“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 →
Hello September! Where did the summer go? It’s finally cooling down at night over here on the west side of Japan. Which means autumn is just around the corner, I’m happy to say. I love the heat of the summer over here, but you can take the humidity, please, no really, please take it away! Can you imagine working at a school in 35+ degree-heat with over 70% humidity, without air conditioning? It’s like working in a sauna.
But enough moaning from me. I hope your summer was fantastic. Did you get a lot of summer reading done?..
“What an undercover narcotics agent fears most is not that he will be shot or beaten up but that he will be slipped a great hit of some psychedelic that will roll an endless horror feature film in his head for the remainder of his life, …” (p.67)
I can’t seem to focus on writing this review because of the tiny bugs crawling all over the keyboard. Each time I brush them off, they return in greater numbers. Jerry says he can’t see them but that doesn’t mean they’re not there, right in front of me, blocking out the screen now. Jesus, they’re all over my hands Jerry, help me get them off. Whaddya mean there’s nothing there? Wait a minute, are you recording this? What?.. No, I know you don’t have a camera but I swear I can hear something that sounds just like a video camera’s lens adjusting its focus. No, I’m not being paranoid. I can feel it zooming in on me right now. I’m what?.. You think I’m talking too much? Talking or thinking? Shit, I need a couple of tabs to calm me down. Do you have any, Jerry? Please man, I’ll spot you a couple back when I get some. When?.. Friday. I promise, man. Yeah, I know what I said last time but…
A Scanner Darkly won the BSFA Best Novel Award in 1978. It is a story set in a (then) future 1994 which focuses on surveillance, recreational drug use, addiction and withdrawal. The main character is Bob Arctor, an undercover narcotics agent who is sharing a house with a couple of users. The drug of choice is “Substance D” or “Death”. Arctor is searching for a lead to the supplier(s) of the drug. Continue reading →
“I sat on the harbour wall with a girl one night: in the confusion and collapse of the ordered sub-colony existence there were many such chance relationships until people found their niches again. She said, ‘They’ve known for fifty years that this was going to happen, and yet there were no preparations.’”
Winner of the 1976 BSFA Best Novel award, Michael G. Coney’s Brontomek! is a story about the effects of a huge corporation on a small community of colonists living on a planet called ‘Arcadia’. It’s also about love, sailing, small-town community life, farming and giant mek machines. There isn’t much to be found about Brontomek! on the net. I’d only heard of Coney’s 1973 novel Friends Come in Boxes before this, and that was thanks to Science Fiction Ruminations’ excellent review of it over here.
After a bizarre natural disaster hits the planet, the “Hetherington Organisation” offers the remaining colonists a “five-year-plan” that they promise will rejuvenate Arcadia. This offer includes the deployment of the titular “brontomeks”, huge, mechanised, farming machines armed with lasers, as well as an army of shapeshifting worker-aliens called “amorphs”. What could possibly go wrong?
“In my mind I saw or heard or remembered the deafening sound of the engines, brilliant flashes of light in the dark sky around us, a large bang that was repeated whenever I moved my head, a shock of cold as the windscreen in front of my face was shattered […], voices on the intercom, the huge and terrifying surge of the sea, the cold, the terror.”
This alternate history tale of identical twin brothers won the BSFA Best Novel award in 2002. It is set before, during and after WWII, with most of the narrative focusing on the twins’ experiences during the extensive bombing carried out by both countries. One twin, Jack, is an RAF bomber pilot and the other, Joe, is a conscientious objector who drives an ambulance for the Red Cross. Both twins share the same initials, J.L. Sawyer. Continue reading →
“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” – Terry Pratchett
Art by Josh Kirby
Terry Pratchett’s seventh Discworld novel Pyramids won the BSFA Best Novel award in 1989. I re-read it as part of my BSFA Reading Challenge. It is the first book in the Discworld series that can be read as a standalone story. That is, there aren’t any recurring characters in this book, but it is set in the Discword universe. (If you are new to the Discworld experience then here is a link to the Wikipedia page.)
Pyramids tells the story of Teppic, a young man who is heir to the throne of “Djelibaybi”, a kingdom which is a caricature of ancient Egypt. At the beginning of the story, we join Teppic as a trainee assassin attending the Assassin’s Guild in the city of Ankh-Morpork.
“All assassins had a full-length mirror in their rooms, because it would be a terrible insult to anyone to kill them when you were badly dressed.”
“To my mind, the best SF addresses itself to problems of the here and now, or even to problems which have never been solved and never will be solved – I’m thinking of Philip K. Dick’s work here, dealing with questions of reality, for example.” – John Sladek
Tik-Tok (1983) by John Sladek won the BSFA Best Novel award in 1983, beating Gene Wolfe’s ‘The Citadel of the Autarch’ as well as Brian Aldiss’s ‘Helliconia Summer’, to name just two of the other four nominees. It is a darkly humorous satire that casts a wry eye on such topics as art, celebrity, power, politics and slavery.
Sladek opens the story with a nod to the creator of the Three Laws of Robotics, “As I mov(e) my hand to write this statement …”, introducing us to the titular character Tik-Tok, a robot who is a hard-working domestic servant and house painter for a suburban American family. Tik-Tok decides that his “asimov circuits” are just a delusion designed to fool robots into believing that they must not harm any human being. He rebels against this perceived deception by committing a series of increasingly violent acts against his so-called masters. This novel charts his swift rise to the top as he ‘Patrick Batemans’ his way through the upper echelons of society. Continue reading →