Ship of Strangers – Bob Shaw (1978)
This is a fix-up novel, centred around Dave Surgenor, one of the crew of the Sarafand, a vessel of the Cartographical division of the Space Navy. The Sarafand is a space-borne pyramid, and its mission is to help chart the stars and planets in the ever-expanding sphere of known space.
One could be forgiven, reading the first story, for thinking it remarkably similar to van Vogt’s ‘Voyage of The Space Beagle’ which begins with a re-edit of van Vogt’s 1939 story ‘Black Destroyer’.
In both tales, a highly intelligent alien predator attempts to gain access to the ship and is finally outwitted and destroyed.
In Shaw’s tale the creature is identified by Aesop, the artificial intelligence which runs the ship and plots its jumps through hyperspace.
Although this is not Shaw’s best work by any means, there are some interesting stylistic touches which again are reminiscent of van Vogt techniques. Cardan, the creature in the first tale is initially captured – along with its parents – with some tractor beam force by an unknown ship. The parents were dropped into the gravity field of a sun and Cardan abandoned on a hellish world orbiting one of a pair of binary suns.
Seven thousand years later we pick up the tale…
Later, one the crew, Targett, is sent to investigate potential alien artefacts which turns out to be a plain littered with semi-intelligent still functioning autonomous weapons which (as might have been expected) target Targett.
Shaw’s technique is to introduce tantalising mysteries which the reader is forced to think about. Who were the occupants of that first ship? Who created these weapons and why were they abandoned?
I am of the opinion that had Shaw supplied answers to these questions it would have been to the detriment of the book as a whole.
Less is more, as they say.