The Ceres Solution by Bob Shaw

The Ceres Solution by Bob Shaw (Italian edition)
The Ceres Solution by Bob Shaw (Italian edition)

The novel “The Ceres Solution” by Bob Shaw was published for the first time in 1981.

Denny Hargate suffers from a degenerative disease that causes progressive muscle weakness. Even as a young boy he’s forced to use crutches to walk. One day, he meets a woman of incredible beauty who disappears before his eyes. Twenty years later, he finds a job in an orbital habitat, an ideal place for him, but strange things start to happen such as the disappearance of the dwarf planet Ceres.

Gretana ty Iltha is part of an advanced civilization but doesn’t meet the standards of beauty of its women. Nevertheless, the idea of ​​going to Earth to study the natives, compared to them primitive and ugly from the aesthetic point of view, is far from pleasant. She gets convinced to do it and infiltrate the Earthlings but soon her boring routine of study will be upset.

What if everything Earthlings believe concerning astrology and the like were just a faded memory of ancient knowledge much more sophisticated and rational? In “The Ceres Solution” Bob Shaw starts from that idea to build a sort of interstellar mystery that has profound implications for the future of humanity and not just the Earth’s.

In the distant past, the Earth was colonized by an advanced civilization but soon regressed to a primitive level. Many millennia later, the Earthlings still have a very short life and only vague mental perceptions, a mere echo of the great abilities of their cousins ​​who live among the stars.

Because of these characteristics, the Earth has become the subject of an anthropological study and Gretana ty Iltha is a new agent who goes to live on a planet as a native. To do this, she must undergo some physical changes because the Earthlings and the other humans got differentiated a bit over the millennia.

Gretana becomes very ugly for the aesthetic canons of her civilization but even before she was considered ugly and the chief scientist promised her that at the end of her work she’ll be “fixed”. This is one of the elements that show how this interstellar civilization so advanced is pervaded by a form of hedonism.

Gretana’s aesthetic problem is ridiculous compared to those caused by the disease to Denny Hargate. The presence of a character with a disability is typical of Bob Shaw’s stories and in this case he suffers from a degenerative disease. For a time, Denny goes to work in an orbital microgravity where the environment allows him to live normally but then something happens that forces him to return to Earth.

The Earthlings are considered little more than guinea pigs but not for everyone because a small group intends to change things. They have no opportunity to do so by proposing it to their superiors because they wouldn’t get anything so they act underground. As a consequence, they’re considered criminals.

“The Ceres Solution” is a novel rather short even by Bob Shaw’s standards, still the author builds a complex story in which the subplots concerning Gretana and Denny have mostly a parallel development. The two main characters are on the edge of their respective societies for very different reasons and therefore have a cynical attitude, particularly Denny.

Because of the short length of the novel, Bob Shaw initially uses some clichés in introducing the protagonists. Denny has developed a rough character because of his illness. In his eyes Gretana is very beautiful but she’s considered ugly in her society, showing how beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

In the course of the novel, things get more complicated for the protagonists and both they and the other characters are developed quite well. In particular Gretana and Denny are forced in various ways to re-examine their lives and change their mind about many things after they realized that they’re different from what they thought.

“The Ceres Solution” is a novel with high pace that despite the limitations of the short length deals with the fundamental themes of human nature. For these reasons, I consider it among the best of Bob Shaw and recommend reading it.


  1. Hello Massimo,

    It was with great pleasure that I found your review. Ceres Solution was the first thing I read from Shaw and loved it. I remember many years ago picking it up at a second hand bookstore in New York and putting it back just to repeat the action three more times before actually buying it.

    For me the main thrill was the concept of skord. As a regular science fiction guy of course I’m used to the concepts of warp drive or a transport device but what we find here is extraordinary. At first sight I’m sure many are quick to simply categorize it as “magic” However Shaw provides some interesting background about the idea. Some soup of philosophy with spirituality and of course mathematics to give it some cohesion.

    As you know the skord process involves two parts, the first being the mathematical equation. Albeit a complex one, a human with mathematical aptitude like Hargate is able to work the equation but that is not enough since “feeling” is also required and for me that is the real tickling.
    It is one thing to “know” my position in the universe and a very different one to actually “feel” my position in the universe. When I feel my present position there is absolutely no doubt about it, I am able to sense the gravitational pull of different magnitude depending on their distance of all the celestial objects around me. So if I want to skord, the first step is naturally the equation. The feeling I am currently experiencing, the equation then is necessary because it is the initial step to change the feeling. Once the coordinates are established in my head “intellect” then the feeling or “heart” comes about. The instant that I am able to feel the way I would feel at the other point… the transfer takes place. To me it was beautiful! What a clever concept, poetic almost musical involving the heart as well as the mind.

    Perhaps the reason I find it fascinating has to do with how as a young boy through my readings about space and science I understood the vastness of the universe and I was awed. So many places to travel to and discover. Then later on I came across relativity and well, you know how that goes. We are stuck in here since nothing can travel faster than light. Naturally I embraced warp drive as a means of escape always keeping in the back of my head those numbers and the impossibility of it.
    Skord somehow seems closer than warp, ahh the romantic in me.



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