Orbitsville has been moved but it’s not clear where it ended and its human inhabitants don’t know who could have done it. For many of them, however, life continues because they always lived only within the immense sphere so for them being in a universe or another is the same.
Jim Nicklin lives a boring and mostly lonely life and his job is repairing home appliances and various machines. By chance he comes across a preacher who thinks that Orbitsville’s move is a sign of divine will. Jim isn’t interested in religion but when the passion for a woman in the congregation breaks out he decides to give up everything and join them.
“Orbitsville Judgement” begins right after the end of “Orbitsville Departure” with the immense world that’s been colonized by humans in the past two centuries being suddenly moved. Despite this, Bob Shaw chose to create new characters for the last novel of this trilogy.
The great protagonist of this novel is Jim Nicklin, a technician with quite a peculiar pesonality who has a tendency to tell lies to justify his actions but ends up messing up. In the community he lives he’s in many ways is a misfit and the events that began after Orbitsville’s move give him the opportunity to change his life.
The problem with the plot in my opinion begins with the choice of telling it from Jim Nicklin’s point of view. Bob Shaw has always focused on his stories’ characters but in this case their development seemed lesser than usual and sometimes a bit clumsy in the protagonist’s case.
When Jim Nicklin discovers Corey Montane, a preacher who interprets Orbitsville’s move as a sign of divine will, he isn’t very impressed by his ideas. However, when he meets Danea, a woman of his congregation, he’s immediately taken by such a passion for her, who seems to reciprocate, that he sells everything he owns, donates the money to the congregation, and joins them.
These events made the beginning of the “Orbitsville Judgement” look hasty to me, almost an excuse to start the most important part of the plot. The preacher Corey Montane wants to get a spaceship and Jim Nicklin has an important role in its research even though things have unexpected developments.
In the end, the novel tells mostly Jim Nicklin’s story and his relationship with Danea and Corey Montane but honestly I don’t particulary care about all of that. I found this story not very interesting and sometimes its development rough, leaving the big story of what happened to Orbitsville in the background.
Only in the last part of the novel the big events that affect that immense world become central but in my opinion it’s too little too late. Jim Nicklin becomes a witness to those events and sees them from afar but is never a protagonist. His actions are mainly the result of what’s happening within Corey Montane’s congregation and only in the end are a reaction to what’s happening to Orbitsville.
This choice in my opinion weakens the final part, which is supposed to represent the culmination of the whole trilogy. Actually, already in “Orbitsville Departure” Bob Shaw developed the story of the protagonists and only in the end there was a twist concerning Orbitsville. In the third novel the result is perhaps even worse.
“Orbitsville Judgement” is one of the last novels written by Bob Shaw and perhaps his health was already declining enough to prevent him from giving his best. Unfortunately, the result in my opinion is pretty disappointing so I think it’s worth reading only if you want to finish the Orbitsville trilogy.