Archive for June 22nd, 2009

postheadericon Terminal Velocity, Gollancz, Hardback, ISBN, 0-575-04917-0

This is the reissued edition of Vertigo, issued in hardback by Gollancz in 1991 – October 1991 according to Phil’s excellent bibliography of Bob Shaw. The original short story, Dark Icarus/A little Night Flying is presented as a prologue and then it’s as Vertigo. It was priced at £13.99 net. My memory seems to be failing me as I was convinced I bought this when it was first issued. But I didn’t. I did however purchase it recently online, at a much more reasonable price of £1.36 plus postage, which I think is great value for a good book in excellent condition.

postheadericon Vertigo, Gollancz, Hardback, 0-575-02559-X: Pan, paperback, ISBN 0-330-25990-3

So I got a second hard back copy of Vertigo, and this one is in much better condition. I won a copy on Ebay for 99p but it was ex-library. The new copy doesn’t have any pages ripped out of it and has no stamps. So I’ll give my thoughts on this novel now. I first read it in paperback way back in the eighties and went through the 99p Ebay one again recently before starting this review.

It was an enjoyable read. The novel is pretty close to mainstream in that it deals with everyday problems in the main, plain old fashioned human conflict. It would qualify very well for Theodore Sturgeon’s definition of Science Fiction: a human problem with a human solution but which would not have happened if not for the scientific content. (I’m going from memory here so forgive me if the quote isn’t exact.)

The scientific content of Vertigo is the easy availability of sort of jet packs aka CG harnesses which are used for personal travel. We all know what we’re like in cars and the jet pack is another form of this. Shaw develops all sorts of possibilities for the way people would behave with this new form of transport, and all sorts of social repercussions such as the more or less ceasing of airplane flights. Other problems brought about by this invention are the crimes and misdemeanours in three dimensions instead of being limited to flat surfaces on the ground.

The main protagonist for this story is Robert Hasson, a policeman going to Canada to recover from a horrendous accident.

As I’ve mentioned before this novel grew from the short story A Little Night Flying, also known as Dark Icarus, first published in Science Fiction Monthly in 1974 and also in the short story collection Cosmic Kaleidoscope (1976) and in other places. It was re issued as Terminal Velocity in 1991.

Hasson departs for Canada, physically and mentally shattered, recovering from of a nervous breakdown and taking a medication called Serenix. No drugs company in the world would call their product that so Shaw can get away with it.

To re acquaint myself with the novel – I did read it over twenty years ago and I’m not getting any younger, smarter or prettier- I started to leaf through it and found myself engrossed again, well into chapter three before I realised I was supposed to be reminding myself of the novel as a refresher, not a full read. I suppose that’s a compliment to Shaw’s writing and his talent. So I decided to re read the novel in full.

Shaw has a way with developing characters and situations. Vertigo is a relatively slow starter of a novel. There’s no major incident to incite events as prescribed by story experts all over the world. The baddies make themselves known relatively soon but plot wise Shaw carefully draws in the reader to Hasson’s situation.

Odd that I don’t recall the mention of Kafka’s Metamorphosis story. I used to be quite into Kafka, although I only have a hard back edition of The Trial and paperback edition of a collection of short stories – including Metamorphosis – and I can’t be sure but I think there might be a Penguin edition of Amerika stuck in some corner.

Gradually Hasson begins to feel better, with the help from Oliver Fan, from the local health food store and even tries but fails to fly in a CG harness.

The story gets ratcheted up a few notches in the last few chapters. Shaw adds some humanity to the one of the villains of the piece by making the repercussions of their actions more serious than their intentions. Head bully Pridgeon proclaims he didn’t know how dangerous the traps he set in the Chinook Hotel were. Chief villain Morlacher keeps threatening the secondary character Werry and seems implacable, intent on the protection of his property by any means he deems necessary.

A character – Barry Lutze – introduced early on becomes the final obstacle for Hasson in the last chapters as, to save Werry’s son, Hasson puts on a CG harness and heads upward into the night to the Chinook hotel and faces his fears, surviving the situation and comes out the other side alive and a stronger person.

Although it obviously doesn’t seem to follow the rules/requirements of story telling it does, and Shaw proves himself to be a master at doing this subtly. I’ve heard actors look at the beginning of a script and the end of the script to see if there is a proper character arc, character development and character progress. No actor would be disappointed with Vertigo. The unsteady, unconfident, frightened Hasson of the start of the novel grows throughout to be replaced by the confident and growing character at the end of the novel.