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A Wreath of Stars by Bob Shaw
(Victor Gollancz SF Collectors' Editions, £9.99, 189 pages, paperback; first published 1976, this edition 3 December 2000.)

Gilbert Snook has always seen himself as the human equivalent to a neutrino: travelling through life without influencing or being influenced by anything else. Thornton's cover scanPlanet is an antineutrino world, only discovered by accident, and travelling on a course through the Earth. Nothing bad happened as a result. A few years later, Snook finds himself in a small, corrupt African republic, teaching English to diamond miners. Then he hears stories of miners seeing ghosts. There's an antineutrino planet inside the Earth, its orbit disturbed by Thornton's Planet's passing...

Bob Shaw (1931-1996) was a writer who first published in his twenties, took a break, and returned in the late 1960s. He was never a "cutting-edge" writer, but through the 1970s and 1980s he was one of British SF's most reliable entertainers. His best novels -- and, along with Orbitsville (1975), A Wreath of Stars (1976) is one of his best -- combine a strong, pacy narrative with good characterization and a good eye for his setting. His novels are good "entry-level" books for readers new to SF: combining the strengths of a mainstream novel with reasonably original and well-developed SF premises, but not so "hard" that they become obscure to non-aficionados. And as the page count would indicate, he was a writer with a good sense of economy: if A Wreath of Stars were to be submitted today, at approximately 65000 words it would likely be considered too short to be commercial.

A Wreath of Stars still holds up, though conceptually it has undoubtedly been long since surpassed. It does feel a little bit dated, though, which is not just because this 70s book is set in the then near future of the 1990s. The depiction of the female lead, Prudence Devonald, is very much of its time. But it's still a worthwhile, entertaining read, and Shaw is a writer deserving of being kept in print.

Review by Gary Couzens.

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© Gary Couzens 30 March 2002