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Artificial worlds are not new to science fiction. Trantor comes to mind, but, more by comparasion, is Ringworld, written 5 years earlier. With the popularity of Niven's novel and its time proximity to this one, there's a stink of concept stealing, but they're as different as, say, a hula hoop and a dodgeball. Ringworld is all about interacting with the artifact and the cosmic machinations of alien and human species. Orbitsville is much more social/political criticism, leaving its intrigues to a strictly human level. Characters are mouthpieces; mere sticks subservient to plot, whereas Ringworld's mainliners are full of interesting quirks, bombastic brio, and twinkling humor. You'd think this would make Ringworld a better book, but not by much. Niven ODs on ideas, and ends up dazzling his audience with kaleidoscopic absurdities.

Orbitsville, on the other hand, is just plain dull when it comes to atmosphere. The plot relys on Action, BIG ACTION, as Flickerwing Commander Garamond (isn't this a typeface?) runs faster than an ion particle through a beam splitter from Catherine Lindstrom, a CEO spiderwoman controlling all of Earth's space travel and, therefore, all of Earth. He blasts into a Dyson Sphere with the space of over 5 billion Earths just waiting for “your poor, your tired, your huddled masses…” A plot trick is that it has only one apparent opening, and, when Lindstrom and her armada shows up, he's a hero and she's a covert, plotting bitch waiting for the right opportunity to kill him and his family. Oh yeah, I forgot, Garamond is a family man, He brings his wife—think dumb-blonde with “unremarkable pleasantness” (Baen, 1981, p. 92)—and his young son—“Here I am, Daddy!” (ibid, p.15) practically his only dialogue in the whole book—along for the rocket ride. Orbitsville turns out to be one, big grassy plain with some hills, streams, etc. and some very boring and docile inhabitants—all un-scary scarecrow types. Garamond ends up stranded inside Orbitsville and has to travel millions of miles on his wits to get back and rescue his wife and boy from Lindstrom's web, which, of course, he pulls off with true heroic bravado and cunning. And, just as you're whistling “Ta—Da!”, he discovers another entrance into Boringsville and therefore breaks Lindstrom's monopoly and her back in the process.

What's left is characterization, and there's no sun-going-nova here, either. Garamond is gallant, Lindstrom is evil, his sidekick, Napier, is loyal, his wife is windowdressing, and his son is pretty much non-existent.

“May I remind you that we are scheduled to be killed in about eight hours? That doesn't leave much time for bickering” (ibid, p.129), says the Captain. It does, however, give enough time to read this novel and argue whether the satire is intentional or not.

 

07/27/2005

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