What a difference a cover makes.

I went browsing for an old book I own online, Orvis by H.M. Hoover. It turns out the reprint from 2002 looks like this.
Orvis 2002 cover
Naturally I was outraged. How dare they change things! But seriously, I can't help but think of the book as with the original cover my copy has
Orvis Methuen Printing
How 70s sci-fi is that? I'm amazed the pilot's helmet isn't ten times bigger.

But what about the book within? Orvis is one of my childhood memories, from when the future seemed so bright and hoverboards were only a few years away. It's about Toby and Thaddeus, two schoolkids from the colonies who don't fit in on earth. Toby meets Orvis, an old, abandoned robot who is both highly intelligent and extremely refined. Toby feels surplus to requirements and seeing Orvis left to rust resolves to get him to a safe home, to her great-grandmother. Unfortunately things don't quite work out as along the way the transport they're on is hijacked. She and Thaddeus are stranded in the Empty and forced to rely on Orvis to survive. But Orvis is free now, why risk it all to help two fragile humans?
Orvis was possibly the most grounded sci-fi story I've ever read. True its technology seems a little dated now. These two kids end up in the middle of nowhere without a scrap of wearable tech or communication devices. However the technology isn't the focus. It's a classic kids tale of children out in the big bad world forced to fend for themselves, however it doesn't rush to the action. Or indeed rush to any action at all. It's a steady book that takes its time to develop. A lot of the scenes are just characters talking to each other. The characters really sell themselves. All three are extremely well drawn. Case in point, in one scene Thaddeus lunges at a man twice his size and no amount of surprise keeps him from being trounced. Toby and Thadeus are children and act like it. They keep secrets and resent authority figures, act without always thinking ahead and plunge boldly into situations that would give an adult pause. They were immensely relatable to a young me. Toby's struggles for acceptance in her family and to find a relative she can relate to struck a chord.

Orvis is the main draw however. He is brilliant, far too brilliant I suspect, for an artificial intelligence. He's maybe four centuries old, armed with a host of sensory mechanisms and tough as a tank. He's had to be considering he was sent around to "Nine planets, twenty-seven moons, and one hundred and fourteen asteroids." Orvis is at once a machine and also very human. He quotes St. Augustine and asks if people are fourth generation models. He argues that he is not alive, merely sentient "And that is debatable." In the early pages much is made of his rebellion when, inspired by Toby, he doesn't go to the landfill as ordered and instead goes to see Toby. There are many debates like the sentience one where he plays Devil's Advocate against his own rights, perhaps in some secret desire to hear a human protest on his behalf. Later he becomes the children's protector in the Empty, their hope for survival while faced with the knowledge that saving them will condemn him to capture. Orvis is the heart of the story and every scene with him is infused with a sublime wit and a wry exasperation. He makes all the other characters come to life by their interactions with him.

Through Orvis and other things the book's points are slowly made. Toby, Thaddeus and Orvis, all three are abandoned. Most of the adults hide their age, having access to cosmetics that erase such wrinkles with ease. The modern drones are mindless and sleek, Apple products that hoover on command. Toby's great-grandmother is old and she wears her age with pride. Orvis is old too but just because he is old it doesn't mean he should be thrown away. Age brings beauty is the underlying message more than "Robot rights now!" It's an enjoyable message even today. The book even manages a happy ending where not everyone was quite as bad as it looked, just like Only You can Save Mankind. One other little gem it shares with Only You is how the human smile is not a universal expression. To Orvis humans smile to avert threat.

All in all Orvis was an enjoyable book and a worthy read, there's not much else to say, so here's another printing that makes it look like Lord of the Rings.
Orvis Paperback

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