postheadericon A Better Mantrap, Granada paperback ISBN 0-586-05706-4

I suppose I should start with the first Bob Shaw book I bought. This happened to be the short story collection A Better Mantrap. I remember buying it in the Science Fiction Book Shop in Edinburgh way back in the eighties. It was an impulse purchase and was bought solely because it was a book of short stories. I figured if I didn’t like the writer I wouldn’t lose much, as I would not be investing time and energy in a novel. The price of £1.50 seems ridiculously low today but it was one of the more expensive paperbacks at the time. (Other Shaw books I bought there, such as A Wreath of Stars, were 70p!)

A Better Mantrap cover

A Better Mantrap cover

As an aside a good thing about Bob Shaw’s hardback books was that he was published in the main by Gollancz. Therefore I don’t need to scan in all the book covers: I just need to scan in one as the standard Gollancz hardback books came in a one size fits all bright yellow jacket with the name of the author and the novel name emblazoned on them. The more exotic of the Bob Shaw books had ‘A Science Fiction novel by’ as further embellishment. Just joking. I believe this cover scheme was applied across the whole range of Gollancz hardbacks, although to be fair they did start to spice them up a little later on, and the larger books did have artwork on the covers.

Short stories are a great way to introduce yourself to a writer and I was enraptured from the start. So much so that pretty soon I was back at the SF bookshop gobbling up their supply of Shaw books. I do remember laughing out loud at ‘The Cottage of Eternity’ – which may in fact be the first Shaw story I read. Ghosts and ‘squientists’ mix together to form a very entertaining story.

I don’t know about anyone else but with a book of short stories I don’t start at the beginning and work my way through. I’ll select something from the contents that piques my interest and start there.

That’s one of the reasons short stories are a good introduction to a writer. You can dip in and out. One of the early things which struck me about Shaw was the humour: and indeed it’s that which he is fondly remembered for, particularly his Guest of Honour speeches at SF conventions. And I suppose that helped to endear his writings to me.

I found ‘Crossing The Line’ to be a touching story, Shaw developed a theme quite cleverly and paid off the story right at the end as all good short story writers should. ‘Conversion’ was what I (at the time) considered science fiction. Good solid storyline, technology and aliens. The other stories were engaging enough for me to seek out further works by Shaw. A Better Mantrap is still a good collection, and I did re read a couple of stories a few years ago and it remains one of my favourites.

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