January 2010


The first Doc Savage Magazine has arrived. It’s very fragile, not in the best of conditions, some sticky pages, some torn. The main feature is The Motion menace, and I’ve not read it. There’s also Deap-Sea danger by Alan Hathway, Snake Bite by Harold A Davis, Enemy on Wheels by Laurance Donovan and Murder in his heart by Norman A Daniels. I’m not sure if any of those are pseudonyms of Lester Dent or not. There’s a couple of other features also. By the looks of things the person I bought it from paid more than me for it as it came sealed in a bag with a price tag more than what I paid on eBay. Or perhaps that’s what a previous owner paid.

Flipping through the magazine I noted something odd (apart from the fact what a weird world the 11930s were, Life on Mars indeed) when I came across a strange report. Page 112 Quote: Not long ago a strange sight was seen over New York City’s second highest building, the Chrysler Building…Atop this great structure is a steel spire, and one cold, sharp morning an extension that looked like a streak of black light appeared to rise high into the heavens above this spire. … Some observers believe that the strange beam of black light was a form of mirage….But a more logical explanation seems to be that it was caused by St Elmo’s fire.

True reporting (there were supposed to be photographs) or a bit of play acting by the editors for the fans of Doc? I hope to get more time later to go through the magazine. And of course I’m expecting a couple more which should be in better condition.

Still waiting on the arrival of my first Doc Savage Magazine, but in the meantime I’ve bought a couple more, one really cheap. I’ve definitely read one of them before, but it was one of the books I gave away. So, two new Doc stories to read at most. And there’s the additional material in the magazines, other stories and features.

One of the magazines doesn’t look in great condition going by the photo on eBay but the other two are supposed to be in very good condition. I should give eBay a bit of a rest as I’ve spent a little too much this month. Luckily some of it will go on next month’s credit card bill.  But I couldn’t say no to a rare Bob Shaw book going at a reasonable price, then it just rolled from there with offers of books and magazines too good to turn down. I didn’t with them all, but – funnily enough – I lost the cheap ones and won the more expensive ones.

I got the one I wanted most out of all the items I’m bidding on eBay this week. Bob Shaw’s The Two Timers in the Gollancz hardback edition. £35 with free postage (postage can sometimes add up to as much as twelve pounds to the price; particularly if I’m buying from America). This is pretty good considering the prices elsewhere start at around about £50 plus postage for the cheapest copies available on the web. And it’s a very uncommon book to find on the web, particularly as it’s a very old novel of Shaw’s. It’s said to be in good to very good condition but I’ll see what it’s like when it arrives, which hopefully won’t take too long seeing as the seller is in the UK. I have an SF Book club hardback edition which I read years ago and found it to be a very engrossing book.

After getting my first honest to goodness pulp magazine by purchasing a copy of Weird Tales recently I’ve now bought my very first original Doc Savage pulp magazine. I won the 1938 issue with ‘Motion Menace’ as the main feature on eBay. The condition, like the Weird Tales one, is not great, and the price is reflected in that fact. I got it for £15 and was the only bidder.  I’m not sure if I’ve read Motion Menace. I bought several of the double novel editions issued in the eighties and gave most of them away (can’t remember which but I either sold them to a book dealer or donated them to my local library ; I suspect the former as I only donated to my local library a few times but sold books on a lot of times).

I’ve a few more items ending over the next few days and hope to win those too, even though it’ll cost me a lot of money. Although I’ve got about twenty or so of the Doc Savage novels – mainly the ones issued in the sixties picked up second hand – I’m looking forward to getting my first Doc Savage magazine. Oddly enough I’m buying the magazine from someone in the UK. There are a fair few of the magazines available from US sellers on eBay but they’re asking fifty dollars and above; quite a few of them at one to two hundred dollars. Don’t know what the exact exchange rate for dollars and pounds is at the moment, but I’m saving by buying from the UK as I’m getting it post free – although it was probably built into the bidding price – and the postage from sellers in the US can sometimes cause me to think twice about bidding on things.

I also received another Doc novel, Other World, in the post today, and seeing as I’ve finished No Mean City I’ll probably start reading that Doc novel – although I’ve got the newest issue of Interzone in; nothing in that issue has piqued my interest yet.

I’ve made a (temporary) move away from SF this week. I follow some crime related blogs and No Mean City was mentioned in one of them. I’d heard of this novel before, it kept cropping up here and there. And of course I can’t think of No Mean City without hearing Maggie Bell singing the theme from Taggart.

So on impulse I bought it from Amazon with free shipping and it has arrived. I’m going through it at a rate of knots. It’s a weird book. Set in the twenties in Glasgow it supposedly deals with the life of Razor King Johnny Stark. But there is very little narrative structure. Characters come and go; pages get devoted to people and then they’re off. It’s the product of a baker and a journalist, (Alexander McArthur and H. Kingsley Long) brought together no doubt by the publisher way back in the thirties. The publisher says it’s copyrighted but I think it’s one of those orphan works, where the owner can’t be contacted as there are no dates on the copyright page. It was first published in 1935.

It is oddly compelling though and there is strength to the writing that comes through even across the decades. Even through the matter of fact way things are explained (with explanations in English in brackets for those that don’t understand certain words) and the lack of a serious plot, the character of those people living their lives in the twenties shines out. The simple thing is that a lot of it rings true, and the book is all the more powerful for that. (Full disclosure: although I make fun of the Weegies as often as possible I do have to admit that I am half Weegie myself, my mother coming from Glasgow, and I did visit her home town a few times when I was young.)

Another link to this book is that I am a fan of Ronnie Montrose. He had a group in the early eighties who released three albums, imaginatively entitled Gamma 1, Gamma 2 and Gamma 3 (there was the obligatory reunion which resulted in Gamma 4). I actually saw them in concert at the Edinburgh Playhouse when they supported Foreigner. Good stuff. Anyway, on their first album, released in 1979, is the song Razor King, all about Johnny Stark. They played that live in Edinburgh, Davey Pattison, the singer from Glasgow, calling it a ‘Scottish Folk song’.

I found myself struggling to keep up with the blogs I was following on Google reader and stopped following about ten or so. I wanted to get the number under 40 but failed by a couple. Having said that I sign on over the last couple of days and instead of the fifty or sixty blog posts I have to read there are now less than a dozen. Those ones I now actually read rather than skimming through. Maybe subconsciously I was pruning the ones that posted the most.

Urlg. If I win all the things I’m bidding on at eBay I’ll have to fork out over sixty quid. Thankfully the ending times are spread over a week. I hope I win them all, I don’t want to be outbid for any of them; some of the things I’m getting are very cheap and I want them. If I win them I’ll post about them.

Night Walk is Bob Shaw’s first novel. It is copyright 1967 and was first published in America and then in paperback in the UK shortly after. I have a Gollancz hardback edition from 1976 which I bought in the eighties and I’m sure I paid around £5 or £6 for it when it was ‘new’. Since then I took the sticker off, revealing the original price of £3.20.

When I initially read it I did feel that it was a little bit on the long side for a novel, although for a first novel it is full of great ideas and vivid execution of the plot. It’s an excellent thriller, with the main protagonist, Sam Tallon, put into an impossible situation. One of the most impossible for any human to be in: the loss of sight. There are plenty of twists and turns throughout the book.

Those of us who have it no doubt take seeing for granted, and damage to eyes has occurred a couple of times in Shaw’s work. There is an interview in Drilkjis number 2 with Bob Shaw where he discusses what he calls the Little Macabre Touch.

As can be expected for a novel dealing with sight, the loss of sight and the regaining of sight, there is a lot of vivid descriptiveness in the prose.

Right at the start of the novel Sam Tallon realises he is in trouble and ensures the safety of the information he had come across the galaxy to get, especially against the hypnotic techniques of the security services on Emm Luther.

Mankind travels through space via portals, and it is the co-ordinates of a new one which is the information Tallon has and should keep from the authorities of Emm Luther, and Shaw lays the foundations of the science of portals and jumps across the galaxy through Null-space.

It is in chapter three, as Tallon rebels against the treatment he receives from the security agencies on Emm Luther, that Tallon’s sight is deliberately and maliciously taken from him after a failed attempt to kill Cherkassky, a highly placed agent who had also taken memories from Tallon. Forced to accept the loss of his sight Tallon is sent to a prison.

In prison Tallon meets Winfield, who – although also blind as a result of a botched escape from the prison – is working on an escape plan using a ‘sonar torch’, and he needs Tallon’s help to complete it and escape. Tallon develops the plan by suggesting the use of small television cameras to beam pictures directly into their eyes. The work to create such devices is started and Tallon spends weeks developing sight for the blind, but using more than just television cameras.

Pretty soon Shaw ratchets up the tension with the news that Cherkassky, whom Tallon had tried to kill, is out of hospital but not fit enough to go to work yet, and so has asked for a ‘working convalescence’ at the prison where Tallon is.

Tallon is successful at using the system to tap into other people’s eyes. It works, but the rumours about Cherkassky are confirmed: he is due to arrive at the prison. But Tallon does not want to be around when he does. The escape begins.

For a first novel Night Walk is inventive, well structured, well plotted and an exciting read. I gave it a quick once over before starting this piece and I still feel that it’s a little on the long side – even though the novel is probably around sixty to seventy thousand words and would be considered lightweight nowadays – but that is more likely to be more to do with some elements of the book not quite gelling with me personally. The book hasn’t dated at all; reading it now no one would place it as being written in the sixties; of course the fact that it’s science fiction helps. But sometimes style and prose – and in particular attitudes – can place writing.

Even after Tallon escapes from prison there are still plenty of thrills and spills for the reader, and Bob Shaw uses the unique perspective of the main character and his method of escape in very novel and entertaining ways. I don’t feel that there’s too much character development of Tallon throughout the book, although the novel is an effective thriller as much as it is good science fiction.

Did a Google search for Bob Shaw today, as I do now and then to see if anything new about him is on the Internet, and came across this nice little piece from his native Northern Ireland. It’s relatively new, December 2009.

Odd that the names that come up when I start typing in Bob Shaw include the Pipe maker Bob Sheppard. He was my maths teacher at high school – the other one was his brother George. They were both involved in the school pipe band – who were world champions I think – and the little less local Dysart and Dundonald Pipe Band, who I’m sure were world champions.

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