“The background was a familiar one to anybody who lived in those longitudes of Land – flawless indigo sea, a sky of pale blue feathered with white, and the misty vastness of the sister world, Overland, hanging motionless near the zenith,” (Loc 42)
Bob Shaw’s The Ragged Astronauts won the BSFA Best Novel Award in 1986. The Northern-Irish author also won the award in 1975 for his novel Orbitsville. Interestingly, he picked up the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 1979 and 1980. The British author Christopher Priest described Shaw’s fan writing as being “fluent, amusing, intelligent, personal and pertinent.” Despite these accolades, I wasn’t aware of Bob Shaw’s work until I found his name on the BSFA winners’ list.
The Ragged Astronauts is the first book in the ‘Land & Overland’ trilogy, followed by The Wooden Spaceships (1988) and The Fugitive Worlds (1989). The story opens on a world called Land. A feudal system is in place, with the people being ruled by King Prad and his royal family. There is a second world, Overland, orbiting only a few thousand miles away. Both worlds share the same atmosphere. As the author builds his world, we learn that the inhabitants of Land are struggling with the planet’s dwindling resources.
What resources they have are limited. Land is a world without any kind of metal, which makes for some engaging ideas and descriptions of the technology, transport and weapons of the world. The people are also plagued by a strange enemy called “ptertha”. These are small, airborne spheres that release a toxic dust when they burst. Unable to communicate with the ptertha, it is assumed they are not sentient. But when the attacks appear to lose their randomness, the Landians must make some tough decisions regarding their future. Continue reading