|Dobson, 1979, 216pp, £4.50|
Another Dave Langford review.
Here are five previously published stories: 'The Railways Up On Cannis', 'The Subways Of Tazoo', 'The Pen And The Dark', 'Getaway from Getawehi' and 'The Black Role Of Negrav', all featuring lovable Fritz Van Noon of the Unorthodox Engineering squad. All but the first appeared in New Writings In SF (volumes 3, 8, 16 and 25), although the fact is not recorded here.
The formula of the UE stories is a simple one: a problem involving a ludicrously unlikely alien planet or technology is thrown at Van Noon's head, and after much struggle and adventure he devises a solution so lunatic as to make the original situation seem relatively mundane. All good clean fun. The stories rely heavily on auctorial ingenuity, and Kapp scores well for clever notions (despite such expedients as having Van Noon survive ground zero of an antimatter explosion in the third story). A little humour also helps, and here Kapp is happiest when facing some revolting piece of alien technology: 'It's like the epitaph to an insane, overgrown spider with a compulsive spite against inverted single-head broaching presses.' ('The Subways Of Tazoo') But he can't always keep it up, and on the next page we have relatively limp stuff like: 'If this is their idea of electrical control gear I should hate to see their version of a collection of crazy, twisted maypoles' (etc. etc.).
The stories contain no complexities besides those of the laboratory, no emotions likely to be found outside a junior-school classroom, and no women. The idea and the zest are all as Van Noon tackles pandemic volcanoes, demented alien artifacts, black holes orbiting at zero altitude, and a dotty Placet-like world where gravity loops the loop and 1 + 1 = 1.5708. Obviously one isn't meant to take all this too seriously (Kapp doesn't, to the extent of not bothering to revise internal inconsistencies for this book); one should simply lie back and enjoy the ride. If you don't mind being taken for a ride, it's a pleasantly undemanding collection.
|First published in Vector 96, December
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