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on 6 September 2004
In the first of a rare trilogy from Shaw he examines the theory of the Dyson sphere, a theoretical construction which is, as might be imagined, a sphere, but one which whose diameter is the same size as the orbit of the Earth. It is believed that such a sphere would be able to contain a star such as our own, and given sufficient orbital rotation, would provide a habitable area on the inner surface equal to several hundred million Earths.
Vance Garamond is a Starflight Captain reporting directly to Elizabeth Lindstrom, President of a starfaring society in which only one other habitable planet, Terranova, has been discovered. Earth is overcrowded and Lindstrom, a psychotic and psychopathic dictator, is parcelling up the new planet and selling strips of it off to the highest bidder.
While awaiting his audience with the President before a routine assignment Vance is asked to entertain her nine-year old son. Distracted by his thoughts, Vance does not see that the boy has climbed up into the arms of a statue and before he can react the boy falls and cracks his head on the pedestal, killing himself instantly.
Realising that his life is now forfeit when the borderline-insane Elizabeth discovers her son's death, Garamond collects his wife and young son and smuggles them aboard his spacecraft. Along with his crew they head out for the stars, knowing that their chances of finding a new habitable world and so being able to escape the President's wrath is minimal.
Garamond has one hope in that he has what amounts to a treasure map; ancient research consisting of a chronological series of alien stellar maps in which a star apparently disappears.
Setting off for this point in space, Garamond discovers that the sun has been encased in a sphere of indestructible material, with an entrance at the equator. Inside, the inner surface has been terraformed and its surface area so large that it would provide the same space as several million Earths.
Radio and radar do not work within the sphere, and it is suggested that its creators meant it as a honeytrap for intelligent life, as the alien races which are discovered living within the sphere have reverted to an idyllic pastoral existence.
It's a gloriously retro novel for its time. Elizabeth's Presidential position has regal overtones quite apart from the symbolic relevance of her name. Other critics have seen the influence of Van Vogt here, and certainly the tone and the scope is redolent of novels such as 'Empire of The Atom' or 'Mission to the Stars' although the characterisation exceeds anything Van Vogt produced in either work.
It is also maybe a response to the 'Big Dumb Object' trend which arguably began with Niven's 'Ringworld' and was followed most famously by Clarke's 'Rendezvous with Rama'. Certainly, it would appear that Shaw's novel was the first major use of a Dyson sphere, the concept of which was later used by other authors such as Stephen Baxter in 'The Time Ships' and on TV in 'Star Trek - The Next Generation'.
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on 12 September 2000
You may well ask the same after reading this. I've not previously read any of Shaw's work, so this excellent novel, written in 1975, came as a surprise. Space exploration saga, fugitive epic, revenge thriller - the author manages to compress into 186 pages enough plot ideas to keep other writers going over at least three separate books. This novel hits the ground running and doesn't let up. Looming unimaginably vast over all these happenings is the titular creation - a concept previously used by Larry Niven but not on such an enormous scale.. Solid characterisations, and considerations given to the science behind the fiction elevate this book above mere space adventure. Victor Gollancz (or rather Orion Books) have reissued this in their yellow- jacketed SF Collectors series. Good thing too - although surely this is one book that is owed a gorgeous cover illustration?
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on 7 December 2001
This novel is beautiful, awesome and chilling all at once. It takes Mankind out of his narrow-minded provincial backwater. It shows him the Extraordinary and then turns him into something Other. When you take Shaw's profound imagination and nail it to a cast of carefully drawn characters and a thrilling plot, you are picked up and hurled bodily right into the centre of things. You will come away humbled, even turned into something Other. Read Orbitsville, and feel insignificant.
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on 6 December 2011
This is not the most original work of science fiction. If you have read Ringworld (S.F. Masterworks) you'll be amused by the similarities here; the titular artifacts in each book are, in some ways, so similar that Shaw can only be encouaging us to compare Ringworld and Orbitsville. Perhaps then, this is a parody, much like Pratchett's Strata? Maybe. There are certainly aspects that Shaw dwells over, which Ringworld was criticised by reviewers for missing out, such as believable female characters and some sensible explanation of what the big, silly, pivotal object was actually built for.
In this latter case, Shaw actually manages to formulate an appeailng answer, perhaps even the punchline that the whole book was written to set up; as this is made explicit only in the last revelation of the book, I won't spoil it.

The story itself is a fairly linear hard SF adventure with a sparse cast of characters that succeeds because of its breathless pace and a grandiosity that recalls Samuel R Delaney. What is particularly effective about this novel is that Shaw manages to maintain the sense of adventure at the same time as doing a lot of scene-setting and made-up science, a balancing act that better known writers have failed at, and he achieves with only a couple of wobbles.

There's no real surprises in the storyline; the lead character and villain are well-drawn but develop very little, the action reaches a couple of nice peaks of jeopardy, but our hero is too traditional to die easily. All in all, this isn't a book about theme or narrative. It's about the scientific concept and there's plenty here to amuse the hardest SF nut.
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on 27 November 2010
classic story. I first read this book some twentyfive years ago and it was just as good to read this time around. A classic tale of escapism on a grand scale.
Vance Garramond is a hero who is thrust into a situation he is struggling to control until events take a fantastic new twist in the form of Orbitsville,an artifact large enough to enclose a million suns.
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on 6 August 2015
Superb book!
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