Orbus is the third book in the Spatterjay series – I know this as William Gaminara reminded me when he started narrating Neal Asher’s return to Sniper and Vrell. This time we the switch in focus to Captain Orbus as he takes us away from the planet Spatterjay and out to the Graveyard, border between the Polity and the Prador Kingdom.
But before we continue I highly recommend reading The Skinner and The Voyage of The Sable Keech first as Orbus is not a good jumping on point, being the last (so far) in this loosely connecting series. I guess you could read it in isolation but you’d miss a lot what makes Orbus a brilliantly imagined book. If you’re continuing to read I’m including spoilers form now on in. So with that in mind…
Asher has been keeping secrets, the virus of Spatterjay isn’t all that it appears. It is so much more. And the evolution to its true nature is one part of what makes Orbus a crackling read.
At the end of the last book Vrell had entered Vrost’s ship but it’s what he does there which causes the viruses true nature to be revealed and causes the Prador King personally to arrive to finish the job that Vrost has so far failed to do. And you can see why a Prador who is infected with the Spatterjay virus shouldn’t be allowed to leave. Asher also introduces us to the Golgoloth, a myth and a story to scare young Prador, and a creature is that is very real.
Together they create a mix and a direction that I wasn’t expecting after the low level storytelling of the first two as this time the stakes could not be higher for King personally as well as the Kingdom and probably the Polity if the virus manages to get loose, which sounds dramatic, and it is.
Asher gets to stretch himself writing a grand space battle which he handles with fineness as he winds back time to see events from different views and plays out smaller dramas along with the big battle.
Orbus, being an old sea captain, infected with virus and very much mentally tainted by the Polity/Prador war on Spatterjay as explained in The Skinner and The Voyage of Sable Keech makes him a darker hero to follow. And his struggle with killing or saving Vrell at several points makes great reading.
Not that Orbus was expecting this mission when he signed up to Captain the trade ship Gurnard but Asher uses this book to demonstrate the the Polity AIs are quite manipulative and forward thinking.
End Spoiler Warning
The thing I like about Asher is that he’s always pushing and exploring his creation (the Polity). For example I’m going to read The Technician as soon as I can and that is supposed to feature a black (as in magician) AI. Now they might feature in his Agent Cormac series, which after The Technician will be the only books in the Polity I’ve not read, but I know it’s generated a sequel, Penny Royal, that he’s writing now.
But back to Orbus and a question: what should science fiction do? In Asher’s case his science fiction tells a great roller-coaster story and explores survival, genetics, societies, technology and other themes should be present in science-focused fiction. And he manages to show deep thinking without derailing the story he’s chosen to tell.
Though the voice telling this tale is that of William Gaminara who also lifted The Skinnerand The Voyage of Sable Keech off the page. It’s staggering to think that not only does Gaminara have to read for 14 hours plus but he also has to keep up with what voices he’s given to each character and it’s so smoothly done that when he slips (and he did only a handful of times) do you realise how effortless his narration feels.
For me Asher is a master craftsman and makes the Polity one of my favourite storytelling environments. It’s a universe that I’d urge any SF fan to explore right now.
Orbus is out now in paperbook, ebook and audiobook.