Islands of Space
by John W. Campbell

Review by
Ron Grube
Amazing Stories Quarterly, Spring 1931

Fantasy Press
Reading, Pennsylvania, 1956
224 pages

January 2002


Islands of Space, the second book in the Arcot-Morey-Wade science fiction series, continues the adventures of the three young scientists of The Black Star Passes. After helping to resolve a global war on Venus and thwarting the invasion of the Nigrans, the people of the Black Star, our heroes are left with vast new technological resources. Their own inventions plus research on Venusian and Nigran scientific advances lead to interesting new capabilities — and boredom:

The war was over. And things became dull. And the taste of adventure still remained on the tongues of Arcot, Wade, and Morey.

An intolerable situation to be resolved. In The Black Star Passes, Earth progresses from propellor-driven aircraft to molecular-motion spacecraft flying around the Solar System and a little beyond. What's the next step? Interstellar travel, of course, all neatly laid out and plausibly explained by John W. Campbell. Using superconductor technology, a new method of power storage is invented, which then progresses to a space-warp drive of such astounding capabilities that intergalactic travel is possible. The first trial of the new ship takes them to the neighborhood of Sirius, about nine light-years, in a matter of minutes, oh, and on one-sixteenth power, no less. A surprise awaits — Sirius B, a white dwarf star, has been moved away, and in orbit around Sirius A we find none other than the Nigran planets! This seems to pretty well preclude any further problems with the Nigrans, since they now have a live star of their own. From here on, the steps get a little larger, though. After heading out 30,000 light years to the edge of the Galaxy, they decide to "give her the gun" and head out towards other nebulae, as Arcot decides to use half-power for ten seconds:

Morey began to make swift calculations of the distance they had come by measuring the apparent change in diameter of the Galaxy ...

"Mmmmm. Let's see." Morey worked a moment with his slide rule. "We made good time! Twenty-nine light years in ten seconds! You had it on half power-the velocity goes up as the cube of the power-doubling the power, then, gives us eight times the velocity — Hmmmmm." He readjusted the slide rule and slid the hairline over a bit. "We can make ten million light years in a little less than five days at full power."

The casual way the men take this kind of thing in stride is a mark of Campbell's writing. Nothing is too difficult for them to solve, nothing is impossible if you just use all your talents and resources properly. As the story goes on, they find a frozen planet which once had a humanlike population, destroyed by a supernova. Problems come along with their explorations, only to be thought out and fixed as necessary. Finally they find themselves in what appears to be another universe altogether, and of course (!) get themselves involved in an interplanetary war. This section of the story may well be a precursor to The Mightiest Machine. Certainly there are some similarities, but I don't want to give too much away.

A lot of the science used in this series may be flawed from the view of three-quarters of a century after the original publication, but Campbell, through his protagonists, makes it all seem so logical that it's easy to suspend any skepticism you may have. It's not like he's giving boring science lectures, either — all of his advances take place as part of the action, many as instant solutions to problems encountered along the way. If nothing else, his stories will at least make you think, to give some consideration to the science involved, even if you know now that it won't work. Once you're caught up in the story, the inventions just fly along with the action, and you have that feeling that you need to peek around the corner to see what could possibly come next.

I first read this book, along with the others in the series, as a teenager. I don't know how many times I've re-read it, then put it away for a while, but I can tell you, this is one of the books I don't trade off at the used book store. If you've read any of my other reviews, you know that I'm very much put off by what I perceive as the current decline in civility, morals, and self-responsibility. John W. Campbell's books tend to somewhat renew my faith in the nice guys not always finishing last. If you don't happen to need your morale recharged, well, read it anyway, 'cause it's a heck of a good adventure story.


© 2002 Ron Grube

The Arcot-Morey-Wade series
(including Campbell's 1953 introduction) is collected in —

A John W. Campbell Anthology: Three Novels
by John W. Campbell
Doubleday: New York, 1973

1. The Black Star Passes
2. Islands of Space
3. Invaders from the Infinite

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