"The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1"
(Reviewed by Ann Wilkes NOV 21, 2008)
In this Young Adult novel by P J Haarsma, children born and raised on a generational ship arrive at the destination determined by their parents—parents who died before they were incubated. JT Turnball, his sister, Ketheria, and the other children don't know that what will happen when they arrive at Orbis 1, instead of their parents, is that they must work in their parents stead until the debt of the journey is paid. The wonders and dangers of the alien station in the rings of Orbis are only the beginning. JT has an ability the other children don't. JT needs no implant as the others do to connect with the translation program or the main computer. He can tap in directly with his mind. The two-headed alien ambassador from Orbis 1 who greets them calls him a softwire.
The first layer of intrigue is the one file that JT can't access from their ship's main computer before they arrive. He copies the unreadable files and brings them with him, but when their ship is destroyed as soon as they disembark, all hope of retrieval is seemingly lost. The second level is the girl in the central computer of Orbis 1. When JT goes exploring within the computer by "pushing in" with his mind, he keeps finding this mischievous girl there, the same one from his disturbing dreams. Then there's this ability of his. Why him? What else can he do?
Haarsma shows us numerous aliens, not all humanoid, co-existing, and abiding by a common law. The aliens are deliciously fantastic --until they shrug, bow, or use an Earth English phrase like "I'm afraid..." to preface bad news. Not many humans had settled on Orbis 1 before the children. That being the case, it seems more likely that the children would eventually adopt mannerisms from the locals rather than the reverse. Minor complaint but it bothered me.
Also, holograms being able to manipulate and even deliver objects is never explained and thus is hard to swallow.
Regardless, the suspense and host of alien characters make the story exciting. The main character is someone the reader will definitely connect with. Who can't remember a time when they had to go into a strange, new environment for the first time? Like our first day of school magnified ten times by the unknowns.
JT's plight is even more compelling as he has an incomplete past in addition to an uncertain future. He remembers his whole life, but knows only what the computer will tell him of the previous generation. No mother or father to pass on traditions, warn him of strangers or tell him he is special.
- Amazon readers rating: from 16 reviews
"Softwire: Betrayal on Orbis 2"
(Reviewed by Ann Wilkes NOV 21, 2008)
Johnny Turnbull saves the rings of Orbis 1 only to be sold to another slaver on Orbis 2. His guarantor from Orbis 1 has hit financial ruin and the human children that are serving him to fulfill their partents' work rule are all the assets he owns. So much for being a hero.
Lower me into the tank? The waterline was at least five meters below me. Was he crazy?
Even Drapling looked at him..."Is this safe? I understand the water can..."
"Safe? Since when is the safety of a knudnik so important, especially at such a crucial time as this? You yourself pointed this out." Odran then turned and looked at me. "Don't feel special; no one's safety is of concern to me right now."
On PJ Haarsma's imagined future frontier of the Rings of Orbis, aliens from myriad planets and star systems live together. Not all are humanoid, but greed, specism, and power struggles abound. Johnny learns in The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1 that he has an ability the other children who traveled on their parents ship, incubated after their parents' deaths, do not. He can access computers directly with his mind without the use of the hardware given to the other children upon their arrival. With this ability Johnny, or JT as his friends call him, can speak to a species on Orbis 2 whose language is not translatable by the computer.
The Samarin is a huge creature that lives in a gigantic tank and cools the crystals that are mined from the moons by moving them about in the tank. The crystals are a crucial link in the Orbis economy. The unhappy Samarin, however, is banging on the tank, causing damage to the surrounding building and threatening a breach which would flood the whole complex.
I applaud Haarsma's inventiveness in coming up with so many different forms of intelligent life. Given the vast number of different intelligent creatures in this book, the task of describing them all, and even reading them all would be daunting. But Haarsma gives such cursory descriptions; they do little to help us envision the creatures. The first description of the Samarin is that it is like an elephant or a whale. He describes claws and short appendages later, and the creature's eyes, but the reader would be hard-pressed to draw a picture of one from his description. (Editor's note: The author has created a companion website with graphic aliens, which may compensate for this short-coming. These books were reviewed solely as written media, which may not have been completely fair to the author.)
Everyone has some secret they're hiding from Johnny. He can't possibly know who to trust. And how can Toll know more about his father than Johnny does? JT's struggle with wanting to make a go of life on Orbis 2, wanting to help his new Samarin friend, Toll, and his desire to protect his sister and the other children is what makes the story. And the danger comes from several directions. The bio-bots in the Samarin's tank, the Trading Council members who would love to see the children whipped or put down, and the Earth children's new guarantor, a greedy, conniving and a hard task master.
- Amazon readers rating: from 3 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1 (August 2006)
- Softwire: Betrayal on Orbis 2 (March 2008)
- The Softwire: Wormhole Pirates on Orbis 3 (March 2009)
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- Official website for PJ Haarsma
- Wikipedia page for PJ Haarsma
- WhedonAge interview with PJ Haarsma
- Pink Ray Gun interview with PJ Haarsma
- The Softwire Series official website
- Nathan Fillion reads Softwire
- Booklad review of Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1
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About the Author:
PJ Haarsma a Bachelor of Science degree from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He had a small production company and shot stills or film for advertising clients for fifteen years, including for clients like Hewlett Packard and Nokia. He also shot a movie. But at 38, he felt it was time to try something else. So he started reading and writing. One morning Johnny T appeared on his paper and ten months later he finished his first draft.
Haarsma's Softwire books are accompanied by an online Role Playing Game, which acts a visual companion to the books. With his friend actor Nathan Fillion (Mal from Firefly), he has launched the Kids Need to Read Foundation. The charitable organization raises funds to buy books for under-funded schools and libraries, as well as disadvantaged children.
He lives in Los Angeles, California with his wife Marissa and their young child.