Archive for September, 2009

postheadericon A Wreath Of Stars, Gollancz, Hardback, ISBN 0-575-02134-9

A Wreath of Stars is still vivid in my memory, years after first reading it. It was among of the first Bob Shaw novels I read, probably third or fourth, and had an interesting concept; that of a universe of anti-neutrinos. I’d never even heard about neutrinos before I read the book, never mind anti-neutrinos.

The book is a pretty slim one compared to the novels on offer today, not even reaching two hundred pages in the Pan paperback edition – bought for 70p – I read, and probably runs around sixty to sixty five thousand words.

But again Bob Shaw’s writing, characterisation and plotting keep the reader engrossed. The science in the science fiction keeps the interest of the reader too. Shaw spends the first chapter setting up the story, delivering background information and kicking the whole story off with the arrival and departure of Thornton’s planet, which can only been seen through magniluct lenses.

Of course the arrival of Thornton’s planet causes trouble and unrest, particularly where the protagonist, Gilbert Snook, is working: as an engineer he is working in a Middle East state keeping the fighter planes of a small air force ticking over. Snook considers himself the human equivalent of a neutrino. Neutrinos are amongst the smallest particles known, and don’t interact much with other matter. Snook considers himself to be the same, going through life avoiding contact with other people as much as possible. All that changes when Thornton’s planet fills the sky.

Quickly the story jumps forward a few years. Snook, now in the republic of Barandi and effectively a prisoner, is informed of the sightings of ghosts in the local diamond mines. Snook himself not only sees the ghosts but takes photos of them; this is his opportunity to make an international story and perhaps get out of the country that is keeping him prisoner.

The discovery of the ‘ghosts’ brings in new characters: Boyce Ambrose, an astronomer who has worked out the truth of the situation concerning the ghosts and Prudence Devonland who was working on behalf of an Economic Commission for Africa and there to investigate African states who had applied for UN membership.

Snook’s actions had upset the leaders of the country and they plot to engineer the situation in their favour. Colonel Freeborn, a military leader, had been introduced earlier in the novel and given the role of an antagonist against Snook. The President of the country, Ogilvie, is cast in the role of instigator; he decides to exclude further foreigners from the country and wait until the media has lost interest in Barandi before dealing with Snook.

A scientific group is formed to attempt to make contact with the newly named Avernians, and Snook and the others go into the mines with a machine in an attempt to make themselves visible to the Avernians. They are immediately successful and discover that the Avernians are aware of what is happening. And Ambrose believes Snook has telepathic abilities.

Pretty soon contact with the Avernians is established and things, for me, start to get interesting. It’s when Shaw develops aliens and their culture and has them interact with our own that his work takes on a greater quality. The aliens in Bob Shaw books are always unique, inventive and imaginative.

The Avernians are unaware that Thornton’s planet passed them by and the news brings a shocking conclusion to the Avernians. A Wreath of Stars is an engrossing novel. I found the Avernians to be an exciting and alien species. The world they live in, described by Shaw, is distinctive and different, the character of the people shown clearly in a few pages and several simple sentences. He describes quickly and succinctly a world totally different from our own, yet so close.

Released in 1976 A Wreath of Stars still reads well; it hasn’t dated (if one ignores that Shaw set it in the 1990s and even names a couple of years) and is still a cracking read. Shaw’s pacing is again excellent, although some of the characters aren’t as well drawn as in most of his other novels, and the premise of the novel, along with the depiction of the Avernians and their world, kept me engrossed from beginning to end. Brushing up on it again for this post I re read most of the book; parts coming back to me from memory. Thematically it may be one of his most underrated novels; that of worlds within worlds, based on scientific possibility. But then he has written the Orbitsville novels and they tower over all of his other works, justifiably or not.

postheadericon Hits

The blog has now passed over 10,000 hits. not bad for a few months. I logged in today to destroy some spam and noticed that the hits counter stands at 10,370. The blog was started in earnest in May so that equates to around 2,500 hits per month. Not stellar but not starving obscuirty either.

A large part of those hits are due to Ansible, and the fact that Dave Langford kindly links to here.

Shortstat, a WordPress plugin, gives a lot of other useful information. Such as …

Keywords: for some reason Evil In Pemberly House is the top ranked search. Second being 870824 (probably part of an ISBN number) then Ceres Solution. The most popular browser to visit is Firefox 2, the Internet Explorer 6. As expected visitors from the US outpace every other country.

postheadericon Another Book On The Way

I ordered Tomorrow Lies In Ambush via biblio dot com at a reasonable price. Under £20 including postage. In the UK this book is on sale for three figures.  Speaking of threes, the postage was about (exactly; I just used a calculator) three times the book price. I was expecting it to arrive in around two weeks but the receipt says 42 to 56 days. It’s coming from South Africa and that’s not as far away as US. I’ve order a few books from the US and they normally arrive within a couple of weeks.

I didn’t even look at the special delivery option – if the standard option was three times the price of the book. …

So I can look forward to an addition to my hardback collection sometime in October, assuming it’s on track and not delivered before the due date.