Tuesday, January 6, 2009

SF authors born 1834-43: 1842

Note: Influential SF authors born in the Thirties are included on this blog, but they're rarely, if ever, Radium-Age authors themselves.

1. Ambrose Bierce


Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?)

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce was an American editorialist, journalist, short-story writer and satirist. Today, he is best known for his short story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and his satirical dictionary, The Devil's Dictionary.

In 1887, he published a column called The Prattle and became one of the first regular columnists and editorialists to be employed on William Randolph Hearst's newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner, eventually becoming one of the most prominent and influential among the writers and journalists of the West Coast. He remained associated with Hearst Newspapers until 1906.

He wrote realistically of the things he had seen in the war in such stories as "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," "Killed at Resaca," and "Chickamauga". Bierce was considered a master of "Pure" English by his contemporaries, and virtually everything that came from his pen was notable for its judicious wording and economy of style. In addition to his ghost and war stories, he published several volumes of poetry and verse. His Fantastic Fables anticipated the ironic style of grotesquerie that turned into a genre in the 20th century.

One of Bierce's most famous works is his much-quoted book, The Devil's Dictionary, originally an occasional newspaper item which was first published in book form in 1906 as The Cynic's Word Book. It consists of satirical definitions of English words which lampoon cant and political double-talk.

In 1913, Bierce traveled to Mexico to gain a firsthand perspective on that country's ongoing revolution. While traveling with rebel troops, the elderly writer disappeared without a trace.

* "Moxon's Master," in The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, Vol. 3: Can Such Things Be? (Walter Neale: Washington, 1909). One of two SF stories added to the enlarged edition of Bierce's 1893 story collection. The narrator visits his friend, Moxon, in San Jose. They discuss the nature of life and the properties of mechanism — specifically, what it what it is to be "thinking" and "intelligent" — while in the background there is a complex by-play with something in the next room. The narrator leaves, then returns to the house and heads toward the machine room, where he finds Moxon playing a chess game with an automaton. Moxon wins the game, and the automaton kills him in an apparent fit of rage. The narrator later questions whether what he saw was real, although he does not directly deny it. This sequence of events is usually interpreted as a story about a vicious robot that murdered its inventor; Bleiler, however, thinks it's more likely to be a murder mystery in which the young man was skillfully misled by the killers.

Bierce books:

* The Fiend's Delight (1873)
* Cobwebs from an Empty Skull (1874)
* The Dance of Death (with Thomas A. Harcourt and William Rulofson, as William Herman) (1877)
* Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (also known as In the Midst of Life) (1891)
* Black Beetles in Amber (1892)
* The Monk and the Hangman's Daughter (1892)
* Can Such Things Be? (1893)
* Fantastic Fables (1899)
* The shadow on the dial, and other essays (1909)
* The Devil's Dictionary (1911) (first published in book form as The Cynic's Wordbook, 1906)
* Collected Works (1909)
* Write It Right (1909)
* A Horseman in the Sky, A Watcher by the Dead, The Man and the Snake (1920)??
* A Vision of Doom: Poems by Ambrose Bierce (1980)

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