Http://www.TracingTheStars.com was provided an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review, and it honestly blew us away.
Hold on to your butts, people, because this book is awesome. I'm not new to Sansbury's work. I have previously read and reviewed books from his Tisian Chronicles, including his debut novel The Biomass Revolution. I can honestly say that it has been a treat to watch Sansbury develop as a writer. While the Tisian Chronicles were good and held promise, ORBS is a polished science fiction thriller that really hit all the marks right on point.
A smoother writing style than his previous works has emerged along with a more natural tone and approach for his characters and settings. These stylistic improvements are paired with a great story and a suspenseful thrill ride that keeps you reading, and guessing, right to the very end. I had a very hard time putting this book down.
First, the world building. It's based on Earth and Mars, so most readers already have a good grasp on what the environment could or should look like. Salbury adds to this with good descriptions of the decimation from the solar storms and how the Earth has changed. There are also neat descriptions of Mars from Sophie's dreams. Beyond the environmental descriptions, there are changes in society and technology. The changes are subtle enough to be believable for the near future while still feeling innovative. The NTC wear reflective, glowing goggles, and anyone who has read Biomass Revolution may get a kick out of that like I did.
The characters are excellently scripted as well, each having their own voice and temperament. Sophie is a strong, capable female character without completely losing her feminine side. She reminded me a bit of Jodie Foster from Contact mixed with Sigourney Weaver from Aliens. Brains, leadership, not 100% perfect, real and solidly standing on her own two feet, except when her nightmares make her scream.
She leads a team of specialists into a biosphere to test six months of living in isolation. It is a prep test for a future colonization project on Mars as it becomes clear that Earth is slowly dying from solar storms. It appears to be going well at first, but then Sophie begins having vivid dreams and weird things start happening around the biosphere. The team has to figure out if this is part of the NTC test or something more sinister.
This is where the real mental thriller starts taking place, as Sophie struggles to deal with the reality of her dreams and her scientific mind trying to keep the mission together. Alexia, an A.I. hologram, informs them that the NTC has stopped responding, and Sophie makes the decision to open the biodome to figure out what is going on outside.
Sansbury uses a mixture of perspective shifts between characters to give as many points of view as possible. He also switches to first-person for the chapters in which the AI, Alexis, is the focal character, telling the story through her eyes. The shifting perspectives can be a bit jarring, but over all, I liked the effect. I found Alexis' first-person perspective chapters to be some of my favorites, as it gives the unique viewpoint of how a programmed intelligence might perceive and deal with the events unfolding. The only real style issue I found with this book are that sometimes, a long paragraph of dialogue would not identify the speaker until the very end of the paragraph, leading you to reread the paragraph once you understood who the speaker was so you could properly place the perspective.
Once Sophia leads a team outside, what they find only lends to the mystery and pushes the story forward with fast-paced page-turning momentum. I actually found myself having trouble concentrating on other things until I finished this book. My mind kept wanting to follow the clues, discover the secrets along with Sophie and her team, and not put the book down until I reached the last page. The well written nature of the book allowed me to read it rather quickly, and it never felt like it dragged.
I recommend this book for anyone who likes Science Fiction, Thrillers, or even Post Apocalyptic type books. It won't disappoint.