You’ve picked up a copy of Orphaned Worlds, lured by the cool spacescape on the cover and Iain M. Banks recommendation, but haven’t yet encountered the first book in the series. Whatever you do, don’t attempt to read it before hunting down that first instalment, Seeds of Earth. Orphaned Worlds is very much a mid-series book and as this space opera adventure is on an epic scale, trying to work out what exactly is going on means some serious flailing around. I know – I tried it…
Seeds of Earth has mostly been very well received by critics and readers alike who enjoy this sub-genre. So, the question has to be – does Orphaned Worlds manage to sustain the standard set by Seeds of Earth?
Darien is no longer a lost outpost of humanity, but the prize in an intergalactic power struggle. Hegemony forces have a stranglehold over the planet and crack troops patrol its hotspots while Earth watches, rendered impotent by galactic politics. But its Darien ambassador will soon become a player in a greater conflict. there is more at stake than a turf war on a newly discovered world. An ancient Uvovo temple hides access to a hyperspace prison, housing the greatest threat sentient life has ever known. Millennia ago, malignant intelligences were caged there following an apocalyptic war. And their servants work on their release.
I believe this sequel would have benefitted with a Story So Far summary. Cobley did try to help by providing both a list of characters and the 18 different species of aliens that crop up in the story (I wasn’t kidding when I said it was ‘epic’…) and while they were useful reminders after having read Seeds of Earth, neither list was much help when attempting to read Orphaned Worlds first time around.
After completing Seeds of Earth, I found that Orphaned Worlds plunged straight into the story. This is a much faster-paced book as Cobley had already set up the dynamics of his world and we are now in the throes of the conflict, so there are a variety of battles with all the main protagonists – and the antagonists – fighting for their lives both in space and on a number of worlds. As in Seeds of Earth, the story is narrated in third person pov by the various characters, with each chapter titled by the viewpoint character’s name. This gives the reader a great deal of help – absolutely necessary while the action keeps rolling forward.
There is a lot less of the scene setting that silted up Seeds of Earth and I feel that Cobley really hits his stride during this instalment of the Humanity’s Fire series. If you enjoyed Seeds of Earth, I believe that you will certainly find Orphaned Worlds an equally engrossing, entertaining read and I look forward to getting hold of the final book in the trilogy, The Ascendant Stars.
Talk about this space opera debut came up on the forums I lurk on more than once – and so I grabbed hold of a copy when it came my way and dived in…
The first intelligent species to encounter mankind attacked without warning. With little hope of halting the invasion, Earth’s last roll of the dice was to dispatch three colony ships, seeds of Earth, to different parts of the galaxy. The human race would live on… somewhere. Over a century later, the planet Darien hosts a thriving human settlement. But mankind’s new home harbours secrets dating back to the dawn of history. Secrets that could yet see a devastating war erupt across the entire galaxy…
This is space opera writ large – and although Cobley attempts to drop us into the middle of the rising action, I struggled for the first section. For starters, it seemed far too similar to a whole raft of other Avatar-type scenarios. Beautiful forest-like planet peopled by a (mostly) contented human population and quirky other-worldly aliens – until threatened by an aggressive rapacious enemy intent on acquiring the precious and unique something said planet has to offer… Yeah, yeah – yawwwn…
What actually held me was that a couple of the characters in this storyline were interestingly different – Catriona and Robert Horst both caught and held my attention in amongst the large cast who narrate the story in third person viewpoint. My perseverance paid off – the appearance of Kao Chih from another of the three ships and his desperate quest and various adventures suddenly lit up the whole book. The initial storyline became less of a cliché as it progressed and I found the notion of humanity caught between two vast, established alien powerblocks fascinating. It was always going to be a big ask for Cobley to be able to whisk his readers into the heart of a story with as many strands and scenarios that comprises this sprawling beast and I’m not convinced that he started in the right place. Both Greg and Theo, two of the main protagonists on Darien, are probably the least interesting characters – especially when set against some of the more intriguing protagonists on offer.
One of the issues examined in Seeds of Earth is the tension between natural humans and those with additional augmentations – while these beings regularly crop up in far future science fiction, their presence generally fades into the furniture – not so in this novel. As we are introduced to characters with and without AI companions, the political and personal consequences of such implants are thoroughly explored. Catriona, a researcher of Darien history and fauna, is a victim of a failed experiment to artificially boost the intellectual capacity of the small human colony as her Enhanced abilities start to falter when she hits puberty.
Overall, Cobley handles the large, varied cast of characters well and once the book hits its stride, I found the pace and narrative drew me right into the story. Any niggles? Well, I could have done with a lot less scene setting which at times interfered with my ability to bond with some of the characters and silted up the action, somewhat. But I am aware that many fans of space opera really enjoy the detailed depiction of the different land and spacescapes offered by authors of this genre. And despite my preference for less description, I was still hooked until the end and look forward to getting hold of the next book in the series, Orphaned Worlds.