Night Walk (1967) by Bob Shaw reads like a road movie, which instead of a car and a road, has man with some electronic sonar eyes crossing a swampy continent, using a bird to guide him.

It’s a tough book, and unlike other Bob Shaw novels of the same era, Night Walk is an intense and gruelling look at madness, and how messed up minds get when basic human functions are altered by science.

There’s something about all this that gives Bob Shaw’s Night Walk an epic sadness, because early on you feel the character, the situation and in fact the whole of humanity to be pretty much doomed. Like Tallon, the character in Night Walk, you keep on budging, almost blindly, hoping for resolution and a happy ending, although doubting that it could ever really come. It’s typical of Bob Shaw to present an individual against an evil establishment, as it’s typical in fact in much SF, but Night Walk really pushes this point, as the character Tallon seems increasingly insignificant, with blindness and madness really slowing him down.

What is peculiar in Night Walk is the agonising detail of the experience of sightlessness and the painful methods by which Tallon proceeds. In other novels, perhaps, you may find a character adopting such a device as Tallon does here, and then using it to fend off various foes, but here in Night Walk it’s different; here in Night Walk the real foe is the pain that talon goes through in using his homemade eyeset, and the pleasure Bob Shaw takes as a writer, is delivered in his descriptions of Tallon using it to see through other peoples’ eyes, another painful experience.   It reminds me of that adage concerning your own pain being preferable to that of someone else’s, simply because Tallon has to undergo so much of it.

Yes, there is the traditional guff and a half you would be right to expect from a SF novel from 1967 — such as the ‘cybernetic intelligence amplifier’ — but that is what SF is all about — presenting something outlandish as fact, and working hard to get away with it.   Bob Shaw’s mimetic style, which often presented the mundane in a crazy SF wrapping, works really well here, because what Night Walk deals with is the minutiae of one man, and like my other hero Philip K. Dick, Bob Shaw was pretty much obsessed with perception, a very noble authorial ideal for anyone working in the 1960s.

A good novel like Bob Shaw’s Night Walk will take you all the way though, and I really think it does. We see through a bird’s eyes as it dies, and it is memorable indeed, and when Tallon is ensuing his enemy’s eyes to hunt that self-same enemy, some spooky stuff indeed, which allows for a lot of weird recurrence and contradiction.