ORBS by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

ORBSSource: ARC from author
Format: Kindle ebook
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

They have come for our most important resource…

The year is 2061, and the planet is dying. Cataclysmic solar storms have forced leaders from around the world to finally put aside their differences and agree on one thing—to jump ship. The human race is headed to Mars.

Dr. Sophie Winston is hired by New Tech Corporation to test a biosphere deep within the heart of Cheyenne Mountain; a mission she believes will help prepare NTC for the three-year flight to the red planet. But, just days into the assignment, things start to go wrong. When the blast doors hiss open, Winton’s team finds a changed world outside. Humans are gone, vanished without a trace, and they aren’t the only thing missing. The planet’s water is gone, too.

As the team explores their surroundings, they find thousands of luminous blue orbs lining the streets. It isn’t until they uncover what’s inside that they realize the nightmare that lies ahead.

Doctors Sophie Winston and Emanuel Rodriguez have been assigned to a small team (five people) testing out a Biodome for the NTC. The draw card: if they survive the full six months, then they will be on the first ship out to Mars, since the world leaders have decided to evacuate planet Earth before humanity completely destroys it. Their task is to live within the dome for six months, preferably with no contact between them and the outside world.

Within two days of the task commencing, however, the playing field changes and the team find themselves fighting for their lives. They spend much of the rest of the book trying to understand what has happened and why. From water-sucking alien insects to corporations developing survival technologies, Nick leads us on a thrill- and horror-ride like few others I’ve come across.

A few months ago I reviewed The Biomass Revolution. While that story was good, it had quite a few loose ends – mostly due to the omniscient view utilised in telling the story – and at times was a difficult story to follow. ORBS is a complete contrast. It is a privilege to watch Nick develop as a writer. And somewhere between TBR and ORBS, he has honed his writing skill considerably. There are very few rough edges in ORBS. There are some loose ends here, but they are perfectly acceptable provided there’s a sequel – else I’ll be quizzing Nick for the answers!

Nick’s world-building is very good. I have absolutely no problems envisioning the scenes and environs of the characters. Nick doesn’t describe the characters in very much detail, which suits me perfectly; the reader needs some leeway to create their own image of the people they are getting to know. The plot of the story is also excellent, as are each of the subplots. A very well-woven tapestry… with a couple of loose threads to entice us with.

Sophie as the main character is well rounded and multifaceted. Initially her career drive felt a little off-key, as though she was a cardboard figure with no other goals, but this perspective begins to change when things fall apart around her. She is an instinctive leader, and her initiative in taking action is a major factor through the book.

In some stories I come across, there is a character I’d like to slap. In this book, Timothy fits those shoes. A computer nerd and member of Sophie’s team , he totally freaks out when the nasties arrive. Um. He was already freaking out well before that. That said, he has a clever streak in him that comes in useful from time to time.

I was going to say that one doesn’t really see the characters develop through the book. But that would be completely inaccurate. Though there are no major changes, each of the characters does develop subtly. Considering the circumstances, I’m actually surprised that a few more of them didn’t freak out. A very unique group of individuals indeed. Perhaps that’s why they were assigned the task they received…

The only real criticism I have of Nick’s work is that he has yet to pull me, as the reader, into the story. Don’t get me wrong. Everything is there, the tension, the horror, the thrill-ride… but as yet I have not felt any visceral reaction to what the characters are experiencing; I still feel like more an observer than a participant in the events taking place.

This book’s a page turner. I was gripped, managing to read it within a couple of days which is impressive considering its length (I don’t get much time for reading). It is not an ‘enjoyable’ read, but it is an excellent story and one I can highly recommend to people who love scifi and are not squeemish.

Be warned: this book does not end in a happy place. That said, there are aspects to the ending that are more positive and hopeful than other sections of the book would lead one to believe is possible.

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