| SIMON BLACK IN COASTAL COMMAND, first
published 1953, also ran as a serial in the Aussie storypaper,
THE AUSTRALIAN BOY in 1955, but due to the cessation of this
publication at issue 80, was never completed!
I recall back in 1960
during my first year of high school and having won a
prize of a book, being asked to pick a title. "The
latest Simon Black Book, please!" It was 'Simon
Black Takes Over' with an arresting dust jacket
design: Simon confronting a little alien, green with a
light bulb-like head in a helmet. I could barely wait to
reach home, whereupon I opened my book and soon lost
myself within. Sadly, this was the second last of the
series with 'Simon Black at Sea' coming
out in 1961. This was a disappointment in more ways than
Southall went on to author many other
books, but so far as I'm concerned, will always
be remembered for Simon Black. Born in Melbourne
in 1921, Ivan Southall grew up in the suburb of
Surrey Hills and won a part-scholarship to Box
Hill Grammar School. Tragedy intervened: his
father died and he had to leave school at 14,
eventually landing a position on the Melbourne
Herald as a copy boy, after a number of minor
jobs. What spare time he had was taken up writing
short stories and a number of these saw
publication in the paper. By the time the war
arrived, Southall had written four novels, one of
these eventually being revised and published by
Angus and Robertson in 1950. Originally titled 'Full
Throttle to Fortune', it became 'Meet
Simon Black'. During the war, Ivan
Southall flew Sunderlands for the RAAF,
461 SQUADRON, over the seas surrounding
Britain and won a DFC for sinking a German
U-boat. With the war over, he became a war
historian in England before returning to
Victoria, eventually moving to the Dandenong
Ranges. He wrote more than 60, mostly children's
books, and happily was still writing well into
his later years. A number of these have won 'Book
of the Year' awards.
The State Library of Victoria held an
exhibition of Ivan Southall's works and life, in the Queen's Hall,
Melbourne in 1998, and the site
Southall from A-Z is
now back online.
The SIMON BLACK*
All published in Australia by Angus and Robertson,
and overseas in many foreign language editions. The early
books were printed on poor quality paper with crudely
(but attractively) illustrated jackets on at least the
first three. See the copy of -IN PERIL illustrated. The
reprints were much nicer, jacket-wise, and on better
paper. The artists were 'I Maher', Wal Stackpool and
Frank Norton. Does anyone have
information on these artists?
*BEWARE of the ABRIDGED
editions which came out in plain laminated boards and
Version #2 jacket. See #1 at top.
Version #1 jacket
Version #2 jacket
1. MEET SIMON BLACK,
first published 1950. Full colour jacket on 1957 reprint.
Ex-Squadron Leader Simon Black, DSO, DSC and Bar, and now
a mechanic and garage proprietor in a small valley east
of Melbourne, has invented a supersonic aircraft,
'Firefly'. Simon's offsider at the garage is teenager
Johnny Grant. He looks after the business while Simon and
elder brother Alan Grant work on their aircraft at
Stanton Farm. Their secret is guarded by the faithful
dog, Rex. The author was ahead of his time, the 'Firefly'
being a VTOL (= Vertical Take-Off and Land) aircraft,
rocket-powered with horizontal props in both wings - a
primitive 'Harrier'. This introductory book takes you
through the test flight, which is caught by a Mr Stanton
of the 'Telegraph'. Simon and Alan decide to 'call in' on
Simon's father, an aircraft manufacturer, in Sydney.
After playing 'tag' with an RAAF Meteor over the City,
Alan takes the controls and screams beneath the Harbour
Bridge. Great stuff! All this in the first 30 pages. The
duo eventually are given the task of finding a professor
who has gone missing on a secret expedition to New
Guinea. The story moves along at a fast pace, the style
2. SIMON BLACK IN PERIL,
first published 1951, my reprint 1952, original jacket.
[The cover illustration of the 'Firefly' on the original
jacket is incorrect, as readers will discover.]
Simon is commissioned by the Secret Service (ASIO?) to
investigate the disappearance of a number of merchant
ships in the Pacific. This turns out to be the work of a
group of Nazis, based on an island stronghold. How will
Simon and Alan destroy this group of saboteurs?
3. SIMON BLACK IN SPACE,
first published 1952, my reprint 1957.
Our heroes have improved on the original aircraft.
Firefly 3 is capable of travel outside of the Earth's
atmosphere. Mysterious flying discs have appeared over
Australia. Simon and Alan have been ordered to find one
and follow it to its source. To tell you more would ruin
the story. Science fiction with a touch of 'The X Files'.
4. SIMON BLACK IN COASTAL COMMAND,
first published 1953, my reprint 1957.
This book takes you back a decade and explains how Simon
and Alan first met. Probably the best boys' book to come
out of this country in the 1950s, 'Coastal Command' bears
the stamp of authenticity, thanks to the author's
background. Both Simon and Alan are fleshed out,
character- wise. You can believe in these two young
fliers. The 'Flying Porcupines', as the enemy has
nick-named the Sunderland flying boats, had a majesty all
of their own. Bristling with guns, these mighty aircraft
were responsible for saving many allied aircrew - and
sinking many U-Boats. If you haven't yet read a 'Simon
Black' (or any Ivan Southall book), make this your first.
It still stands up as a great read, over 40 years on.
Version #2 jacket. See #1 above.
5. SIMON BLACK IN CHINA,
first published 1954.
A year after their journey into space, the boys are sent
on a perilous trip into China, this time with Johnny as
well. The trio must impersonate three men whose aircraft
was shot down while transporting some type of secret
material to a spy ring in the East. Their Catalina is
destroyed so Simon and Co must use the 'Firefly'. This
time the author has penned a dramatic thriller.
6. SIMON BLACK AND THE SPACEMEN,
first published 1955.
Any blurb on this story will give the plot of 'Simon
Black in Space' away, so all you need to know is that the
boys are back off into space.
7. SIMON BLACK IN THE ANTARCTIC,
first published 1956, my reprint 1958.
The b/w frontispiece gives you a clear illustration of
the 'Firefly'. Simon and Alan are dispatched (with Rex)
to investigate strange happenings on an Australian
Antarctic base. A read of this may remind you of 'The X
Files' episode 'Ice', which was based on the original
short story 'Who goes There'. I fact the exploration of
the Antarctic was the big news story of the mid-1950s.
8. SIMON BLACK TAKES OVER,
sub-titled 'The Strange Tale of Operation Greenleaf',
published 1959 and very scarce.
The little green men arrive on Simon's home ground. A
twisting and always entertaining narrative keeps the
reader looking forward to each chapter, wondering what
will happen next. I loved it.
9. SIMON BLACK AT SEA,
sub-titled 'The Fateful maiden voyage of APM1 Arion',
The artist is un-named, probably ashamed of the atrocious
dust jack, internal scribbles and frontispiece, not
forgetting the endpapers which show an object which looks
as if it was designed by a 10 year-old schoolboy! The
book itself is a one-off, size-wise, being of a larger
format than the previous titles. Simon and Alan are
ordered by the Aussie PM to accompany the weird air-sea
vessel, 'Arion', condemned by the RAN as a monstrosity,
on its maiden voyage. The book isn't poorly written - far
from it. The plot is simply ridiculous even if similar
events have occurred in real life! I recall how
disappointed I was, having eagerly waited for two years -
for Simon's next adventure. You knew from the sub-title
that things were going to end in disaster, after all!
10. SIMON BLACK IN ARABIA
Not published under this name. Any details welcomed
Undated but probably received pre-2000.
I've just discovered your site. I don't have any info on
Simon Black in Arabia, but re some of the others: / There
is also a title "Simon Black on Venus". As far
as I can tell, this is the same as Simon Black and the
Spacemen. (Info source: The MUP Encyclopaedia of
Australian Science Fiction & Fantasy (Paul Collins
1998)) I have a copy titled that, though an
"edited" version... / Several of the titles
were "edited" for the school trade (&
abbreviated, according to MUP Encyc Austn SF&F). I'm
reasonably sure edited versions of the following exist:
Simon Black in Space
Simon Black on Venus (See note below.)
Simon Black takes over
Simon Black at Sea
The National Library of Australia generally has anything
published in Australia. The following query on their
catalogue returns a list of all their holdings with Simon
Black in the title & by Ivan Southall:
The NLA doesn't seem to have a non-edited version of SB
on Venus, however The MUP Encyclopaedia of Australian
Science Fiction & Fantasy does list it. This Encyc.
also lists foreign language edns for the SF &
borderline SF titles; if you are interested I can
transcribe/scan. / I'm fairly sure the cover of _SB in
Space_ that is shown on the Fantastic Fiction site is the
editted version - I can't lay my hands on my copy at the
Thanks for your comments and information, Jane.
May 7, 2012
We hold two copies of [Simon Black on Venus] at [link
here] which can be viewed in the Heritage Collection Reading Room at
Children's Research Librarian
Rare Printed Collections
State Library of Victoria
Available Mon, Wed and Fridays
Thank you, Juliet. Note: Juliet mentions
that over 600 items, mostly foreign language editions of Southall's
books, are currently being catalogued by the SLV.
April 4, 2021
Discovered your site by chance when Google-ing "Firefly 3" for the fun
of it, and I hope it's still active (as distinct from simply being
available). I was another Simon Black fan when younger (still am),
though I mostly found the books through libraries. These days, I have
most of them and keep my eyes open for the rest, though it's slow going.
Anyway, after reading the page on the books, I have a few comments to
make that you might be interested in:
1) To me, the stars of the books have always been the Fireflys. The idea
of them is brilliant, though the engineer in me (I'm an aeronautical
engineer by profession) is forced to admit that while Southall may known
a lot about flying from the pilot's perspective, he didn't have a clue
about aircraft design. Dearly as I love them, they are impossible;
rocket engines, VTOL fans and manoeuvring in space just don't work that
2) Despite that, I have built a plastic model of Firefly 1 -- or an
approximation of it, anyway, because there is no way to be exact about
it since no two depictions of her look the same! The illustrations on
the dust jackets have only one thing in common -- she's painted red --
and the illustrations inside don't even have that. Nonetheless, it's fun
to come up with something that could be a supersonic aircraft with up to
six seats, including one for Rex. Next will be an RAAF Firefly and
3) The aircraft on the cover of Simon Black in Peril is, I believe,
meant to be Firefly 2, a large flying-boat meant for the sort of roles
that Sunderlands and their cousins got up to -- only with the classic
Firefly features of rocket propulsion and VTOL fans in the wings(!).
IIRC, this was the only time we ever saw Firefly 2 in action; she's
merely mentioned in passing in later books. It has to be said that,
despite Firefly 2 being described as resembling a Sunderland, the dust
jacket picture doesn't look anything like that or any other flying-boat
that I recognise, and we won't even mention the fans being on stalks
like helicopter rotors...
4) I can confirm that "Simon Black on Venus" is just "Simon Black and
the Spacemen" by another name, renamed by A&R in 1974 when they reissued
some (4?) of the books with boards that were more like cardboard and no
dust jackets. They may have edited the stories for whatever reason, but
it wasn't particularly noticeable. What was notable was the dreadful
artwork that replaced the original illustrations. It was appalling IMO,
and did nothing to make the books attractive. Maybe that's why they only
put out 4 of the 9 titles: potential buyers were put off by the art,
including the tiny cover illustrations.
Thanks for making it this far in my ramblings. I hope they might be of
some help in keeping the page up-to-date, or just of some interest.
Good to hear from you, Phil. Maybe we're the last
two Firefly fans left on Earth! LATER: But no, a new comment under.
December 3rd, 2021
I just thought that I’d add my bit about the discussion on these two
books. (I have both.) Yes, they are definitely the same story, but
no, they are not the same text. SBoV has been shortened, edited and
abridged in a similar way to the “school edition” of Simon Black in
Space. (Of course, if you haven’t seen the difference between that
and the original, it won’t mean much to you, unfortunately.) And
some of the changes to the text seem baffling to me.
Ditto to Phil's comments on the artwork in the re-released
On another matter, I have wondered whether the Fireflys (or is the
correct plural Fireflies?) were part inspiration for at least some
of Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbird craft. Certainly there’s a
functional resemblance between Firefly 1 and Thunderbird 1, Firefly
2 and TB2, and Firefly 3 and TB3.
Thanks for your comments I agree about the
Fireflys (Spellcheck doesn't like the 'ys' spelling) being an
inspiration for Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds.
||OTHER IVAN SOUTHALL
I'll only discuss
books here from my own collection.
THEY SHALL NOT PASS UNSEEN
(A&R, first published in 1958.)
A brilliantly written book, the factual story of
the author's own 461 Squadron (emblem at left),
flying Short Sunderland 4-engined, 27-ton flying
boats during WW2. This is not what purists would
call a "unit history". It does list
outstanding and less so experiences of the
squadron during the war years and contains
details of crews involved - and those who did not
return. Numerous b/w photos taken on missions are
to be seen within. You will be hard-pressed to
find a more enjoyable read, fact or fiction, on
aircraft. This book was used as a basis for the
better known children's book, "Fly
(A&R, first published in 1958.)
The story of our own air ace of WW2, Keith
"Bluey" Truscott, first with 452 Squadron in
England, and later with 76 Squadron in the Pacific. Also
includes the adventures of Irish air ace Paddy Finucane
and other squadron members. Exciting, moving and
generally a well-constructed book which you'll want to
keep reading. Illustrated with b/w photos.
17 SECONDS (H&S 1973
abridged version of SOFTLY TREAD THE BRAVE,
first published in 1960.)
The amazing story of Australia's heroic aerial mine
defusers, John Mould and Hugh Syme, both awarded the
George Medal for their work during WW2. 17 SECONDS was
the time you had to get to safety once the timer began
running. The abridged book was written for younger
readers and no more exciting true life book has ever been
written. I'm currently reading the unexpurgated original
book. Highly recommended.
(A&R 1971) is the story of a boy sent out to stay
with a relative in a Victorian country town which his
family helped build years before. Immensely readable,
funny, sad, exciting; highly recommended! (John, 6.09)
TO THE WILD SKY (A&R
1967, Puffin pb) is the story of six children lost in
Australia after their plane comes down, well off their
set course. How each feels, reacts and survives is
brilliantly described in yet another outstanding work
from the fertile mind of Ivan Southall. Recommended, as
always! (John, 5.10)
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