Archive for July, 2009

postheadericon Skirmish On A Summer Morning

I re read this story recently and bits of it came back to me as I was reading. What stuck in my head most, and the part that came back first, was the showdown at the end. It’s very visual and the writing prompts vivid images.

This is the first story in Cosmic Kaleidoscope and the longest, running to fifty odd pages.

The Bibliography of Bob Shaw has this story as part of a series with Fire Pattern and Incident on a Summer Morning. I haven’t read the latter – it’s from an issue of Interzone I don’t have and hasn’t been published in book form as far as I know – but I don’t see how it can connect to Fire Pattern in any way. The only thing is the mention of The Prince, a baddie who is in Fire Pattern but other expositions in Skirmish don’t tie in at all to Fire Pattern in my eyes: unless it was all explained by Shaw in Incident On a Summer Morning.

The story itself starts off with the character, Gregg, coming across a pregnant woman being hassled by two cowboys he is more than acquainted with. The year isn’t named but it is set in the old west, involving cowboys and ranchers. Against his better judgement he gets involved and one of the cowboys is seriously injured, leading to a threat hanging over Gregg for the rest of the story. Shaw then goes on to develop the characters and plot, adding mystery to the young pregnant woman and pangs of yearning for a family life for Gregg.

Morna, the young pregnant woman who knows she is expecting a boy, is the enigmatic stranger who enters his life and changes its course. She miraculously eases the pain on his arms and later provides him with a powerful handgun to use in the fight with his enemies – the rancher – and her enemy The Prince.

Another character is Ruth, Gregg’s on off girlfriend, who acts as the midwife and who takes control of the birthing to the relief of Gregg. Soon after the baby is born the Rancher descends on Gregg with a bunch of cowboys, intent on killing him. This is when the Prince decides to appear.

This is a satisfying story and at a comfortable length. Shaw has stated that he always enjoyed – and preferred – being a short story writer but later on began to feel more at home writing novels. But this story is proof that he was also a master of the novelette.

postheadericon Three Shaw Books

Three Shaw hardbacks in one week, and quite a lot of pennies lost to me. One from USA (Ship Of Strangers) one from Essex (Who Goes Here?) and one from the book town in the borders of Scotland (Other Days, Other Eyes). Only the really expensive ones to get now.

postheadericon Other Days, Other Eyes, Gollancz, Hardback, 0-575-01485-7

I bought this in paperback years and years ago, and I’m ninety percent sure it was one of the books I bought from the Science Fiction Book Shop in Edinburgh. I recently purchased a hardback edition, but it turned out to be The Readers Union and not the Gollancz edition as advertised. I was given a full refund and I offered to return the book but received no reply. Even more recently I acquired a copy of the Gollancz hard back edition. At an expensive price I may add but seeing as it’s one of the small group of Shaw hardbacks that are reasonable rare the price wasn’t excessive.

It’s quite a slim volume, and can only just be called a novel, there are a few ‘sidelights’ throughout the book: short stories not connected to the main story and characters but about Slow glass.

Sidelight One is the original story, Light of Other Days, which Shaw in his How To Write Science Fiction book says was anthologised over forty times and brought him in as much money as a novel – definitely more than he expected from a short story.

Sidelight Two: Burden of Proof is about how a piece of Slow Glass is used as corroborating evidence of a crime. Judge Harper waits for the revealing of secrets in the Slow Glass to know if the accused sent to the chair was guilty or innocent.

Sidelight three: A Dome of Many-coloured Glass deals with the personal conflict between the planner and the private and Slow Glass is used as a – very ingenious – weapon in the personal war.

The rest of the book tells the story of Alban Garrod, engineer and inventor of Slow Glass for inclusion on aircraft. As we begin the novel Slow Glass is being tested on a supersonic plane belonging to the United Aircraft Constructors, commonly referred to as UAC. Thankfully they are no relation to the UAC in the DOOM series of games.

After some accidents Garrod slowly begins to realise what he has and Slow Glass is developed and invented. The plot further develops when his father in law is accused of murder. Garrod smells something fishy and tries to accelerate some slow glass to see if they can prove him innocent. However, all does not go well and through circumstances his wife is partially blinded by Slow Glass. Her sight comes back to an extent and she can see through lenses made of Slow Glass. But she wants to wear lenses that have already been word by Garrod, so she can see what he has seen.

I found Other Days, Other Eyes engrossing when I first read it in paperback years ago.

It was interrupted slightly by the separate story chapters that were not central to the main story but Shaw’s writing and characterisation more than made up for that.

Slow Glass is one of Shaw’s most famous inventions and he has explored the subject in a variety of ways throughout the book. As always he pays close attention to his characters throughout the book, building them carefully, developing them. The problem of Slow Glass and its impact on society is resolved right at the end of the book, where an implementation of Slow Glass changes the world forever, and Garrod is at peace with it.

postheadericon The Shadow Of Heaven, Gollancz, Hardback, ISBN 0-575-04916-2

I have three copies of this book, two paperbacks and a hardback. The two paperbacks comprise a NEL abridged edition and a Corgi edition. I bought and read the abridged edition first, later getting the full version to see what I was missing out on. When the book was re issued in hardback in 1991 I bought it and read it for the third time.

Bob Shaw revised three of his novels: Ground Zero Man was revised as The Peace Machine; Vertigo was re issued as Terminal Velocity with the addition of the original short story, Dark Icarus, used as a prologue, and Shadow of Heaven, first published in 1969, was revised a couple of decades later and re issued in 1991.

Unlike the first two, which had little or no change, Shadow of Heaven has parts that were rewritten and different takes on scenes.

Vic Sterling is a reporter, a profession that pops up more than once in Shaw’s work – most notably Fire Pattern. It might be a case of go for what you know as Shaw himself did work as a journalist.

It was written in the late sixties (1969) and issued initially as a paperback. I bought the abridged version first, then later the full version in paperback and finally the revised version in hardback in the early nineties when it came out.

The Compression has changed the world. Set around 2096 WW3 had scarred the land, leading to the degradation of land for the use of agriculture. Worldwide the soil was useless. Stirling is brought into the adventure by reporting and investigating the deaths of two people, a man and a woman. This investigation leads him to search for his brother.

International Land Extensions – ILEs – are where all agricultural activity went on, filled with agricultural robots. Through a religious organisation called the receeders Vic gets closer to ILE 23 – Heaven – and the mystery of his missing brother.

When he gets to Heaven he finds himself a little bit of a fish out of water, and the place was different to his expectations and his knowledge of ILEs. Vic finds a whole community on Heaven who have been living there for fifteen years, among them his brother. There he finds the only strict law they have: no one goes back down from Heaven.

The twist in the story comes a little over halfway through when a government agency becomes involved, and Vic learns more about the isles and their part in society, and Vic faces a new and different threat.

Shadow of Heaven was good enough for me to read three times. I bought the abridged version and ploughed through an enjoyable thriller. The full version was read shortly thereafter, and again it was an enjoyable experience. The re issued hardback had some updating and re writing.

Shaw creates a good array of characters and sets up a nice conflict between Vic and his brother. A love interest for Vic is also introduced. It’s one of Shaw’s oldest novels – dating from the late sixties – and one of his longest but he holds the reader well, constantly bringing twists and turns.