Sunday, July 21, 2013

Book Review: Out There Where the Big Ships Go

Book Review: 'Out There Where the Big Ships Go' by Richard Cowper

3 / 5 Stars

‘Out There Where the Big Ships Go’ (191 pp) was published by Pocket Books in the US in October, 1980. The cover artwork is by Don Maitz. 

A shorter anthology, containing 'The Custodians', 'Paradise Beach', 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn' (later incorporated as the prologue of Cowper’s 1978 novel ‘The Road to Corlay’), and 'The Hertford Manuscript', was released in 1978 by UK publisher Pan Books.

Richard Cowper was the pen name of the English writer John Middleton Murray, Jr. Cowper released a number of sf and fantasy novels and short stories during the 70s and 80s.

All of the stories in ‘Out There’ were first published in various sf magazines in the interval from 1975 – 1980.

My summaries of the contents:

'Out There Where the Big Ships Go': a young boy, on holiday at a Mediterranean resort, comes to realize some sobering truths about the effect the introduction of an Alien philosophy has had on the Earth’s gestalt psychology.

'The Custodians': A monastery in a picturesque Southern European landscape holds some disturbing secrets about Man’s destiny.

'Paradise Beach': interesting variation on the theme of a landscape painting executed with such realism, you imagine you can step into it….

'The Hertford Manuscript': further adventures of The Time Traveler, from H. G. Wells’ novel 'The Time Machine'.

'The Web of the Magi': this novelette is an updated take on a H. R. Haggard tale. In the late 19th century, a doughty British Army officer comes upon a mysterious city sequestered in the remote mountains of Persia. Within awaits a beautiful sorceress, who holds deep secrets about Man’s fate in the Universe.

Like his contemporary, the UK sf author Michael Coney, Cowper produced well-written, carefully crafted fiction that used sf as a backdrop to explore psychological, emotional, and social interactions, rather than focusing on ‘hard’ sf themes and topics.

The entries in ‘Out There’ adhere closely to this mold; they are low-key in tone, and often embrace the melancholy, pessimistic atmosphere many English sf authors bring to their fiction.

Readers looking for sf with a more overt focus on action, and the dedicated  embrace of technology-centered themes that is characteristic of American sf, probably will be underwhelmed with the contents of ‘Out There’.

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