Great Reads brings you book reviews on teen books that parents will love from such great young adult authors as Garth Nix, Clare Dunkle, DJ Machale, Stephanie Meyer and many more.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Virus on Orbis & Betrayal on Orbis 2: PJ Haarsma

I recently received these first two books in "The Softwire" series and have to say I really, really enjoyed them.

Virus on Orbis is the story of 200 children who were raised by the Renaissance's ship computer "Mother" after their parents all perished when their sleepers malfunctioned. The story centers around Johnny Turnbull (JT), his sister and a few friends (and enemies) as they learn upon landing on Orbis that they will be separated into groups to work for different "Guarantors" to pay off the debt that their parents carried (in exchange for passage to Orbis). JT also learns that he is a softwire, an extremely rare human that can interface with computers using only his mind (he knew he could communicate with the ship's computer, but didn't realize how special his ability was). Unfortunately JT soon becomes the prime suspect when the computer that controls the rings of Orbis begins to malfunction. JT tries to warn people, but there are those that don't believe him (because the "technologically perfect" computer never malfunctions) and those that think he should be put to death. It's up to JT and his friends to prove his innocence and find out what's really going on on Orbis all while dealing with bullies, learning the extent of his powers, a terrible boss and adjustment to life on a strange planet.

In Betrayal on Orbis 2 (releasing on March 25th, 2008), JT and his friends are tranferred (somewhat illegally) to the second ring of Orbis (there are four) where they are to work for an alien who's primary job is communicate and care for the Samirans, huge water creatures that have a very important job each year during the Harvest Festival. But all is not as it seems and JT quickly learns that their new "employer" is planning a terrible betrayal that could bring about the downfall of Orbis 2. I don't want to give too much away about the story- but we do learn more about JT's parents (who may not be who JT thought they were) and more about why JT is so special. I can't wait for the next two books in the series.

Both books are definitely great reads- fast paced, great stories and engaging characters that will keep you turning the page and wanting more. The best part is that I think both books will engage kids that might not like reading as much, or have a tougher time doing it- the chapters are shorter, the descriptions give just enough information to "see" Orbis, but still leaves plenty of room for the imagination (in a good way!) There's even neat looking role-playing game at www.ringsoforbis.com that brings the world of Orbis to life in a new way (and may get a reluctant reader even more interested in the books). You may also want to check out www.pjhaarsma.com for more information about the author, his involvement with the "Kids Need to Read" program and a great interview with actor Nathan Fillion ("Mal" from TV series "Firefly" and the follow up movie "Serenity").

The first book will be available on Amazon.com after Feb. 28th, but you can get a copy on Barnes and Noble's website now.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

JT is a kid with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He lost his parents before he was even born, and then found himself and his friends pretty much sold into slavery. He gets teased by other kids because he’s different and he suffers from self doubt. There’s something about JT that makes him special and unique but he doesn’t want to be that way, he just wants to be normal like everyone else so he sees it as a burden rather than a gift. JT starts to overcome his self doubt and uses his special abilities to make a real difference but not before making a big mistake.

I was really looking forward to reading “Betrayal on Orbis 2” after having read the first book in the” Softwire” series “Virus on Orbis 1”. I love anything to do with IT and I love science fiction. Science Fiction is a great way of escaping into another world where you don’t have to worry about what’s going on in the real one. These books have both and PJ Haarsma writes in such a way that I find once I pick it up, I can’t put it down. I’ve recommended Virus on Orbis 1 to a few people and they all seem to love it as much as I do.

Now I can’t wait for part 3!

Oh, and there's a great RPG game that goes along with this series at www.ringsoforbis.com that in addtion to being a lot of fun might inspire kids who don't read to get into the books.

Denise Gary said...

The Softwire: Betrayal on Orbis 2 by PJ Haarsma continues the exciting adventures of the space orphans first portrayed in The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1. The action begins in the very first sentence of the book and continues throughout the fast-paced book, but not without quiet moments of reflection interspersed to bring real emotional depth to the story.

In the first installment of this 4 book series, the protagonist, JT, and his fellow band of space traveling orphans, find themselves sold into slavery on Orbis 1, one of four alien-constructed rings situated around a wormhole used for trade. JT is discovered to have a very special ability not found in humans, which induces both fear and greed among the aliens living on the Rings of Orbis. It is how this gift is used or abused that propels The Softwire novels forward.

In Virus on Orbis 1, JT struggles to deal with the ability he initially resents, but then learns to embrace that which makes him different. In Betrayal on Orbis 2, JT’s maturation is highly evident as he takes on the burdens his uniqueness brings upon him. He comes to realize that powerful capability brings with it powerful responsibility to all life surrounding him, good or bad. Compassion is this hero’s true special ability.

Despite the narrative taking place on an imaginative world foreign to our own, everything about the emotions and reactions of the characters is identifiable to our own lives here on Earth. Most interesting is the downward spiral of some of the children as their slavery begins to take its toll on them. This is a realistic portrayal of the sadness and desperation that harsh conditions slowly bring about in people, but also the triumph of the human spirit to keep going despite it all. The winners in this story are the ones who move forward and look toward the hope they see for their future. The author never hits the reader in the face with these revelations, nor makes them too heavy for a young person, but they are there for the reader to feel as deeply as they are capable.

Although the plot revolves around JT discovering and stopping a betrayal of terrible consequences, there are smaller instances of loyalties betrayed among the children, even by the flawed protagonist. The consequences of these smaller betrayals are profound. The book is also filled with good, old-fashioned action as the various betrayals deepen. One scene in particular caused me to literally jump out of my chair in thrilled disbelief. I felt as though I was in a movie.

I look forward to the third installment of this series with great anticipation. Readers of all ages should enjoy this tale of a young boy who lights the way for others with his compassion, intelligence, perseverance and positive spirit.