Erickson, Steve

Tagged: Author

Working name of US author Stephen Michael Erickson (1950-    ), active as a journalist for some years before his first novel, Days Between Stations (1985), quickly established his reputation as an author of dark, journey-haunted, surreal Fabulations about the USA and the twentieth century. Labyrinthine figurations of apocalypse dominate his grey and hyperbolic landscapes; but a powerful sense of geography, notable also in the first Surrealists, gives each of his novels a local habitation, though his symbol-drenched inscapes deliberately eschew any fixed or paraphrasable import. Days Between Stations, set mainly on an allegorically split river, features the attempts of two sensually linked people to make sense of their pasts; the use of doubles (metaphorical or literal Doppelgangers) in this novel marks it as "more" fantasy than sf, though clearly Erickson is a writer whose work inherently occupies realms and discourses of Equipoise. Rubicon Beach (1986) is a more specific allegory of the Matter of America, climaxing in a Hollywood sinking into the Ocean that is all America is going to get. Similarly allegorical are Tours of the Black Clock (1989) – the clock being, in a sense, the twentieth century – and the semidocumentary Leap Year (1989) and American Nomad (1997), both of the latter following the Presidential campaigns conducted in the year before their publication.

Arc d'X (1993) traces the consequences of the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, a black slave (see Slavery) who becomes his mistress, through a variety of Alternate Histories, at least one of which is described through scenes set in 1999; Amnesiascope (1996) returns to a post-apocalypse vision of Los Angeles (see California) – though a Los Angeles temporally detached from the main line of time – echolalic of Days Between Stations and other early work. The Sea Came in at Midnight (1999) intriguingly sees the world at the cusp of the millennium (and for a few decades later) as a sequence of storied apocalypses, each generated (in a sense) by its own Secret History of the world; the further into this century we proceed, the congeries of fragilely storyable versions of history gradually commingle surreally into Virtual Reality-ridden vertigo; a Near Future Tokyo figures. Our Ecstatic Days (2005), which is a kind of sequel to the Sea Came in at Midnight, centres again on Los Angeles, though its range of foci and referents is very wide, encompassing most of Erickson's earlier work, and laying down histories – personal and universal – like footprints in sand. There is some sense that the future itself may be fixable by shared belief. But this is no sure thing. Zeroville (2007), again set in Los Angeles (see California) – which remains Erickson's central venue, a problematic zone where reality and appearance (see Perception), sometimes toxically, interpenetrate – traces with unusual clarity the life of a man obsessed with movies; quite conspicuously, the tale ventures into the territory of the fantastic most famously occupied by Theodore Roszak's Flicker (1991). This is all sf, but not sf at all: if the USA was in truth as self-intoxicated as Erickson portrays it, he would be a Magic Realist, and his oeuvre would be a myth of origin. [JC]

Stephen Michael Erickson

born Santa Monica, California: 20 April 1950

died

works

nonfiction

  • Leap Year (New York: Simon and Schuster/Poseidon, 1989) [nonfiction/fiction mix: hb/Louise Fili]
  • American Nomad (New York: Henry Holt, 1997) [nonfiction: hb/Cliff Nielsen]

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