Reading the BSFA Awards: 1975 “Orbitsville” by Bob Shaw

The British Science Fiction Awards often highlight books that don’t even make it onto awards lists dominated by American authors. I’ve been reading and reviewing winners and nominees, looking for hidden gems I might not have found otherwise.

Orbitsville by Bob Shaw

I was caught off guard by Orbitsville at several points throughout the novel. I didn’t read a description of it going in, so I had no idea what to expect. My description of the plot will have spoilers in it, of course.

Vance Garamond witnesses an accidental death but believes he may be blamed for it. He rushes to collect his wife and child and flee from the potential vengeance that might be wrought against him. It’s a fantastic setup that I thought would feature Garamond fleeing across space until some kind of epic confrontation. And, to some extent, I wasn’t technically wrong about those being aspects of the plot, but my expectations for how all of it would happen were completely blown up. Shaw weaves an endlessly entertaining yarn. Garamond eventually stumbles upon a Dyson Sphere, and realizes the humanity-defining moment this is fairly quickly. Many questions about the Sphere remain, however, and he contacts those he was fleeing to tell them about the spectacular find. His discovery leads to instant fame, making him basically immune to the vengeance he feared–probably. As humans start to make their way to the sphere and spread across it, more events lead to surprising consequences and discoveries throughout the book.

Shaw also has numerous fantastic lines that stuck with me after reading the novel. At one point, humans find some aliens within the Dyson Sphere. The chapter ends with some hopeful lines about first contact and the lives they may build. Then the next chapter starts “Rumours of massacre came within a month.” It was a gut-punch of a line that was set up so perfectly by the end of the previous chapter. These moments are scattered across the novel and done fantastically well.

If I have any complaint about Orbitsville it’s that it kind of just… ends. Yes, there are some great moments towards the end, but it reads like there ought to have been a bigger and better ending point. I realize two more novels follow this one, but I still think the ending could have been done better.

Orbitsville is a phenomenal read for any fans of space opera and adventure. It’s the kind of book that makes lists worth reading for me, and it has catapulted itself into my vintage favorites. I highly recommend it.

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