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The Best Science Fiction Books by David Lake

By / February 9, 2016 / no comments

The Australian science fiction writer, David J. Lake, died on 31 January, aged 86.

He was born in India, educated in Britain, taught in various places around the Far East (India, Thailand, Vietnam), and eventually settled in Australia in the late Sixties. He was already in his mid-40s when his first science fiction novel appeared in 1976. His career as a novelist lasted only a little over a decade, though the occasional short story continued to appear into the late 1990s. He was writing at a time when Australian science fiction was nowhere near as exciting as it became by the end of the century, which may explain why his work never quite got the level of international attention it probably deserved. Though, at the same time, he was to my mind a classic midlist writer: his novels had a slick surface gloss, colourful adventures set in vividly described locations, with complex (sometimes overly complex) ideas so far under the surface that at times they were hard to make out. He was the sort of writer who would attract a coterie of readers who “got” what he was doing, but the majority of readers could probably take him or leave him depending on how well they got along with the surface gloss. As a result, his sales were respectable over time but never spectacular,which may explain why his career as a novelist was so short.

But for those who did latch on to his work, his novels were always welcome, and he won three Ditmar awards, for the novels Walkers on the Sky (1976) and The Man Who Loved Morlocks (1981), and for the short story “The Truth About Weena” from the anthology Dreaming Down Under (1998).

For those who have not encountered Lake’s work, the best places to start are probably:

walkers on the sky
Walkers on the Sky

A young man walks across a strange, terraformed landscape which often becomes dreamlike in a way that seems to suggest the Aboriginal idea of the dreamtime.

right hand of dextra
The Right Hand of Dextra

Another strange planet (you get used to that in Lake’s work) with religious fundamentalist settlers whose rigid views on everything do not prepare them for the curious ecology of the world.

gods of xuma
The Gods of Xuma

One of the things Lake often did was take classic sf, and write something new that connected to it but argued against its assumptions at the same time. This is a response to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Barsoom novels, but undermines their sexism and their crudity.

The Man Who Loved Morlocks

He does the same thing again in this “sequel” to The Time Machine by H.G. Wells that also critiques 19th century attitudes to colonisation and other races; it is also probably his best book.


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