postheadericon The Peace Machine, Gollancz, Hardback, ISBN 0-575-03582-X

A little lacking in posts this month. The following has been ninety percent finished but has been sitting on my USB portable drive for close to a month. The good news is that I can get two posts out of it.

This is one of my favourite Bob Shaw novels, whether it is called Ground Zero Man or The Peace Machine. I first read it in paperback as Ground Zero Man and it fairly rolls along. It’s a cracking read and in my opinion is Shaw at his peak as a writer. The update, issued in hardback by Gollancz as The Peace Machine in 1985, is more or less Ground Zero Man with some updates on a topical references such as television shows – although they are now ancient history references to televisions shows.

Shaw mentioned this novel in his HOW TO WRITE SCIENCE FICTION Book, making a comment that some people thought he should move into thrillers on the basis of this book. And I agree that Shaw would have made a good thriller writer. At his best Shaw is not only a master at plotting but also a master at building suspense and piling the pressure on his characters.

It starts off intriguingly, with the main character telling us ‘My finger rests lightly on the black button’ and who wouldn’t be intrigued by that?

The rest of the novel is in the third person and brings us answers to questions posed in the prologue. Lucas Hutchman is staring at a piece of paper and finds himself in a cold sweat. He is in his office and despite interruptions from other people the thought dancing through his head and filling him with excitement and some fear is ‘I can make neutrons dance to a new tune’. Hutchman takes the afternoon off and as he drives home we get an inkling into his marriage and the personality of his wife, and while he is pursuing his hobby of archery we learn that his ability to control neutrons meant he could build a nuclear machine; one that Hutchman insisted would be an anti war machine.

Then comes the news that Damascus is in flames because a nuclear bomb exploded over the city. This affects Hutchman deeply and deepens his resolution to create the machine that will stop all governments from keeping nuclear weapons. As his relationship with his wife goes back and forth Hutchman commences the project of building a machine that he hopes will bring peace to the world. Hutchman too goes back and forth about the Peace Machine; if he can be brave enough to use it or if he knew deep in his heart that he would never cross that line.

The decision is taken from his hands and Hutchman by the actions of his wife and Hutchman is put on a path that eventually brings him to the attention of the authorities. Intrigue, kidnaps and deaths follow as Hutchman tries to stay ahead of the authorities and use his invention to save the world from itself.

I found it a very enjoyable novel when I first read it in paperback and equally enjoyable when I read the updated and revised edition in Gollancz hardback when it was reissued in 1985. As I’ve said I feel this is Bob Shaw at his finest. The writing is crisp and elegant, the book is well plotted and the characters feel real, even minor characters. The situation isn’t as relevant or as oppressing as it was in the seventies when it was first issued and in the eighties when it was re issued. Nineteen eighty five was a few years before the fall of the Berlin wall and the USSR. After the fall of the USSR nuclear weapons and the nuclear standoff that is pivotal in this novel more or less disappeared. Nowadays the enemy is a lot more difficult to identify and no one knows where to point their nuclear weapons.

The epilogue to the book, like the prologue, is in the first person, and the book ends a little pessimistically but this doesn’t detract from any aspect of the book and is, in a way, quite fitting.

One Response to “The Peace Machine, Gollancz, Hardback, ISBN 0-575-03582-X”

  • ‘Ground Zero Man’ (whose UK paperback cover depicted the worst case of earache ever known!) included a passing reference to my home town, Belper in Derbyshire. I once asked Bob about this, and he said that he’d chosen it by just looking at the map and deciding which place best fitted the events of the novel. Typical bit of BoSh workmanship.

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