Boothby, Guy

Tagged: Author

(1867-1905) Australian-born playwright and author, schooled in the UK 1874-1883, again resident in the UK from 1894, author of a large number of books in various genres; he remains best known for his Dr Nikola sequence: A Bid for Fortune; Or, Dr Nikola's Vendetta (1895) [for magazine appearance and subtitles see Checklist below], where his capacity to mesmerize his victims (see Hypnosis) is made explicit; Doctor Nikola (1896), which is mostly set in a Tibetan Lost World; The Lust of Hate (1898), in which nefarious Inventions proliferate; Dr Nikola's Experiment (1899) where, like Jules Verne's Captain Nemo, he begins marginally to soften his contempt for the human race; and "Farewell, Nikola" (1901). The first and last titles have relatively little sf content, though they are a necessary frame for the central volumes, who all feature the central presence of the Mephistophelian Mad Scientist and Antihero Nikola, who combines aspects of the Accursed Wanderer figure from early nineteenth-century Gothic literature (see Verne above and Lord Byron; Vampires; Wandering Jew) and George du Maurier's Svengali (from Trilby [1894]); whose given name evokes Nikola Tesla (perhaps deliberately); and who is a clear precursor of both H G Wells's Dr Moreau (from The Island of Dr Moreau [1896]) and Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu. The overall story focuses on his search for a Tibetan process that will resuscitate the dead and ensure Immortality in the living, a quest to which he sacrifices others during the course of his experiments: his surgical laboratory being stocked with Monsters (see Apes as Human; Devolution), and one grotesque mutilated human whose giant head must be fixed in a supporting tripod in order to remain upright. But there are some hints in both Dr Nikola and Dr Nikola's Experiment that – unhampered by any undue compunction, armed with increasing Psi Powers and accompanied by a huge seemingly supernatural cat named Apollyon [for Cats see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] – he may have reached his goal.

Nikola's venomous hatred of imperial Britain is if anything intensified in Pharos, the Egyptian: A Romance (June-November 1898 The Windsor Magazine; 1899), whose ancient protagonist, cursed with Immortality, infects a dupe with a deadly plague which kills millions across Europe. Boothby wrote at least two Ruritanian novels, The Fascination of the King (1897), in which a Ruritanian adventurer establishes a kingdom somewhere near China, and "Long Live the King!" (December 1899-May 1900 The Windsor Magazine; 1900), in which monarchy is restored to Pannonia, in obedience to the strict prophecies of a gypsy. Some other titles in his large oeuvre are of some interest, including The Woman of Death (1900), about a She figure whose powers of Precognition fail to help her seduce the almost supernaturally insouciant English aristocrat she longs for (see Sex) in Paris (see Decadence).

A proportion of Boothby's shorter fiction, variously assembled and almost always less accomplished than his novels, is supernatural. The title story of A Crime of the Under-Seas (coll 1905) hints at but does not produce a fantastic Invention, though "The Treasure of Sacramento Nick" (1 May 1894 Macmillan's Magazine), collected in the same volume, evokes an implied Lost World and describes its 200-year-old ruler. A careless and over-prolific writer whose best tales were written early, Boothby died young, truncating a career that, had he had time to learn to take more care, might have included more ambitious work. [JC]

see also: Forgotten Futures.

Guy Newell Boothby

born Adelaide, South Australia: 13 October 1867

died Bournemouth, Hampshire: 26 February 1905

works (selected)

series

Dr Nikola

individual titles

collections and stories

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