Friday, September 30, 2016

Book Review: Ossian's Ride

Book Review: 'Ossian's Ride' by Fred Hoyle

3 / 5 Stars

‘Ossian’s Ride’ first was published in 1959; this Berkley Medallion paperback (153 pp) was published in January 1961. The cover art is by Richard Powers.

The novel is set in the near future, that is, 1970. Ireland is the most technologically advanced nation in the world, thanks to the efforts of a cryptic entity called the Industrial Corporation of Eire, or ICE.

Founded in 1958, as a humble enterprise to commercialize chemicals extracted from peat, the ICE has overseen the advent of fission power and other advanced technologies within the boundaries of Ireland – but not does not share its knowledge and expertise with the rest of a bewildered world. Indeed, County Kerry, where the ICE is located, is closed to all visitors save those scientists from around the globe who elect to come and work for the agency.

The British government has viewed Ireland’s rise to power with mingled envy and alarm. Unfortunately, all efforts by the British to infiltrate the ICE and learn its secrets have been dismal failures, as the ICE is not only adept at counterespionage, but takes a mocking tone as it dismantles one British spy ring after another.

As the novel opens a young mathematician and recent Cambridge graduate named Thomas Sherwood is recruited by British Intelligence to discover the secret within Ireland. The hope is that Sherwood can credibly pose as a scientist with a legitimate interest in working for the ICE. Sherwood is sent to Dublin, there to contact one of the last remnants of the UK’s spy ring. From Dublin, his mission is to enter County Kerry, learn the ICE’s secrets of fission power, and bring them back to London……..

The cover blurbs for ‘Ossian’s Ride’ state that it’s a novel in the tradition of John Buchan’s ‘The 39 Steps’, and this certainly is true. Much of the plot in ‘Ossian’ deals with Sherwood’s travels amidst the bucolic countryside of Ireland, its quaint villages and cities, in the course of evading pursuit or seeking his next contact. While occasional episodes of violence give the narrative sufficient momentum, this is by no means a slam-bang adventure novel with explosions and gadgets.

‘Ossian’ is written with the clean, careful prose style that marks the sf authored by Fred Hoyle. I found it an easy read. But its major weakness is the ending; while I won’t disclose any spoilers, I will say that I found it unconvincing, as well as imparting a contrived character to many of the plot developments preceding it.

Summing up, if you’re looking for a well-crafted short sf novel, then ‘Ossian’s Ride’ is worth picking up. But be mindful that its Big Revelation is purely in keeping with the attitudes of sf from the late 50s.

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