Two centuries after the discovery of Orbitsville, most of humanity has spread in its vast spaces. Garry Dallen is working on an Earth now sparsely populated but where crime still exists. When the minds of his wife and his son are destroyed by a weapon whose effects are worse than death, his quest of the perpetrator brings him to Orbitsville.
Gerald Mathieu wants to destroy the evidence of his crimes but ends up destroying Garry Dallen’s family. No one seems to suspect him but somehow the two of them continue to cross path. Going on Orbitsville doesn’t seem the solution either, also because suddenly the immense sphere seems to start showing signs of activity.
For several years Bob Shaw wrote had written only autonomous novels but in the ’80s he returned to Orbitsville, the Dyson sphere of mysterious origins, setting the new novel about two centuries after the first one. In this way, the author can show the long-term consequences of its discovery.
In “Orbitsville”, this immense world was defined as a kind of trap for sentient beings and from this point of view it had considerable success. After searching habitable planets for a long time, humans have found something that looks a lot better. Orbitsville has a living space so huge that the vast majority of the Earth’s population moved there, and yet it has occupied only a small part of it.
In the two centuries in which humans had the chance to explore at least e part of Orbitsville, many kept wondering who built it and why. The majority, however, is satisfied with having a place where anyone can have all the space they want.
During this long period of colonization, Orbitsville seemed inert but suddenly something changes. Someone starts noticing signs of strange activities, the prelude to the events that eventually lead to the discovery of some of the mysteries of this enormous sphere.
“Orbitsville Departure” is partly set on Earth and is the story of Garry Dallen and Gerald Mathieu. Their lives are intertwined and a series of circumstances leads them on Orbitsville, where they end up involved in events much bigger than their personal issues.
As usual, Bob Shaw is very good in the development of the two protagonists. In the course of the novel, both of them must face the consequences of what has happened to Garry Dallen’s wife and son. The wiping of their minds weighs differently on who has to take care of them and the perpetrator of the crime and perhaps the novel focuses too much on their story.
Bob Shaw’s novels have a length that is limited by today’s standards even in the British market. The consequence is that “Orbitsville Departure” ends up containing too many elements to be able to develop them all adequately. For this reason, Orbitsville’s secrets are addressed only at the end of the novel, almost suddenly.
The novel seems to ramble sometimes even addressing the theme of life after death with a scientific experiment that aims to prove it. In the end, you understand the connections between the various elements seemingly unrelated but frankly in some ways the last part looks like a rushed job.
Bob Shaw focused on the characters even in his stories set in space. In “Orbitsville Departure” it seems that he focused on the story of the two protagonists eventually overlooking Orbitsville a bit until the end. The consequence is that the novel is a bit uneven in its development.
The result is a novel that in my opinion is still pretty good because in certain parts Bob Shaw manages to put his skills but certainly not among his best. It can be an interesting read because it’s part of the Orbitsville trilogy.