In the novel “Night Walk” by Bob Shaw human beings of the future travel among the stars using null-space portals, which allow to move instantaneously through enormous distances but noone was able to find a way to determine where in space you’re going to arrive when you go through a portal. As a consequence the only way to trace the route in null-space is sending a huge number of probes through the various portals and use the routes recorded by the instruments of the few probes that accidentally reach a planet already inhabited.
The planet Emm Luther not only became independent from Earth but one of its probes traced the route to one of the rare habitable planets found by humans. Sam Tallons is an Earth spy who succeds in taking possession of the coordinates of the portals to be used to reach the new planet but he gets intercepted by lutheran agents: during the fight that follows not only Tallon gets captured but his eyes get wounded and he loses his sight.
Jailed in a maximum security prison, Sam Tallon thinks that it’s all over, instead he gets involved in a project that had already been started by other prisoners with advanced scientific knowledge to create an instrument that can someway give sight back to a blind person. Why is one of the prison authorities placing tools at the prisoners disposal to build an instrument whose existence violates Emm Luther religious precepts? Sam Tallon must take advantage of any occasion to try and get away from the prison and make contact with Earth agents but his trip will be much longer and complex than he could imagine.
“Night Walk” is the first novel published by Bob Shaw in 1967 and as it’s tipycal for this author it’s centered around an invention. In this novel we have the special glasses, an instrument that allows a blind person to see: its importance can be seen – begging your pardon for the pun – only at the end of the novel.
Bob Shaw was an engineer and probably it’s not accidental that his style is precise. He was also British and H.G. Wells’ lesson was to examine the consequences of inventions though the father of modern science fiction didn’t explain how they worked. Shaw succeded in finding a good compromise explaining the operating principles of the inventions that appear in this novels without resorting to “technobabble”.
Bob Show doesn’t just introduce an invention to build a story examining its consequences but he examines the various ways an invention can be developed. On of the strongest points in Bob Show’s stories actually consists in the discovery of the possible developments of the inventions applications even, sometimes especially, after some time. Those new applications can have new consequences and the various ramifications are examined.
I don’t want to sell “Night Walk” as a super masterpiece but it’s certainly a solid novel with high quality.