Wednesday, December 31, 2008

SF authors born 1884-93: 1884

1. John Ernest Bechdolt
2. Alexander Belayev (Belyaev?)
3. Hugo Gernsback
4. A. Merritt
5. Yevgeny Zamyatin


John Ernest Bechdolt (1884-?)

US journalist. He was with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer 1906-16. He then moved to New York to work as a reader at Munsey Publications. His first novel was The Torch.

* The Torch (Argosy, January 24, 1920). Adventure in the New York of 3050 AD after a world catastrophe.


Alexander Belayev (Belyaev? 1884-1942)

Russian author, confined to bed for years by tuberculoisis of the spine. He produced many SF books, of which only two have seen English translation (true?).

Alexander Belayev, the first-and very nearly the best-Soviet science fiction writer, was born in 1884 in Smolenak. When a little boy Alexander was full of ideas. One of them was to fly. And he did fly - from the rooftop - until one day he fractured his spine. This was put right, but at the age of 32 he developed bone tuberculosis and was bed-ridden for nearly six years and later for shorter stretches. His first novel, Professor Dowell's Head, serialized in a popular magazine in 1926, was an immediate success. Since then Belayev wrote fifty-odd novels - many of them as topical as if written today - reaching the one-million copy mark by January 1942 when he died near Leningrad. His best known books are the Amphibian, A Jump into Nothingness and the Island of Dead Ships.

* The Amphibian (Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, nd — late '50s; original publication?). Originally written in 1928. It is similar to Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau, but set in Argentina with the creation of weird life forms including a man with gills. It was filmed as The Amphibian Man. "The Amphibian will throw you back to a time when skin and deep-sea diving had not yet made the Silent World begin yielding up its secrets on a really big scale, as aqualung and snorkel are doing today, and present to you Alexander Belayev's 1928 prevision of the ocean mastered by mankind. Sea-devil has appeared in the Rio de la Plata. Weird cries out at sea, slashed fishermen's nets, glimpses of a most queer creature astride a dolphin leave no room for doubt. The Spaniard Zurita, greed overcoming his superstition, tries to catch Sea-devil and force it to pearl-dive for him but fails. On a lonely stretch of shore, not far from Buenos Aires, Dr. Salvator lives in seclusion behind a high wall, whose steel-plated gates only open to let in his Indian patients. The Indians revere him as a God but Zurita has a hunch that the God on land and the devil in the sea have something in common. Enlisting the help of two wily Araucanian brothers he sets out to probe the mystery. As action shifts from the bottom of the sea to the Spaniard's schooner The Jellyfish and back again, with interludes in sun-drenched Buenos Aires and countryside, the mystery of Ichthyander the sea-devil is unfolded before the reader in a narrative as gripping as it informative."

MOVIE: "There is panic in a small seaside town as reports of a "sea devil" are terrifying the local fishermen. No one has seen him up close, but a beautiful girl named Gutiere meets and falls in love with the so-called devil, who turns out to be an amphibian man whose element is the sea. By falling in love with Gutiere, who is forced to marry the treacherous Zurita, he is subjecting his life to a deadly risk. This romantic melodrama, based on Alexander Belyaev's novel, was a box-office smash in the USSR in 1961. This immensely popular science fiction film is taken from the novel by Russian author Alexander Belyayev. A scientist has turned his son into an amphibious creature. Ikhtiandr Vladimir Korenev frightens the superstitious pearl divers of the mythical Latin country as he lurks in his underwater world. Ikhtiadr falls in love with the beautiful fisherman's daughter Guttiere Marianna Vertinskaya after he saves her from a shark attack. When she marries a despicable diver, Ikhtiandr leaves his liquid life behind to walk on land. His time on land is limited and he must eventually return to the water to survive. Evil villains try to kill him by making sure he does not return to the safety of the water. Korenev was a popular Russian heartthrob and for years had a dedicated following of enamored female fans. Marianna Vertinskaya later went on to place Ophelia in the brilliantly produced Russian version of Hamlet. She continues to be one of Russia's most respected theater actresses. ~ Dan Pavlides, All Movie Guide"

* The Struggle in Space (1928; translated A. Parry) (Arfor, USA, 1965). Death rays, evil Americans, and the conquest of the USA.


Hugo Gernsback (TK)


* Ralph 124C 41+: A Romance of the Year 2660 (Stratford Co.: Boston, 1923. Serialized in Modern Electrics, April 1911-March 1912. Revised for book publication.) TK


A. (Abraham) Merritt (1884-1943)

American (born in New Jersey) journalist, successful newspaper editor (at the Philadelphia Inquirer and New York's American Weekly); from 1937-43 was editor in chief of the American Weekly. Amateur student of archaeology, anthropology, magic, and the history of mythology and religions.

[I]n the fields of science fiction and fantasy there is probably no other great reputation of the past that has suffered as much as that of A. Merritt.... [O]ne could call him the most romantic (in the late nineteenth-century sense of the word) major science fiction writer of his day, perhaps of the twentieth century. Among his contemporaries only the young C.L. Moore came close to him in sweeping ideas, high emotion, and perpetual suggestions of deeper phenomena beneath the surface of events. — E.F. Bleiler, Science Fiction Writers, ed. Richard Bleiler, 2d edition

During the 1930s and '40s, Merritt was considered the greatest SF writer of modern times; he even had a magazine — A. Merritt's Fantasy Magazine — named in his honor. Bleiler suggests that Merritt's clumsy art nouveau style — ornament (failed attempts at incantatory prose rhythms, near-parodic showers of adjectives, ham-fisted references to the world's myths and religions) thrown upon an otherwise bare, formalized surface — might be to blame. Though this is precisely what pulp fiction readers at the turn of the century admired his writing for.

The mythic quality of Dwellers in the Mirage, with its formal structuring and psychological inner drama, is still vital... as for the rest of Merritt's work, it belongs back in the 1920s and 1930s, perhaps occasionally to be stroked for nostalgia, but maintainable only by taxidermy. — E.F. Bleiler, Science Fiction Writers, ed. Richard Bleiler, 2d edition

* "The People of the Pit" (All-Story, January 5, 1918). Set in Alaska. A recognition of alien horrors lurking unsuspected beneath the surface of things. The narrator meets a dying man who tells of descending infinite steps and encountering, at the bottom of a valley, an alien world dominated by prehuman, hostile, incomprehensible beings that seem to be animated light. Man is powerless against these higher beings.

* "The Moon Pool" (All-Story, June 22, 1918). The story that — with its sequel — established Merritt's reputation. A story of supernatural horror told in terms of science fiction. Set around the megalithic ruins of Ponape, in Micronesia. A shining, seemingly insubstantial being emerges from a pool in an underground vault among the ruins. Accompanied by musical effects and sensations that combine utter bliss and pain, the Dweller absorbs those it encounters.

* "The Conquest of the Moon Pool" (All-Story, February 14 - March 29, 1919). Sequel to "The Moon Pool." A Lost Race story, with motifs from H. Rider Haggard's When the World Shook (1919). Wicked villains, a lustful vamp, muscular heroes — treachery, plots, and counterplots. An exploration party opens the portals that seal off the Dweller and, to the accompaniment of scientific marvels, enters a huge subterranean world inhabited by the descendants of people from a lost continent. The science of the hidden land is higher than that of the surface world, but there are signs of decadence: tyranny, a luxurious and debased ruling class, and a frightful religion based on feeding the Shining One, the Dweller of the first story. At the moment, the sunken land is ripe for either emerging and conquering the world, or falling into civil war. The Shining One, it transpires, is a synthetic being created by a prehuman race of intelligent reptilian beings; the victims he's taken over all still exist, half-alive, within its membranes. We also encounter various alien forms of life, and the Silent Ones, three of the reptilian semideities who exist, half-imprisoned, until they can find the courage or strength to destroy the Shining One. An obnoxious Irish-American hero and a wicked German (later, Russian) also figure in the plot.

* The Metal Monster (Argosy All-Story, August 7 - September 25, 1920). Merritt called this his "best and worst" novel. Set in Central Asia, it is a lost-race novel (ancient Persians) with a metal being — larger than a city block — composed of living metal molecules roughly comparable to the molecules of a human body or the pieces of an erector set. This alien being, sentient and intelligent after its own fashion, is strangely involved in an erotic empathy with a human female. But it carries within itself, among its variously shaped components, the seeds of civil war. Ultimately it short-circuits itself, plans for world geometrization unrealized.

* The Ship of Ishtar (Argosy All-Story, November 8 - December 13, 1924). A long novel set in a parallel world where the divinities of ancient Mesopotamia openly interfere in human life and themselves carry on strongly felt feuds. (Hello, Douglas Rushkoff's Testament.) Unusual in ending with the death of all the major characters. In the late 1930s, readers voted this the best story to ever appear in Argosy and All-Story.

* "The Woman of the Wood" (Weird Tales, August 1926)> The 2d-most popular work ever to appear in Weird Tales. On one level a story of madness, and on another of supernatural empathy. McKay, staying in the Vosges, sees the trees as beautiful men and women. They beg for help against the woodcutter Polleau and his family; attempting to aid the trees, McKay is responsible for the deaths of th Polleaus.

* The Face in the Abyss (1931: Combines "The Face in the Abyss" (Argosy All-Story, September 8, 1923) and its sequel, "The Snake Mother" (Argosy All-Story, October 25-December 6, 1930). Set in the isolated fastnesses of the Andes, where remains of ancient Atlanteans still live. Although possessed of fragments of their former superior science, the people of Yu-Atlanchi are hopelessly decadent and ready for a suitable purge. Greed and Folly are hypostatized abstractions that take part in life and influence humans. The Snake Mother is the last survivor of a race of serpent-people who first set man on the path toward civilization. An uneven novel.

* Dwellers in the Mirage (Argosy, January 23-February 27, 1932). Merritt's finest SF work? Set in Alaska. A Central Asiatic culture — with elements of Norse religion and mythology — survives in a lost valley in Alaska, hidden beneath a miragelike atmospheric lens. The culture of this lost land worships a horrible monstrosity, which now emerges from another dimension. Leif's ancestral memory (or psychosis) takes over his personality and wreaks havoc on him and his associates. Another memorable character: the erotic, power-mad Lur. In early versions, Leif escapes with Evalie (a girl from outside the valley); in later versions, Evalie is killed by Lur, and although Leif escapes he's utterly broken. E.F. Bleiler writes that "the frequent mythological comparisons are, for the first time in Merritt's work, integrated with the story and not merely obtrusive atmospheric devices."

* "The Last Poet and the Robots" (Fantasy Magazine, April 1934). TK Bleiler says: "trivial."


Yevgeny Zamyatin (TK)

* I've written about WE for the Boston Globe.

More TK

No comments:

Post a Comment