The Ragged Astronauts – Bob Shaw

The Ragged Astronauts


Brakka wood is getting harder to find, and the once-innocuous ptertha are getting more and more virulent - and apparently self-willed. But there's another planet just above, if brave men are willing to make the crossing by hot-air balloon.


I’m a fan of Bob Shaw, and I recall liking The Ragged Astronauts when I first read it in the ’80s. On the good side, the book is still a fun, fast read. On the confusing side, the story has nothing at all to do with what I remember. I recall it (perhaps because of the cover art) as a fun, somewhat lighthearted adventure farce. In fact, it’s a fairly serious (if light), often political intrigue. Through no fault of Shaw’s, I was off balance for the first couple of chapters simply because it differed so much from my memory.

Taken for what it actually is, this is an interesting, fairly well thought out, exploration of a fantasy-based approach to a binary planet. Shaw tells us that we’re in an alternate universe, and takes full advantage of the leeway given him by different scientific principles, but still with a sciencey feel and a moderate mount of rigour.

Where the book fell down, for me, was on the character side – usually one of Shaw’s strengths. Here, he sets up some interesting characters, but never really delves into them, and wraps things up fairly superficially. We skim past the characters’ emotions without ever stopping to see how they’re affected in the long-term. Maybe it’s because the tone is ‘harder’ than I’d normally expect from Shaw, and more military-oriented.

It seems odd to say of a series with three full books, but I wish Shaw had taken his time to develop the story a bit more in this first installment, instead of rushing through things. The ending in particular feels like a patch stuck on what should have been a longer story. I look forward to the second volume, though, since I clearly didn’t recall the first very well.

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