Terra Nullius reviewed by Tara

Terra Nullius opens with a quote from Goanna’s Solid Rock, “They were standing on the shore one day, saw the white sails in the sun; Wasn’t long before they felt the sting, white man, white law, white gun”. Despite having read the blurb before requesting the book, this quote led me to assume that the story was set during the British colonisation of Australia. Nothing challenges this assumption in the first third of the book.

Each chapter opens with a ‘quote’, which is followed by several sections where the quote is explored through the stories of the characters. There is a broad assortment of viewpoints, where the stories come from seven different characters. Initially the number of different viewpoints is a bit overwhelming and appears random, but it gradually becomes evident that the paths of the characters are converging. Each character has been chosen to add a distinct perspective to the story. The reader is given insight into the viewpoint of characters on both sides of the invasion.

Just as I began to identify with the characters, and the plot was beginning to come together, I read a phrase that completely challenged the assumptions I had made about the time in history where the story was set and the identity of the natives and the settlers. As the story continues, it is as if a veil is lifted and another dimension is revealed. I think this was an interesting technique, to flip the story and confront the assumptions that the reader had begun to form, but I found it hard to re-engage with the story after this. I have never had a great affinity for science fiction and the move from possible historical fiction to science fiction almost lost me. However, I could see the deliberate placement of the characters and hints of their connectedness. I was fascinated by the complete omission of the identity of the settlers early in the story, the subtle reveal, and the way the new information seeped in until the story was flooded with the detail that assailed my initial assumptions. These bold techniques made me curious to continue.

The gradual emergence of a future setting encourages the reader to make the link between the history of colonisation and the invasion by an alien species. It broadened my perspective on colonisation/invasion. Terra Nullius is an interesting exploration into themes from Australia’s history.

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