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January/February 2011
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To End All Telescopes, by Eric C. Williams (1969)

APPEARING in the same year as Piers Anthony's Macroscope, this novel also centers on a super-telescope, but in an understated and very British way.

In 1930s fandom, when Williams contributed to early fanzines like The Satellite, amateur astronomy was part of the Dream. Telescopes were expensive and spare cash limited, but a dreamer with skill and patience could slowly grind the parabolic mirror for his very own reflector telescope—as described in loving detail here. "They couldn't do better at Palomar," gloats the starstruck amateur.

Early on, Williams captures the thrill of a boy's first glimpse of the Moon under serious magnification. Without his love of the night sky, the protagonist would be unlikable: a dour, surly product of Yorkshire, conscious of underprivilege (the narrator is better off), and neglectful of the sensationally attractive woman he's somehow contrived to marry.

His big idea is the "filter telescope," mingling imaginary science and image-intensifier technology. Our narrator finances the project while fighting off that predatory wife's miniskirted advances. The reward is a dose of pure-quill sense of wonder as the super-telescope exceeds expectations, zooming in to reveal the solar system in impossibly fine detail.

The surrounding plot machinery is fairly routine, with the Ministry of Defence planning to confiscate the invention and an eternal triangle in need of resolution—much what one would expect from the publisher Robert Hale Ltd, which specialized in packaging literate but dull sf for the then-guaranteed library market. But in several scenes of this forgotten novel, Williams brings the Dream to glowing life.

He died in 2010.

—David Langford

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