Condon, Richard

Tagged: Author

(1915-1996) US author, formerly in advertising, employed as a film publicist from 1936 to 1941 for Walt Disney and variously elsewhere until 1958; he is best-known for works outside the sf field such as the Prizzi sequence beginning with Prizzi's Honor (1982), and for rococo fantasies like Money is Love (1975); but several tales, beginning with The Manchurian Candidate (1959), employ sf elements in the complex generic mix characteristic of his fiction. Later made into a well-known film, The Manchurian Candidate (1962) – remade, also successfully, as The Manchurian Candidate (2004) – this novel combines an advanced form of brainwashing (see Memory Edit) and elements of the political thriller (see Politics) in a story of the attempted assassination of the US President by a right-wing conspiracy controlled by an extravagantly poisonous woman – the assassin's actual mother – in the pay of the Chinese (see Yellow Peril), though she plans to betray them as well. Dr Yen-Lo, the courtly Villain responsible for the brainwashing, is clearly based on Sax Rohmer's Dr Fu-Manchu. It is typical of Condon's work in general that the savage social/political Satire it deploys is interwoven with a similar savage depiction of personal/family dysfunction. So extreme is Condon's rendering (and rending) of the US political scene (and of the self-lacerating families who run America) that it is fair to think of much of his work as occupying a series of Alternate Histories: Mile High (1969; rev 1970) argues the premise that Prohibition was long-planned by the Mafia (whose leader is a neurasthenic failed singer) as a hedge against the diminishing market in prostitution and other "vices"; the nihilistic Winter Kills (1974) features the assassination of a JFK-like US President (see Icons) at the behest of his own father.

Several of his later novels are set in distorted Near Future Americas. The Star Spangled Crunch (1974), in which a 142-year-old tycoon manipulates the world through oil crises, is a genuine Comic Inferno; as is The Whisper of the Axe (1976), which augurs a successful overturning of the US Government as part and parcel of the unravelling of a family romance, and the similarly plotted The Emperor of America (1990), a weaker tale about the nuclear destruction of Washington. Death of a Politician (1978) castigates unto death, with Swiftian (see Jonathan Swift) vigour, a criminal figure based unmistakably on Richard Nixon; The Final Addiction (1991), which is again set in a grotesquely corrupt Near Future, remixes much of the previous material, this time lacking Condon's saving savage wit: in his peak novels, the nihilistic savagery of his portrayals of an infernal America are sharpened by a hilarious wit. In all of Condon's work, an almost Magic-Realist intensity of attention to the turns of plot combines with an unerring eye for the hypnotic surface of things to gloss over his profound cynicism about the human animal. But the abyss beneath never shelves. [JC]

see also: Fantasy; Paranoia.

Richard Thomas Condon

born New York: 18 March 1915

died Dallas, Texas: 9 April 1996

works

about the author

  • Joe Sanders. "Fantastic Non-Fantastic: Richard Condon's Waking Nightmares" (Summer 1984 Extrapolation vol 25 #2) [pp127-137: mag/]

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