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.

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