McCutchan, Philip

Tagged: Author

(1920-1996) UK author, a Sandhurst attendee (though not graduate, as war service took him in 1939), responsible for work in various genres, including a number of historical adventures as by Duncan MacNeil. Of his numerous thrillers, most of which occupy territories subjacent to the James Bond books, several are sf, the majority of these in the twenty-two volumes of his Commander Shaw series, beginning with Gibraltar Road (1960) and ending with Burnout (1995). Of these, Skyprobe (1966), The Screaming Dead Balloons (1968), The All-Purpose Bodies (1969) and The Bright Red Business Men (1969) make the clearest use of sf instruments, though never centrally; several others [see Checklist for entire series] are at least marginal sf, with Inventions marginally in advance of current developments, and other Technothriller devices. The Commander's function is to fight against perils to world peace, as in Redcap (1961), where nuclear sabotage may open the way for a Yellow Peril menace and the possibility of World War Three; and more than once to save the world from Mad Scientists who grow extraterrestrial fungi, construct malign Cyborgs, and so on. Generally, however, the paranoid technothriller model governing the sequence necessitates the destruction of any sf device before the story's end.

Some of McCutchan's individual titles arguably do not suffer from the absence of the commander, though they lack any light touch. In Bowering's Breakwater (1964), a UK liner escapes to a Pacific Island for safety after the start of a nuclear World War Three, but their ship is captured by similarly displaced Chinese soldiers as radiation sickness takes its toll; McCutchan's disdain for military values is manifest throughout. A Time for Survival (1966), a Post-Holocaust story of unremitting bleakness, is set in a lifeless landscape after England has been A-bombed by the Chinese; a few survivors trek away from Portsmouth, along a road nearly as bleak as that depicted in Cormac McCarthy's The Road (2006); after they alert the American navy of their existence, the Americans drop further A-bombs on the dead land, driving those still alive into the sea, a Slingshot Ending with only one conclusion. The Day of the Coastwatch (1968) describes a Near Future Dystopian UK where emigration is forcibly forbidden; the protagonist of the novel, brainwashed partway through, never recovers and causes justified Paranoia in his wife and children. In Flood (1991), Climate Change causes the northern polar icecap to melt suddenly. [JC/PN]

Philip Donald McCutchan

born Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: 13 October 1920

died Worthing, West Sussex: July 1996

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Commander Shaw

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