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Ship of Strangers (SF) - Bob Shaw ***

Bob Shaw was a solid performer amongst British SF writers in the second half of the twentieth century. He's perhaps best remembered for Other Days, Other Eyes, which has the very clever conceit of 'slow glass' - glass that it takes light years to pass through - but Ship of Strangers is a more straightforward story of interstellar exploration, featuring a survey ship that specialises in surveying uninhabited planets.

Shaw does a respectable job - it's readable and the challenges faced by the protagonists are imaginative. Most of all, it reminds me of what I really miss about older SF books - it's only 160 pages long and couldn't be used as a doorstop. In format it's effectively a set of linked long short stories (or short novellas), with the main character Dave Surgenor involved in a series of adventures from unexpected alien encounters to a bizarre new cosmological phenomenon.

The only things that date the book are the use of tapes for data storage (it's remarkable how often their obvious flaws weren't spotted), smoking onboard a spaceship, and a sole female character, who is rather clumsily portrayed. Because it never really makes it to page-turning heights, I've only given it three stars, but for the inventiveness of the ideas, and the challenges presented for problem solving it deserves four. Oh, and I can't help but feel that 'Dave' is a nod to 2001.

The book is out of print on paper (the cover shown is my hardback edition), though available secondhand, but is available as an ebook.

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