The Orphaned Worlds (Humanity's Fire) by Michael Cobley

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The Orphaned Worlds (Humanity's Fire) by Michael Cobley

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Intergalactic warfare on a complex scale, solid follow up to Seeds of Earth.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 480 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841496337

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Remember that saying? Be careful what you wish for? Clearly it applies as much to books as to anything else. About 18 months ago I read and reviewed Seeds of Earth, the first in the postulated "Humanity's Fire" trilogy by Michael Cobley.

It was a fair review, some stuff I loved, other bits I didn't… but I concluded by hoping that the next instalment would give us none of the unnecessary set-dressing and more of the action.

If I were arrogant enough to think he cares what I think, as just one single reader with no pretensions to any other claim to voice an opinion, I would fear that the author has taken me at my word. Fear because it doesn't work as well as I'd have hoped.

"Orphaned Worlds" is book 2: the difficult middle book. It's never the easiest to write, and in my experience also never the easiest to enjoy. So I'm going to hope Cobley is simply suffering from the tricksiness of the form, because I want Humanity's Fire to work. There was enough in the first volume for me to be eager for the second. Upon arrival, however, I can only admit that I struggled with it.

We don't get any of that set-dressing that distracted me so much on the first outing. We don't get any recap of what has gone before. If you haven't been paying attention… or if you have had the 18 month lapse and were too lazy to re-read the first volume before launching into volume 2 (guilty as charged!) then this is a difficult one to get into.

The planet Darien, once a lost outpost where earth colonists co-existed with the native Uvovo, is now the focal point of an intergalactic struggle. Hegemony forces are in occupation mode, Earth is standing back reined in by inter-planetary politics, whilst planet-side local alliances are fighting back guerrilla-style. This is the least of the galaxy's concerns, however. It might even get air-brushed out as a little minor difficulty in the history-books-to-come. There is a much bigger problem to worry about.

The Uvovo uphold their spiritual connection with Segrana, the forest spirit, without fully understanding her nature or her power. The earthling Catriona has now partially merged with the fading Segrana and is about to find out exactly what a declining deity is still capable of. Alongside this present and real connection to a visible entity and evidenced sentience, the Uvovo treasure other ancient beliefs, whose meanings have been lost and scattered. These beliefs gave rise to temples. Temples are doorways.

One of these temples hides the access to a hyperspace prison, which houses the Legion of Avatars – the greatest threat to organic sentience in the history of creation. Knights of the Legion are abroad again, and they have knowledge, and they are working towards the prison-break to end them all.

This is where we return to the story. The problem for the reader is simply that there is just so much going on.

In common with the first volume, Cobley gets around the difficulty of covering intergalactic war from all angles, by watching it from several different ones. Chapters are told not in the first person but from the focus of various characters on different sides… we follow Greg, Theo, and their cohorts of the earth science station on Darien who, after the Hegemony takeover become part of the local resistance; other earth-based characters include Catriona – a semi-enhanced scientist, chosen by Segrana as her keeper – and Julia Bryce, a cold hard-hearted wielder of dark matter whose motivations are never to be guaranteed; Kao-Chih, the messenger from the Human Sept on the abandoned colony of Pyre proves to be less comedic and much more of a serious player in this outing; and Robert Horst – Earthsphere ambassador, believed to be dead, but really sent down into the depths of hyperspace by way of escape (or maybe for other purposes). Meanwhile the Construct, a machine intelligence created by the Forerunners a hundred millennia ago continues to guard the depths of hyperspace and a Knight of the Legion of Avatars, an armoured cyborg survivor of the war that resulted in said guardianship seeks to break it.

As a device, this works pretty well in giving a rounded picture of overlapping events. It does make for heavy going in other respects: you do have to concentrate to keep a grip on who is fighting who and why. Of course you might rule that 20th and 21st century conflicts on earth give us just the same problems!

If you can get and hold that grip, then you get exactly what I asked for at the end of the first book: action all the way. This is now a full-on war. There are battles, skirmishes, sneak attacks, undercover double-dealing, espionage, behind-the-lines intrigue, and full-scale, all-guns-blazing-head-on attacks. Cue: hi-tech visual effects departments for explosions, mountains being ripped apart, inter-galactic warships disintegrating. Cue: the blood-&-gore props for hand-to-hand fighting on the ground.

Psycho-spiritual connections continue to play their role in the cross-moon communications and the mystics remain always at the centre of the action. And of course we couldn't do without an Indiana Jones moment, thoughtfully provided by Robert's adventures in hyperspace seeking the legendary Zyradin.

The characters remain intrinsically as we remember them from Book 1, but continue to develop as actions impact upon them.

The humour is much more low-key. Comedic interludes are fewer and further between and tend to rest more in the gallows-humour exchanges in the heat of the moment than in prolonged episodes.

Anyone who enjoyed Seeds of Earth will probably enjoy Orphaned Worlds just as much – but I would seriously recommend a re-read of the first novel as a refresher before you start. For newcomers: a definite don't start from here. It isn't intended as a stand-alone novel and simply would not work in that vein.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion Before you start this one, read Seeds of Earth.

Buy The Orphaned Worlds (Humanity's Fire) by Michael Cobley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Orphaned Worlds (Humanity's Fire) by Michael Cobley at

Buy The Orphaned Worlds (Humanity's Fire) by Michael Cobley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Orphaned Worlds (Humanity's Fire) by Michael Cobley at


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