I hunted for a print copy of this book for years, but unfortunately Dobson was one of the smaller UK publishers and as far as I know there was only one print run, hence the 2nd hand price was slightly astronomical. Fortunately the individual stories came out in various magazines, and these were more affordable.
Seeing it released on Kindle was a very bright spot in my day, brought it as fast as I could click.
The stories have a common theme, a bunch of engineers who take a very oblique approach to problems, not so much out of the box, but sometimes off the planet, yet there is a serious underlying purpose to Van Noon and his companions. They are training for a very long range, (inter-galactic, used truly for once), and millions of light years from support you don't want engineers who are stymied by the lack of a particular material, component or tool. Van Noon looks at what something does/can be made to do, rather than it's stated purpose. The first two, "The Railways Up on Cannis" and "The Subways of Tazoo" look at how an alien technology can be unravelled, by working out what it is supposed to do. Similar in someways to H. Beam Piper's "Omnilingual"
The later science gets wilder, but still retains an internal consistency. Another Kapp story, not included but containing a similar philosophy is "Hunger over Sweet Waters" (New Writings in SF8?) where Kapp uses his expertise in electroplate, without beating the reader over the head with it. He also published in Analog in the late 60's early 70's and these are well worth tracking down.
I'd group Colin Kapp with with Charles Harness, not the most famous, or prolific writers, but able to tell a damn good story. Sadly missed,
- Paperback: 214 pages
- Publisher: Dobson Books Ltd (1 November 1979)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0234720727
- ISBN-13: 978-0234720721
- Package Dimensions: 20 x 13.2 x 2.4 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 259 g
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