Tuesday, January 13, 2009

SF authors born 1894-1903: 1903

1. George Orwell
2. John Wyndham


George Orwell (1903-1950)

Not a Radium-Age SF author.

Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English author. His work is marked by a profound consciousness of social injustice, an intense dislike of totalitarianism, and a passion for clarity in language.

Considered "perhaps the 20th century’s best chronicler of English culture",[2] he wrote works in many different genres including fiction, polemics, journalism, memoir and critical essays. His most famous works are two novels, Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).

* Nineteen Eighty-Four (Harcourt, 1949) is a classic dystopian novel by English author George Orwell. It is set in the eponymous year and focuses on a repressive, totalitarian regime. The story follows the life of one seemingly insignificant man, Winston Smith, a civil servant assigned the task of falsifying records and political literature, thus effectively perpetuating propaganda, who grows disillusioned with his meagre existence and so begins a rebellion against the system. The novel has become famous for its portrayal of surveillance and society's increasing encroachment on the rights of the individual. Since its publication the terms Big Brother and Orwellian have entered the popular vernacular.


John Wyndham (1903-1969)

John Wyndham was the pen name used by the often post-apocalyptic British (Golden Age) science fiction writer John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris. Early in his career, Wyndham used various other combinations of his names, such as "John Beynon" or "Lucas Parkes."

During WWII Wyndham served first as a censor in the Ministry of Information, then entered the army to serve as a Corporal cipher operator in the Royal Corps of Signals. He participated in the Normandy landings, although was not involved in the first days of the landings. After the war Wyndham altered his writing style and by 1951, using the "John Wyndham" pen name for the first time, wrote the novel The Day of the Triffids. People were allowed to assume that it was a first novel from a previously unknown writer. The book proved to be an enormous success and established Wyndham as an important exponent of science fiction.

Radium-Age SF:

* "The Lost Machine" (Amazing Stories, TK 1932). The Lost Machine is the posthumous history of an artificial intelligence's experiences on the barbaric planet Earth in the primitive times of the early 20th Century. One of Wyndham's most anthologized works, which was published first in Amazing Stories, it is a predecessor to Isaac Asimov's robot tales. Its narrator is a machine from Mars, lost on the third planet, the earth. "I know what it is to be an intelligent machine in a world of madness," the visitor concludes before dissolving itself.

Other SF (incomplete list):

* "The Man from Beyond" (1934). The Man From Beyond sees a human desperately attempting to convince the people of Venus to have nothing to do with their neighbours in space as they are without hope of redemption.

* The Secret People (1935). Set in 1964, The Secret People takes us to a place intruders never leave. After Mark Sunnet's rocket plane crashes in the Sahara Desert, which is being turned into a "New Sea" by France and Italy in a monumental feat of engineering, he and his girlfriend Margaret find themselves prisoners of a people determined to keep their existence secret. These short-statured people (who resemble white pygmies) dwell in an underground network of vast caves and are, on the face of it, mired in primitivism. The caves are lit by luminous globes of unknown power, suggesting that this civilization was once highly developed technologically but is now long past its time of glory. While Margaret and her cat become a focus of worship, Mark is thrown in with the other prisoners. These are people of various nationalities who were unfortunate enough to stray into the pygmies' domain over the years — destined to live out their lives subsisting on the fungus of giant mushrooms which grow in the caves. While many are slumped in apathy, some of the captives have preserved their sanity by working on an escape tunnel. The rising water levels have heightened the sense of urgency. The "submerged nation" theme was derived from Wells's The Time Machine (1895).

* Planet Plane (also known as Stowaway to Mars, 1936). Written by a young, pre-Triffids Wyndham under the name John Beynon, this is a less well developed effort that nonetheless shows his talent. The plot is standard, with an attractive female stowaway joining an all-male crew on a race to be the first nation to land on Mars, but it's graced with original details and intelligent epithets such as "Mind is the control of brain by memory," and the fast-paced plot keeps you reading. The most interesting elements are the Martian landscape, the rusty berserk Martian robots, and the sad remains of the Martian people whose cities are like a series of empty rooms. When the story turns into a space romance, you understand why the stowaway had to be female.

* The Day of the Triffids (Michael Joseph, 1951). Although Wyndham had already written other novels, this was the first that he had written under this name and it appeared to be by a new author. It was this novel which established him as an important writer, and remains his best known. The Day of the Triffids was cited by Karl Edward Wagner as one of the thirteen best science-fiction horror novels. Arthur C. Clarke called it an "immortal story". In his book Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, Brian Aldiss coined the term cosy catastrophe to describe the subgenre of post-war apocalyptic fiction in which society is destroyed save for a handful of survivors, who are able to enjoy a relatively comfortable existence. He specifically singled out The Day of the Triffids as an example of this genre.

* The Kraken Wakes (Michael Joseph, 1953; published in the United States as Out of the Deeps).

* The Chrysalids (Michael Joseph, 1955; published in the United States as Re-Birth). Homo Superior novel.

* The Midwich Cuckoos (Ballantine, 1957). Filmed twice as Village of the Damned.

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