Archive for January, 2010
In the door just after the Gollancz edition of A Better Mantrap comes the Gollancz hardback of one of Bob Shaw’s early novels, The Two Timers.
Again the book is in great condition, pretty good considering this is from 1969 – and was sold for 25 /-. It may be gobbledygook to most people nowadays and is fairly alien to me as I grew up just as decimilisation was coming in so I don’t really know ‘old money’, but I do know it means twenty five shillings (I hope that’s what it means).
I wasn’t taught pounds shillings and pence but pounds and pence and that’s what I can’t count in. I’ve a mind to read this novel again and I might just.
The Gollancz hardback edition of A Better Mantrap has arrived, and it’s in great nick.
I’m just wondering if people actually read his books or if it’s just me. A lot of the hardbacks I’ve bought second hand recently have been in immaculate condition, as if they haven’t been read. The hardbacks I bought when they first came out show obvious signs of being read, particularly Fire Pattern as I read that two or three times within a year of getting it. I’m not saying my books are library editions but it is noticeable that they’ve been read, not so with the books I’ve recently bought.
I got the one I wanted most out of all the items I’m bidding on eBay this week. Bob Shaw’s The Two Timers in the Gollancz hardback edition. £35 with free postage (postage can sometimes add up to as much as twelve pounds to the price; particularly if I’m buying from America). This is pretty good considering the prices elsewhere start at around about £50 plus postage for the cheapest copies available on the web. And it’s a very uncommon book to find on the web, particularly as it’s a very old novel of Shaw’s. It’s said to be in good to very good condition but I’ll see what it’s like when it arrives, which hopefully won’t take too long seeing as the seller is in the UK. I have an SF Book club hardback edition which I read years ago and found it to be a very engrossing book.
Night Walk is Bob Shaw’s first novel. It is copyright 1967 and was first published in America and then in paperback in the UK shortly after. I have a Gollancz hardback edition from 1976 which I bought in the eighties and I’m sure I paid around £5 or £6 for it when it was ‘new’. Since then I took the sticker off, revealing the original price of £3.20.
When I initially read it I did feel that it was a little bit on the long side for a novel, although for a first novel it is full of great ideas and vivid execution of the plot. It’s an excellent thriller, with the main protagonist, Sam Tallon, put into an impossible situation. One of the most impossible for any human to be in: the loss of sight. There are plenty of twists and turns throughout the book.
Those of us who have it no doubt take seeing for granted, and damage to eyes has occurred a couple of times in Shaw’s work. There is an interview in Drilkjis number 2 with Bob Shaw where he discusses what he calls the Little Macabre Touch.
As can be expected for a novel dealing with sight, the loss of sight and the regaining of sight, there is a lot of vivid descriptiveness in the prose.
Right at the start of the novel Sam Tallon realises he is in trouble and ensures the safety of the information he had come across the galaxy to get, especially against the hypnotic techniques of the security services on Emm Luther.
Mankind travels through space via portals, and it is the co-ordinates of a new one which is the information Tallon has and should keep from the authorities of Emm Luther, and Shaw lays the foundations of the science of portals and jumps across the galaxy through Null-space.
It is in chapter three, as Tallon rebels against the treatment he receives from the security agencies on Emm Luther, that Tallon’s sight is deliberately and maliciously taken from him after a failed attempt to kill Cherkassky, a highly placed agent who had also taken memories from Tallon. Forced to accept the loss of his sight Tallon is sent to a prison.
In prison Tallon meets Winfield, who – although also blind as a result of a botched escape from the prison – is working on an escape plan using a ‘sonar torch’, and he needs Tallon’s help to complete it and escape. Tallon develops the plan by suggesting the use of small television cameras to beam pictures directly into their eyes. The work to create such devices is started and Tallon spends weeks developing sight for the blind, but using more than just television cameras.
Pretty soon Shaw ratchets up the tension with the news that Cherkassky, whom Tallon had tried to kill, is out of hospital but not fit enough to go to work yet, and so has asked for a ‘working convalescence’ at the prison where Tallon is.
Tallon is successful at using the system to tap into other people’s eyes. It works, but the rumours about Cherkassky are confirmed: he is due to arrive at the prison. But Tallon does not want to be around when he does. The escape begins.
For a first novel Night Walk is inventive, well structured, well plotted and an exciting read. I gave it a quick once over before starting this piece and I still feel that it’s a little on the long side – even though the novel is probably around sixty to seventy thousand words and would be considered lightweight nowadays – but that is more likely to be more to do with some elements of the book not quite gelling with me personally. The book hasn’t dated at all; reading it now no one would place it as being written in the sixties; of course the fact that it’s science fiction helps. But sometimes style and prose – and in particular attitudes – can place writing.
Even after Tallon escapes from prison there are still plenty of thrills and spills for the reader, and Bob Shaw uses the unique perspective of the main character and his method of escape in very novel and entertaining ways. I don’t feel that there’s too much character development of Tallon throughout the book, although the novel is an effective thriller as much as it is good science fiction.
Did a Google search for Bob Shaw today, as I do now and then to see if anything new about him is on the Internet, and came across this nice little piece from his native Northern Ireland. It’s relatively new, December 2009.
Odd that the names that come up when I start typing in Bob Shaw include the Pipe maker Bob Sheppard. He was my maths teacher at high school – the other one was his brother George. They were both involved in the school pipe band – who were world champions I think – and the little less local Dysart and Dundonald Pipe Band, who I’m sure were world champions.