05 May 2016

Early SF Tales from the Eaton Collection: The Terror of the Air by William le Queux

Hardcover, 312 pages
Published 19?? (originally 1920)
Borrowed from the Eaton Collection
Read January 2015
The Terror of the Air by William le Queux

William le Queux got his start in the 1890s and 1900s writing anti-German invasion fiction. The Terror of the Air reads like an attempt to port the conventions of the George Griffith narrative over into the post-Great War setting, though here the secret cabal of aerial pirates are the bad guys, a group of Germans bitter about losing the war. Their plan is a bit incoherent, though: first they raid air-ships, then they make terrorist threats and disintegrate Charing Cross (a lot like in The Three Days' Terror) then they release a plague, then they attack London's food supply, then they release poison gas. The pirates at one point seem to be like those of many 1890s revolutionary sf stories, with ideological motivations, given their threat:
declare war against the social order.
CAPITALISM is abolished!
Everyone must live in absolute equality.
The social revolution is proclaimed anew.
In three nights London, the centre of Capital-
ism, will be punished for its crimes. Heed
this warning!
But this seems to just be a ruse, as the ideology is never followed up on.

The ostensible protagonist is Major Alan Maclean, an officer in the British Imperial Air Force, but le Queux gives all the good ideas to his girlfriend Violet Eustace, and she's a better flier to boot. She saves his life more than once, yet the narrative always treats her as a sidekick. It's weird. Also she's about the only interesting thing in this tedious book. It ends with some points unresolved; I don't know if it was to set up a sequel or just sloppy writing.

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