Saturday, June 25, 2016

Book Review: Shadow of Heaven

Book Review: 'Shadow of Heaven' by Bob Shaw

4 / 5 Stars

‘Shadow of Heaven’ was first published in 1969 as a fix-up by Avon Books; this version (125 pp) was released in 1974 by UK publisher New English Library. The cover artwork is by George Underwood.

The novel is set ca. 2092, in a USA marked by overpopulation and eco-disaster. A World War started in 1992 led to the deployment of a particularly powerful formulation of herbicide, which devastated the world’s crops; now, the teeming, overcrowded masses of humanity must derive their meager nourishment from the oceans. Progress in restoring greenery to the massive fields of dirt that once were farmlands is a slow and uncertain endeavor.

The one exception is the International Land Extension U. S. 23, or ‘Isle’. Resting three miles up in the air over the Atlantic, courtesy of powerful antigravity pulsars, the Isle is a fifteen-mile long platform on which crops are grown by robots. The produce from the Isle is shuttled down to earth via a massive elevator. The produce derived from the Isle is so small that it constitutes only the rarest of treats to the population of the USA; but the government recognizes its psychological value and willingly budgets the considerable funds necessary to operate the Isle.

As the novel opens Victor Stirling, a newspaper reporter, discovers a startling bit of information while researching a story: his half-brother, Johnny Considine, has been officially declared a Missing Person. Although he has not spoken to Considine is some time, Sterling retains a sufficient sense of familial duty to make inquiries about his brother’s disappearance. These lead to contacts with a renegade political group, and rumors that Considine has done something thought impossible: traveled to the Isle.

Victor Stirling decides to access the Isle via a clandestine route; he arrives and finds a community of fugitives living among the greenery of the Isle. But this discovery comes with its cost, for as Stirling is to learn, once you travel to the Isle, you can’t go back………..

‘Shadow of Heaven’ is one of the better sf novels of the late 60s / early 70s that I’ve read. While the premise is a bit contrived, it’s imaginative, and the world of the Isle is carefully sketched and made sufficiently believable to support the straightforward narrative. For a novel published during the height of the New Wave era, Shaw’s prose is particularly clear and devoid of self-indulgence, and makes for an engaging read.

This one is worth picking up.

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