Tag Archive: Bob Shaw


Rival Ideas

di_fate_niven orbitsvillen370The Science Fiction and Fantasy genres are largely idea driven. A story can dangle on the end of a good idea and experience a sort of half-life without the need for full characterization and even a terrible plot – if the idea is good enough. There is then, a race for the best ideas – the most ambitious, the most interesting, the most realistic, the most prophetic. Most authors won’t readily admit to this, but it’s there all the same. Its a guilty pleasure to follow a nice new idea and mine out a seam of something related to it, perhaps spring boarding into another sub-genre entirely – space opera, steampunk, urban fantasy, victorian SF…

We are, of course, excited by ideas. If  the idea wasn’t there, it wouldn’t be science fiction of fantasy, it would just be… fiction: stories about people in a world we are familiar with. Even then, there needs to be an idea, right at the center of it all, driving the whole thing.

Author’s covet their own ideas, of course. An idea does more than just belong to an author, it is part of them, so they’ll always be special. But – what happens when someone else has the same idea?

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Rhapsody in Black, by Angus McKie

Where it all started…

The summer of 1985 was where it all started, with issue #29 of Imagine magazine. Imagine was the British born sister mag to the D&D focused Dragon magazine, but featured content from all over the fantasy, science fiction and horror genre, including gaming, books, movies and so on. Issue #29 was special because it was devoted to science fiction in all its forms. It had an interview with SF author Bob Shaw, (famous for Orbitsville, the Brit rival to Larry Niven’s Ringworld), a full pull out adventure module based on his book “Ship of Strangers” and one other thing: a glorious cover by Angus McKie.

The cover image captivated me so much that I couldn’t stop thinking about it for … well, I still haven’t stopped really. It featured a sleek, sophisticated spacecraft orbiting a placid watery planet, surrounded by sun-dogs and lens-flares from the distant sun. The ship was graceful and elegant, with smooth curves, a mirrored hull and stylized graphics here and there. In my Traveller RPG adventures, I had to have it – so I wrote up stats after building it in the Traveller ship design sequence, tying it onto one of my characters through a dangerously exorbitant mortgage which would take several lifetimes to pay off. I drew up floor-plans for it, sketched pictures, basically going the whole nine yards with it.  I named it the “Interstellar Queen.” And apparently, I wasn’t the only one.

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