(1924-2014) US writer who began to publish work of genre interest with "Professor Hyde" for Playboy in December 1961, but who was best known for his work outside the sf field, like the Western epic Little Big Man (1964), which combines farce and Fabulation; the Little Big Man, who is 111, narrates his tale with supernatural vigour. The sequel, The Return of Little Big Man (1999), moves even further from anything like a Western. In general, his novels read as though they are generated by spontaneous conceits – some of them fantastic, some Postmodern – which he treats with an absolute, dead-pan seriousness; each tale constitutes a blackly comic and chastening argument from premise. Perhaps because of this conceptual and generic range, he never gained the critical attention he clearly merited.
Berger's large oeuvre includes several works of sf or fantasy interest: Vital Parts (1970) contains a modest but savage examination of Cryonics; Regiment of Women (1973) presents a world about a century hence where the roles of men and women have been completely reversed, direly for the men. Arthur Rex: A Legendary Novel (1978) achieves comedy through faithfulness to its rich material; Nowhere (1986), a yawningly vacuous spoof on Samuel Butler's Erewhon (1871), is terrifyingly bland; Being Invisible (1987) plays with Invisibility; Changing the Past (1989) plays with Alternate History and Time Paradoxes; Robert Crews (1994) is a Robinsonade; and Adventures of the Artificial Woman (2004) narrates the travails of an Android, created by an animatronics designer as a Sex toy, who fails to please men because she is too literal, but after doing a nude Macbeth becomes a film star. The Satire broadens as her career moves into politics; in her presidential campaign, her defeated opponent is a heavy caricature of the second President Bush. A further relevant Playboy appearance is "Planet of the Losers" (November 1988 Playboy).
In all Berger's work the laws of human nature, operating like theorems, show that all lives, even (for instance) those we might aspire to could we ourselves enter a changed past, are lived in bondage to the march of inalterable law. [JC]
see also: Sociology; Time Travel.
Thomas Louis Berger
born Cincinnati, Ohio: 20 July 1924
died Nyack, New York: 13 July 2014
Little Big Man
- Vital Parts (New York: Richard W Baron, 1970) [hb/Fred Streitfeld]
- Regiment of Women (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973) [hb/Paul Bacon]
- Arthur Rex: A Legendary Novel (New York: Delacorte Press, 1978) [hb/Jean-Leon Huens]
- Granted Wishes: Three Stories (Northridge, California: Lord John Press, 1984) [coll: chap: hb/nonpictorial]
- Nowhere (New York: Delacorte Press, 1986) [hb/Fred Marcellino]
- Being Invisible (Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown, 1987) [hb/Paul Bacon]
- Changing the Past (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989) [hb/Paul Bacon]
- Robert Crews (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994) [hb/Honi Werner]
- Meeting Evil (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003) [introduction by Jonathan Lethem: hb/]
- Adventures of the Artificial Woman (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004) [hb/Jason Fulford]
about the author
- Brooks Landon. Thomas Berger (Boston, Massachusetts: Twayne, 1989) [nonfiction: in the publisher's Critical Essays on American Literature series: hb/nonpictorial]
- Brooks Landon. Understanding Thomas Berger (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2009) [nonfiction: in the publisher's Understanding Contemporary American Literature series: hb/photographic]
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