Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1 - P J Haarsma

P J Haarsma's The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1 is the first in a planned series of four books.

13 year old Johnny Turnbull has always known there was something different about him, even before he and the other 199 kids landed on the first of the Rings of Orbis. He could communicate with the computer aboard Renaissance, just by speaking to it - with no need for any of the interfaces required by the other 199 children aboard the ship. Once their spaceship lands, he is identified as the first-ever human "softwire" — a human with the ability to enter and communicate with computers through his mind. Due to a mechanical problem, the adults on the spaceship perished long before Johnny and the other young passengers were born (they were stored as embryos and raised by the ship's computer). When they arrive on Orbis 1, the orphans quickly learn that they will be forced to work for the Guarantors (alien businessmen) who paid for their parents' trip to Orbis, so that they can pay off their dead parents' debt. Johnny and the rest of the children are put to work in alien factories but thinks quickly start to go wrong. When the all-knowing, all-controlling, and technologically "perfect" central computer starts malfunctioning, many suspicious eyes are turned towards Johnny. Is he the one responsible ? Johnny must prove his innocence and solve the mystery of the technological failures before time runs out - and just to encourage him to concentrate on that task, one villainous alien has taken his little sister hostage.

Haarsma does a pretty good job of introducing his alien, futuristic setting without getting the reader bogged down in long and detailed descriptive passages, and the plot moves fairly briskly. However, some of the secondary characters are not fully developed, which I found disappointing. Having said that, Johnny and his sister, Ketheria are fairly well drawn, and some of the scenes between them are nicely done.

I'm not a big fan of SF books as a rule - despite my programming background the technology (and technobabble) generally bore me ! However, Haarsma did manage to keep my attention for most of the book. The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1 is also available from

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