(M.J.E. / Writings / Book Reviews / Science Fiction /
Charles LOGAN: Shipwreck (1975)
Review by Michael Edwards
Heading: A haunting, desperate, human account of a hopeless shipwreck.
A generation starship blows up in a nuclear accident in orbit around a
planet of the star Capella, leaving alive only a few astronauts who happen to be
in the landing craft nearby - and all of those except one have received a lethal
dose of radiation sickness. Isidore Tansis, the only one who is not sick, has
no choice but to land on the planet, which is barely able to sustain human life
- and once down there all his companions die, and the novel begins with Tansis
having just buried them. He now has to face the fact that he will have to spend
the rest of his life on the planet, with not the slightest hope of ever again
meeting or speaking to another human being, because it is known that no other
spaceships are within many light-years of Capella. (Faster-than-light travel
does not seem to be a part of the universe of this novel.)
Thus this is an extremely rare example of a novel which features only a
single character - and the author handles the theme with breathtaking virtuosity
and intensity, expertly balancing the hard-science and emotional aspects that
you would expect to come into play in such a situation - no doubt illuminated by
the understanding of human nature and compassion he must have from having worked
as a nurse for the mentally handicapped. I've regretted a hundred times since I
first read this novel perhaps 20 years ago that Logan has apparently not written
anything else beyond a couple of short stories which don't seem to be available
- because I believe he could have been the best science-fiction writer ever to
emerge if he had chosen to pursue writing more.
There are many situations and subplots expertly woven together by the
author: the struggle to find and process food, which is nourishing only after a
great deal of work in the scout ship's laboratory; the equally difficult
struggle to find energy, at times having to rely on jerry-built windmills to
power the ship; the legal battle with the ship's computer to gain the right as
sole survivor to use the available nuclear energy in the ship as he pleases,
whereas the computer has been programmed to forcibly conserve it in an emergency
situation, apparently not forseeing the possibility of a single survivor; the
terrible loneliness and hallucinations Tansis suffers, causing him at times to
treat the computer almost like a counsellor or psychotherapist; the expeditions
he takes to find food or other resources, and his efforts to communicate with
telepathic sea creatures who "speak" by dilating their eye pupils.
All these elements seem to be handled by the author with equal expertise -
the hard, scientific aspects and the deeply human and emotional ones alike. It
is simply one of the best science-fiction novels I've read, and I can't recall
many others that achieve such a good balance between the hard science and the
very human aspects, and which illuminate the human condition as much as Logan
Regretfully, he seems to have retired from writing altogether now; if he
ever gets to read this, I hope it will persuade him to come out of retirement
and consider writing some more.
I have further comments about this novel, especially concerning elements
of its plot - but, because it does give away the crux of the plot, I
have put this on a different page of spoiler
information. Please don't go there unless you have already
read the book, or don't mind having it completely spoilt. There is no further
warning or prompt: clicking on the link takes you straight there.
E-mail me about this book.
Click here if you need an
explanation for the strange appearance of the e-mail address which will appear
when you click on the e-mail link, or if you don't know what you need to do to
make the e-mail address work properly.
Original text copyright (C) 2000, 2001, by Michael Edwards.
More material on this web site related to Charles Logan
Book listing for Charles Logan
Amazon.com customer reviews - the above is not there, because I plan to expand it slightly before posting it.
Amazon.co.uk customer reviews - Amazon co.uk do not list this title.
Search at AddALL.com for a used copy of Shipwreck.
Since I posted this review on my web site, I've been asked by a couple of
people by e-mail where the couple of short stories by Charles Logan mentioned
above can be obtained, or whether Logan had written any other novels.
I, too, would like to read more by Logan, and I only wish I could give a
more positive answer to this question. However, I wrote to the author in 1999,
and asked about this, amongst other things, and I was told the following, which
I had already gathered from other sources anyway: there are no other novels at
all, published or unpublished; and there are only the couple of short stories
mentioned in the review above, and they have never been published.
Introduction - Front page, which leads to Contents
Web Site of Michael Edwards - Contents
Writings by Michael Edwards
Charles Logan: Shipwreck (this page)
This page created on Tuesday, 13 June, 2000;
last modified on Saturday, 15 December, 2001.