Archive for November 1st, 2009

postheadericon Ship Of Strangers, Gollancz, Hardback, ISBN 0-575-02482-8

I’ve managed to recreate some of this after Word decided to chew up previous versions and spit out corrupt files, but most of it is new, and all blogs are copied into text files in case Word gets further ideas.

I remember buying Ship of Strangers in Pan paperback in Edinburgh and I was looking forward to reading it; it seemed to be good old fashioned story based science fiction with alien monsters and people on deep space exploration, with weird and wild happenings where wacky hijinks ensue.

The first thing to note about Ship of Strangers is that it isn’t truly a novel. Like Other Days, Other Eyes it is a novel made up of original material and additional stories that were previously published in magazines; in this case stories that appeared in If, Analog and Universe during the seventies. The book is dedicated to A E Van Vogt. Bob Shaw has done a good job of weaving the previously published material and new material together to form an enjoyable romp through the galaxies.

The episodic nature of Ship of Strangers doesn’t detract from enjoying it as a whole and is a little closer to adventures of daring do than is Shaw’s normal novel content where characterisation enhances the plot quite a bit. With the episodic nature of the book, and the fact that parts were previously published, characterisation takes a bit of a back seat to story.

The first few chapters deal with an alien that can change its shape and does just that, by taking the form of a survey module. The ship and its crew face a problem as six vehicles are sent out and seven return. There follows a cat and mouse game with the alien as the crew try to work out what are the real vehicles and what is the wolf in the midst. The twist is that the alien can exert mind control over humans, which turns out to be important when the Captain makes the decision as to which vehicle is the fake.

Personal tensions resulting from the use of Trance-Ports – dream controllers which can appear to be very lifelike and ongoing – are next up and Surgenor (a nod to Sturgeon from Bob Shaw?), the main protagonist of the novel, warns the Captain that things can turn ugly if matters aren’t brought into check. Things escalate between crew members, with Surgenor and others being exposed to the Trance-Port tape – against his will. This part of the story brings out a little more of Surgenor’s character and adds some depth to him.

Next up are ancient weapons activated by accident which then become a threat to a member of the crew. It sounds a bit clichéd I know; the plot has been used more than once in one form or another and not only in Science Fiction. Bob Shaw puts in a little danger and tension and some humour to round off this portion of the novel. It was a little too action orientated and could have explored the ancient civilisations a little more but it was well written nonetheless.

This brings us to about halfway through the novel, and chapter eight begins with some info dump about the world where the stories are taking place. It also introduces some military personnel as the Sarafand, the ship that is at the centre of the novel, is on a planet in a joint mission with the military vessel Admiral Carpenter. They are on a planet where an alien race is, the Saladinians, and, unknown to Surgenor, the military are about to kidnap one of them. The only problem is that the Saladinians can freely travel through time.

Next for Surgenor is the introduction of a female crew member to add to his problems. Something goes wrong with the next space jump and things heat up as they find themselves lost and have to work out where they are. They do but don’t like the answer they get. Things look bleak as they discover they are outside of the known universe and could die in a few hours.

For someone looking for a good satisfying novel to get into the episodic nature of Ship of Strangers could put them off. It isn’t by far Bob Shaw’s best work but it is inventive, energetic and a good read.