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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reading: Vandals of the Void by James Morgan Walsh

First published in 1933, Vandals of the Void is an early example of the sort of science fiction that depicts naval battles in space. It's something of a landmark in the history of Australian science fiction, and a good choice for volume 3 in Chimaera Publications' Classic Australian SF series. Sean McMullen's brief introduction covers it well: this is a book with battles, political intrigue, and romance, in a formula that is still popular. Sean is also correct that a modern version would offer us more insight into the villainous Mercurians, who are intent on a program of forcible imperialism throughout our solar system. Today, we'd want to know more about how events seem at their end: what motivates them, what life is like for them, what their leaders are like as individuals.

The book proceeds at a cracking pace, almost too cracking for suspension of belief when it comes to such aspects as the main character's whirlwind romance with a young Martian woman. Still, there is much to amuse, such as the sly discussions here and there of H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, which gets invoked as an analogy - though the point is made that this involves warfare on Earth, against invading forces, whereas the protagonists of Vandals of the Void face a war actually fought in space.

Next stop, a classic work of late-19th-century melodrama: Guy Boothby's A Bid for Fortune or Dr. Nikola's Vendetta.

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