Goulart, Ron

Tagged: Author

(1933-    ) US author, born in California, where he lived until the late 1960s and which he has made the effective setting (whatever the venue or planet might be called) for much of his sf. After graduation he worked in an advertising agency; he has put on record the influence of this experience on the forming of his concise, polished style. He published his first sf, "Letters to the Editor", for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1952, and wrote many stories before the appearance of his first sf novel, The Sword Swallower (1968), which features the Chameleon Corps of Shapeshifting agents; the book – like much of his ensuing work – is set in a Space-Opera venue called the Barnum System which much resembles Southern California: urbanized, helter-skelter, crazed and balkanized, the planets of this system, where the Corps originates and operates, are populated in large part by traditional comic stereotypes or humours, deftly drawn. Again like many of its successors, this pattern-setting tale features a gangly detective on the trail of a complex crime (see Crime and Punishment); his need to search out clues and suspects takes him (conveniently) through a wide spectrum of scenes and characters. Similarities of plot and setting (and numerous cross-references) dog any anatomizer of series in the Goulart universe, but other books specifically set within the Barnum System – which Goulart added to throughout the most active years of his sf career – are numerous and enjoyable, from The Fire-Eater (1970) through to Everybody Comes to Cosmo's (1988). Other subseries [see Checklist] include the Jack Conger books and the late Exchameleon set; the Star Hawk sequence of Barnum System novels, Empire 99 (1980) and The Cyborg King (1981), are based on the Comic strip illustrated by Gil Kane. A second loose sequence, the Fragmented America series – beginning with the remarkable After Things Fell Apart (1970) and ending with Brinkman (1981) – intriguingly examines, in terms of light-handed Satire, our own world in terms of the moral and cultural disintegration of a civilization modelled upon California; but as usual the aperçus tend to be sharper than the stories they punctuate.

Much of Goulart's other work is, in fact, journeyman, though even in the most desultory tale his smooth dialogue-driven style is always recognizable. In the mid-1970s and 1980s he wrote under various pseudonyms, including the House Names Kenneth Robeson and Con Steffanson, as well as personal pseudonyms like Chad Calhoun, R T Edwards, Ian R Jamieson, Josephine Kains, Jillian Kearny, Howard Lee, Zeke Masters, Frank S Shawn and Joseph Silva; interspersed amongst this work are a substantial array of novelizations and other routine work [see Checklist for relevant titles]. As Goulart, the Vampirella series – Bloodstalk (1975), On Alien Wings (1975), Deadwalk (1976), Blood Wedding (1976), Deathgame (1976) and Snakegod (1976) – featured a sexy Vampire character derived from stories published in Vampirella, a Warren Publishing Comic book which ran from 1969 to 1983; his versions are thinly humorous. The Wild Talents sequence, beginning with A Talent for the Invisible (1973); the Odd Jobs sequence – beginning with Odd Job #101 and Other Future Crimes and Intrigues (coll 1974) and ending with Brainz, Inc. (1985) – is decreasingly gripping as stories segue into novels; the Gypsy sequence about an identity-quest, beginning with Quest of the Gypsy (1976), similarly lacked their author's full attention.

In both the series which occupied him, and in the various titles which clearly did not, a darker, sharper, more attentive aspect of the Goulart vision of California-as-Barnum surfaces in those of his novels – Wildsmith (1972), among others – which focus on the highly humanized, eccentric, wilful Robots which are perhaps his most enduring creation. It is certainly the case that – whether or not Goulart actually wrote every word of them – the Tek sequence signed by William Shatner very precisely revisits this thematic stamping ground. Quite remarkably comic in their deadpan obsessiveness and pernickety sang-froid, Goulart's robots (they are often detectives, perhaps spoofing Isaac Asimov's far more ponderous Olivaw) serve also as genuinely effective icons of a time – the Near Future – and a place – either Southern California itself or the world which it portends – caught in the throes of convulsive change.

The slightness of Goulart's plotting does at times make his satirical intent difficult to perceive, certainly in novels fuelled by jokes; an underlying saliency can be detected more clearly, perhaps, in the shorter work assembled in What's Become of Screwloose? and Other Inquiries (coll 1971), Broke Down Engine and Other Troubles with Machines (coll 1971), Nutzenbolts and More Troubles with Machines (coll 1975) and Skyrocket Steele Conquers the Universe and Other Media Tales (coll 1990) – the last being connected with the novel Skyrocket Steele (1980).

Though he was prolific – until his production in the fields of the fantastic began to taper off in the 1990s – and always acute, it can still be said of Goulart that his dark wit and adroit handling of plot and theme have never been directed to a project of a scope sufficient to give those talents full play. After about 1990, he has focused his energies on fairly extravagant but non-fantastic crime novels, of which the series starring Groucho Marx are perhaps the most enjoyable; this series is listed below. [JC]

see also: Humour; Media Landscape; Robert Hale Limited; Time Travel.

Ronald Joseph Goulart

born Berkeley, California: 13 January 1933




Barnum System

Fragmented America

  • After Things Fell Apart (New York: Ace Books, 1970) [Fragmented America: in the publisher's first Science Fiction Special series: pb/Diane and Leo Dillon]
  • Gadget Man (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1971) [Fragmented America: hb/Peter Rauch]
  • Hawkshaw (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1972) [Fragmented America: hb/Emanuel Schongut]
  • Crackpot (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1977) [Fragmented America: hb/David Wilhelmsen]
  • Brinkman (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1981) [Fragmented America: hb/Bruce Schluter]

Wild Talents

Odd Jobs


Weird Heroes: Gypsy

Skyrocket Steele

Harry Challenge

Battlestar Galactica

Groucho Marx

individual titles

nonfiction (selected)

pseudonymous works (by name)

as by Howard Lee

as by Frank S Shawn

The Phantom

as by Kenneth Robeson

This is a House Name.

as by Con Steffanson

This is a House Name.

as by Josephine Kains

as by Joseph Silva

This pseudonym plays on the name of one of Goulart's detective heroes, Jose Silvera.

as by William Shatner (attributed)


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