a plane. But why? Did the enormous size of the sphere cause everybody to just give up?

Eh... I wanted to learn more about the history of the sphere and the people that made it. And I wanted to see humanity put it to good use. But instead I got a story of how the inside of the sphere was even more boring than the outside.
Profile Image for Malcolm Cox.
Author 1 book1 follower
April 16, 2019
As usual with reading a Bob Shaw book for the first time, I was hit regularly by a scaling up of awe and wonder. There is never any point going in to one of these with expectations, they all get subverted anyway. The story has an interesting blend of a personal feud between the main character and the president of Starfleet and the adventure and intrigue with discovering Orbitsville and everything in entails. There's the mystery of who made it, why it was made and what happened to those who lived there before. It also looks to towards humanity's future. There are two more books of the series, but this book feels complete on its own.
It could be argued that the domestic lifestyle is a little dated now, but in all other aspects it still feels fresh and relevant and does what all good sci-fi does and ask some big questions and does its best to answer them following one logical conclusion.
I finished this feeling a great sense of satisfaction and had enjoyed this right from the get-go.
Profile Image for David.
39 reviews10 followers
July 7, 2012
Vance Garamond (yes, a hero named after a science fantasy legend and a font) is a captain in the space fleet of a rather corrupt future earth. By pure chance he commits an unforgivable 'crime' against a deranged dictator. So he takes his wife and son aboard his starship and sets off to escape injustice by heading out of the known galaxy. His guide? A mysterious inscription found on Sagania, planet that was once home to intelligent life. What could the strange image mean? The answer is remarkable, so say the least. It's a discovery that makes Garamond a hero, but that doesn't guarantee the safety of his family...

This is tremendous fun, and - rather like Ship of Strangers - a love letter from Shaw to the old pulp sf 'galaxy busting' school of adventure. It's a bit like E.E. Doc Smith with updated super-science and more convincing characters.
94 reviews1 follower
March 27, 2012
Though the concept of Orbitsville (a Dyson sphere, hundreds of millions of miles across, surrounding a star) is a very interesting one, the novel spends far too much time on the unpleasant (and somewhat unbelievable) billionaire who is out for revenge against the discoverer of Orbitsville than on the sphere itself. The book intentionally evokes a sense of tedium while inside the sphere - because it is stultifying uniform inside, but the fact the tedium is intentional doesn't make the scenes of seemingly endless travel inside the sphere more enjoyable.
Profile Image for Aaron.
Author 4 books16 followers
October 31, 2017
More like 3.5 stars. This book has some fascinating ideas, but as a satire of capitalism, it's worse than The Space Merchants, and as a Big Dumb Objects story, it's worse than Ringworld or Rendezvous with Rama. The redeeming quality of the book is the journey across Orbitsville at the end, which gives the reader a powerful sense of scale. The protagonist is a generic Captain Kirk type, and the three female characters are all offensive sexist stereotypes.
Profile Image for Rich Meyer.
Author 56 books56 followers
March 24, 2014
I'm a sucker for Dyson spheres and space opera, and this book had both in spades. It reminded me a bit of Ringworld in scope, but the character motivations and such were obviously very different.

The novel was well-written, with good and consistent characterization. Definitely worth reading by any genre fan.
Profile Image for Amber Scaife.
1,181 reviews10 followers
June 18, 2017
A starship captain finds himself in big trouble with a maniacal dictator on Earth, and so flees with his wife and child to what he assumes is the vast emptiness of space. But he and his crew find something - a really, really big something.
The story was interesting enough, but as with most full-on sci-fi, I lost interest in the science-y details of spaceflight and such.
Profile Image for Mal Warwick.
Author 30 books415 followers
November 28, 2022
A reader of my blog alerted me to Bob Shaw’s award-winning 1975 novel, Orbitsville, reporting that it had appeared on some critic’s list of the best science fiction of all time. Not only that, but it’s a First Contact story, a category I love to explore. How could I resist? I’d never heard of the novel, or of the author, but he’s British and it was the British Science Fiction Association that gave him the award. So, I was much less likely to have run across the book from my perch in California. I eagerly delved into the text, and for a time I was intrigued. Sadly, though I persisted to the end, the book did not live up to my expectations. Like so many of the science fiction stories I read and loved decades ago, Orbitsville does not hold up at all well in the twenty-first century.

Orbitsville is a tale of space travel that leads to First Contact with an alien civilization. It’s set in the twenty-third century, when Americans have begun expanding to the stars. As the novel opens, the Starflight company, which monopolizes interstellar travel, has managed to locate only one other planet suitable for human life. Colonists are now flocking there, paying the company a fortune to do so. Starflight continues to send fleets of exploratory ships in hopes of locating new potential colonies. And Captain Vance Garamond leads one such ship, the Bissendorf. But when the young son of the company’s homicidal president, Elizabeth Lindstrom, accidentally dies in his company, Garamond flees in fear of his life with his wife and son. Along with his crew of 450, they set out on an unauthorized new mission to discover another habitable planet. When, at length, Garamond encounters a strange new world seemingly built for humanity’s use, he and his crew find themselves in a life-and-death struggle with the President, who eventually catches up with him. So it goes.

Orbitsville is an artifact of its time. Published in 1975, the book reflects the preoccupations and values of the 1970s. For example, overpopulation and widespread food riots have led the human race to seek lebensraum among the stars—yet Shaw pegs the world’s population at only five billion in his story. (It was about four billion when the book appeared. According to the United Nations, the planet’s population topped eight billion in November 2022—and starvation afflicts only isolated pockets of humanity today.) And the gender relations in Shaw’s tale reflect what he saw around him then, despite the feminist revolution then underway. With the sole exception of Elizabeth Lindstrom, men call the shots. Garamond’s wife is submissive and promises to put food on the table for him when he returns in an evening. And Garamond refers to one of his science officers, a woman, as a girl.

The novel also repeats errors common in science fiction in the past. Starflight’s ships travel at a huge multiple of the speed of light, following the discovery that “Einstein was wrong.” And crews engaged in faster-than-light flight do not experience time dilation. So, a trip of tens or a hundred light-years that occupies only weeks or a month will not perceptibly age those they left at home. Computers figure in the story, but only as glorified computing devices. In general, there’s nothing that’s prescient in this novel. And, to make matters worse, First Contact is a bore.

The only redeeming feature of the novel is that the new world Garamond discovers is, in fact, not a world at all but a Dyson Sphere. Although Olaf Stapledon first imagined the concept in his 1937 novel, Star Maker, it was Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson who popularized it in a 1960 paper. Shaw does a good job helping us conceptualize what it might be like to live in such a place. (Trust me: it’s a challenge.) But reading of that experience doesn’t justify the time spent reading all 200 pages.

The late Anglo-Irish science fiction writer Bob Shaw (1931-96) was the author of thirty-two novels and books of short stories as well as four nonfiction books. Born and raised in Belfast and educated at the Belfast College of Technology, he gravitated toward SF during World War II, reading the science fiction magazines left behind by visiting American troops. Shaw won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 1979 and 1980. His first novel was published in 1968, his last in 1995, a year before his death.
Profile Image for Ebenmaessiger.
269 reviews11 followers
May 29, 2020
A book so of-its-time it’s out of it:
- starring a dashing, by-any-means-necessary starship captain/hero who, as Shaw flits in and out of acknowledging, is a self-obsessed petty tyrant asshole
- grounding its conflict in an overpopulated earth, a decade after the theme’s efflorescence
- grounding its ethic in a shallow, a-ideological anti-corporatism that may be cousin to, but is far from consonant with any even reflexive anti-capitalism
- featuring a booksload of stock characters stock performing their Manichean selves, save our hero, who for reasons unknown, suddenly develops his corporatist antipathies after, what we can only assume are, decades of contented subordinance
- finding the anti-Starflight solution in state action, while also suffusing the whole book with a clearly libertarian ethos (and a queer one even beyond that [esp. for American readers], given that it’s one that could only come out of the 1970s UK, in its angry resignation at perceived civilizational regression and passivity (I’ll leave the Orientalizing equivalence between “coolie hats” and meek peasant mindset for others to turn over), at those settlers made fat and lazy and incurious [that last line about ‘we coulda conquered da galaxy here!’] by Orbitsville/the welfare state, as well as [and this is the key distinguishing point between these conservative tendencies in the UK and US] the simultaneous acknowledgment [and half-hearted confirmation (see Garamond’s general shittiness even in his vitality, and how his aggressive proclivities are a mystery even to himself, from which society would likely be better served by their restraint)] that these measures [the Orbitsville/welfare state confluence] were both well-intentioned and likely worth it in a long-run, cost-benefit analysis
- and its male-gazing sexuality (can’t quite say sexism or misogyny here [although, admittedly, the description of Lindstrom might challenge the assumption), which doesn’t so much reflect its time (consider the quality reams of feminist-inflected sf appearing in the half decade before this) as it does the particular idiosyncrasies of the narrative (see: the ways in which these assumptions fail even within the context of Shaw’s own narrative parameters [ie Serra amorously approaching her drunken louche of a boss to impregnate her?]).

Alas, it’s precisely those idiosyncrasies that make the story work, as well. Shaw jams enough curveballs and misdirections into an otherwise pulp toss-off (consider that full-out, word-count-reached sprint of an ending) to estrange the familiar (consider the quarter of the book given over to pastoral contemplation and simply flying over Orbitsville’s immensity [the best, and most sensawunda, section of the book , as well]) and enough that we hardly consider how familiar it is.

Oh, and what a first 30 pages.
Profile Image for Lance Schonberg.
Author 35 books25 followers
May 3, 2021
I'm rounding up to three stars because most of the book had a nice, pulpy feel to it. Adventure and concept without character growth or dimension. There wasn't a lot of dyson sphere fiction written prior to Orbitsville, so there's some marks for originality in concept, but the rest of the concepts used were on the edge (or in one or two cases over it like an empire which wasn't actually an empire but functioned like one).

I actually might have stayed at the 3-star level, I think, if not for two things.

First, the book takes a side trip into journal entries by the main character as we're getting close to the end. This reads like a shortcut because the author had set up a situation that couldn't be resolved otherwise without a tremendous amount of boredom but didn't want to skip over things completely. I want to think Mr. Shaw had an Odysseus-type return involved but didn't want to take the page length to accomplish it. Or maybe his editor had him cut a hundred pages of great material.

Second, in the closing sequence, our protagonist behaves as if the intervening months since that situation started haven't taken place at all. There's no real difference between the character who finishes the book and the one who starts it. And while you don't necessarily expect much in the way of growth in a pulp-style story (and you don't get it here - every viewpoint shift that happens for the protagonist is almost immediately forgotten in following events), this is more like the author wrote the beginning and the ending together and then decided a short novelette needed to be a novel.

And yet, I can't penalize it too much, in spite of the abrupt ending that left a lot of things hanging and the few paragraphs of "this is basically the end of humanity in the stars" exposition denouement, because up until the journal entries to shorten a trip that was supposed to take two years into one that took a few months and not all that many more pages, it was a quick, entertaining read, and I'd still say that it still is if your expectations are tempered going in.

So, rounding up, but it was a near thing.
Profile Image for Josh.
193 reviews30 followers
October 4, 2022
2.5, rounding down to 3. Pretty much exactly smack in the middle of the mediocre spectrum. I considered giving it a pity 3, but I thought about other books that I've previously given a 3 (Consider Phlebas comes to mind) that I enjoyed a lot more and that seemed like a disservice to those books.

That said, I don't regret reading this one. I'm planning on delving a lot more into classic/silver age sci-fi, so I expect I'm going to come across a lot of books like this, with fantastic premises that are muddled with thin characters and flimsy plots. I know that not all classic sci-fi are that way, but there's going to be a good number where the men are super heroic, the women are either villainous, stupid or driven by the need to breed (all of which are on display in Orbitsville). There is a fairly large cast for only a 200 page book and only a few of those characters are actually memorable. And those few aren't particularly interesting.

As for the science fiction part of the story, there are a lot of great ideas here that are just very loosely cobbled together. I feel like Orbitsville would have benefitted from the connected short story treatment, giving each idea its own separate space to breathe without getting jumbled. There are a lot of questions I would have loved answered but most of the answers are only eluded to and not touched on directly. Why was Orbitsville created? Who exactly created it? HOW did they create this ridiculously large thing? None of those are actually answered, just eluded to.

All in all, I read it in like 2-3 days and it left some fun images in my head. Worth a shot if you're on a classic sci fi kick.

Profile Image for Roham Alian.
46 reviews
January 2, 2021
The orbitsville was in my list of classic sci-fi to read but after finishing the first book I am disappointed. The orbitsville is a sci-fi novel about a dyson sphere built by advanced alien civilization, its past is unknown and its current state serves as a space motel, there are many things wrong with the story. First of all the characters are really unattended, most of them are just a name while the rest are so monotone that you can hardly understand them even the main protagonist. Secondly the world is so giant that not only the author doesn't gets to write about it but also whatever he writes about fades in the story since the world is not the focus of the story (shocking!). And lastly the ending seems super rushed while the author gets to waste time on some previous chapters, the final chapter is so compressed and feels too forced.
On the bright side i liked the book initial run it was thrilling and energetic and sometimes the book got serious on math and science and I liked those. Overall 2 starts for good science content and ambitious notions but it doesn't offer anything other than that.
P. S: I thought the trilogy was a continuous series but it is not and I was extra disappointed about that.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for F. William Davis.
717 reviews22 followers
March 12, 2021
This is my kind of spopera! I loved the reason for departure, the discovery, the journey and I was even ok with the ending. My first Bob Shaw read and I loved it. Orbitsville is a Dyson sphere and our hero (Garamond) goes through many ordeals before and after its discovery. When we're not exploring there's action aplenty and Garamond makes a lot of tough calls, I thought the race that leads to the ending was very dramatic.

Shaw gives us a fantastically dreamed up world in Orbitsville and on Earth with plenty of detailed thought applied. There's a heap of bunk science referred to (theories of spiders being aliens was silly) but it's all quite wonderful and there's a healthy measure of real science explored in the story too. I was particularly impressed with the attention to scale and unfathomable distances.

The next one titled, Departure from Orbitsville, gives me the impression that we won't get to explore much more of the inner surface of the Dyson sphere which would be a shame. We have had some fascinating discoveries and left a few tiny pockets of humanity sprinkled about the place but there's an enormous amount thus far unseen. There's also a few open ends from book one that I'd like to see followed.
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