Ragged Astronauts Paperback – 1 May 1988
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Top customer reviews
The twin planets are so close that there are two periods of daytime on the inhabited world, and a short night in between, with a longer night at the other end. There is a thin envelope of air, it turns out, linking the two planets, and if someone were to go up in a hot-air balloon he could just about cross over to the other world. But is the journey survivable and could an entire population be evacuated?
This first book in the series is definitely the best. The second, The Wooden Spaceships, deals with large-scale population movement and colonisation. Really Shaw could have left it at that but perhaps he was pushed into writing a trilogy. The Fugitive Worlds is readable but not so good or credible.
Bob Shaw was a Northern Irish writer who was a contemporary and friend of James White and Brian W Aldiss.
I consider his best work to be Other Days, Other Eyes, which is about slow glass.
By keeping the technology deliberately low level, roughly equivalent to 18th-19th century Earth, Bob Shaw manages to keep it in the background to allow the story to flow unfettered.
Consider this; how would you expect people to travel between planets (believably) with such primitive technology? A hot air balloon perhaps?
The protagonists are sympathetic and believable, which makes a nice change from a lot of similar space opera. I pick my ancient copy off the shelf every now and then for a quick look, which always turns out to be a cover to cover read.
The two subsequent books in the trilogy, The Wooden Spaceships and The Fugitive Worlds take the story to a satisfactory finale.
All Bob Shaw's strengths are displayed here: an ingenious and innovative story line, believable characters who you can care about, and gleefully implausible plot twists that you can happily accept without too much worry. In this case the implausibility comes from the fact that space travel between planets is possible by balloon. This unusual premise is unlike most other Bob Shaw plot twists in which the scientific explanation usually only goes to add weight to just how implausible the idea is. No explanation is, very wisely, offered other than a reference to pi having a value of 3 in this universe.
With no time wasted on the science, more time is left for the rip-roaring adventure and that makes this yarn entertaining and one that is well worth reading. Whether the whole trilogy is worth reading is debatable as towards the end of the second book Shaw starts to lose interest in the tale, and he definitely pushes the idea too far in the third book. A short balloon trip through space is just about acceptable if you're willing to suspend your disbelief, but regular interplanetary travel and warfare in wooden spaceships takes some swallowing.
In The Ragged Astronauts, Land and Overland are twin planets, orbiting one another as well as their star. Unfortunately on Land, things look grim. The environment is being damaged by over-exploitation, and diseases are spreading. The people are forced to consider radical ideas for their survival. One person has the idea of flying to Overland by hot-air balloon. Of course, no-one believes him....
This splendid book, filled with rip-roaring adventure and huge happenings, ranks amongst Bob Shaw's best, and I recommend it to all.
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