The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1, by PJ Haarsma, is an exciting outer space adventure that takes me back to the classic science fiction of my youth. Thirteen-year-old Johnny Turnbull has lived his entire life on the seed ship Renaissance along with a bunch of other kids. All the children are orphans; their parents were killed when the cryogenic sleepers on the ship failed. After 253 years in space, the ship is just arriving at Orbis, a system of four rings and two moons in orbit around a wormhole. The parents had signed up for a kind of indentured servitude, agreeing to work on Orbis for four years, at the end of which they would be granted citizenship on Orbis. Now that their parents are dead, the children don’t know what fate awaits them on Orbis.
Johnny has a special talent that no one else on the ship has; he can communicate mentally with the central computer. He doesn’t realize how unusual this is until they arrive on Orbis and he finds out that he is a softwire, someone who can enter and interact with any computer without a phsyical interface. His talents are both desired and feared on Orbis—desired by those hungry for power, and feared for the potential to damage the central computer. Johnny and the other children soon discover that they are obligated to fulfill their parents term of service, and they are soon assigned to work for their guarantors. But something is going on in Orbis, and the children find themselves caught up in the middle of a power struggle. And the central computer, supposedly infallible, seems to have developed a glitch, and Johnny is blamed for it.
There’s plenty to like about this book. It’s exciting and suspenseful; it has interesting characters and cool aliens and intriguing cultures and a couple of surprises. Young adult science fiction fans will love this book, and it’s a perfect book to introduce children and teens to the world of science fiction.