postheadericon Fire Pattern, Gollancz, hardback ISBN 0-575-03452-1

Fire Pattern was the first hard back of Shaw’s that I bought, and I bought it when it came out in 1984. The price of £7.95 doesn’t seem much for a hardback; in fact nowadays you can get hardbacks much cheaper. But this was issued when the net book agreement was still in force. And back in 1984 £7.95 was quite a bit of money to fork out. I daresay at the time there were other books put out on the market that were more expensive, but I would guess that £7.95 would more than likely be the average price for a hardback. And given that new paperbacks then were about £1.50 it’s more than five times the price of a paperback.

First edition of Fire Pattern

First edition of Fire Pattern

The cover declares that it is a science fiction novel exploring the mystery of spontaneous human combustion. It’s a slim volume, around 190 pages, and probably is around 50,000 words give or take a few thousand: it might be well and truly rejected today on word count alone.

I remember eagerly awaiting its arrival, and when it did finally arrive it was devoured in one sitting.

Of course, being set in 1996 it’s not science fiction any more as it is now set in the past. It is a near future novel, set in an environment that is recognisable and plausible to the reader. Ray Jerome is a reporter on a local newspaper, one of the old school, harassed and teased by his younger colleagues for having the ability of shorthand. He is assigned to investigate a local case of SHC and, intrigued, delves deeper to find the phenomenon is reported throughout the centuries and even in literature such as Dickens.

His investigations bring forth clues, which lead him toward a possible explanation for SHC. Around halfway through the novel Shaw gives the story a twist. A very dramatic and large turn which sees the protagonist suddenly on the planet Mercury amongst Dorrinians, a race of people with more advanced mental powers.

Although the shift is dramatic Shaw brings the reader round by bringing forth the stubbornness and resilience in the main character, Ray Jerome, who works to make his way back to earth. Ray has a decision to make at the end of the novel, coming face to face with the villain, Belzor.

This wasn’t the first novel by Shaw I read but it was the first ‘new’ novel that I read, getting it on publication. My copy is well thumbed, well read. I read it as soon as I got it and read it again a few months later. It has been read a couple of times since and remains a favourite novel by Shaw.

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