Newman, Kim

Tagged: Author | Critic

(1959-    ) UK author and broadcaster who remains as well known for his film criticism as for his fiction, though the latter has become increasingly dominant in his output. His film books express a generically savvy, sophisticatedly wry vision of their subject matters, a vision also articulated in the weekly reviews he has conducted on television since 1989. Newman began publishing sf with "Dreamers" for Interzone in Summer 1984, rapidly establishing a name for liquidly dense tales of the Near Future – or Alternate-History versions of the earlier twentieth century – which combine a more or less standard Cyberpunk idiom with an acute sensitivity to the dream world of the movies, in particular the film noir tradition already mined by authors like William Gibson.

Newman's almost excessive sensitivity to the icons of Hollywood helps distinguish him from his sf models. His first novel, The Night Mayor (1989), potently intensifies the Virtual Reality claustrophobias of cyberpunk through a plot whose villain, the criminal Daine, has escaped into a Magic-Realist, glowing, alternate-world mental construct peopled by personas from detective films of the 1940s, from which haven he must be flushed by the Dream-Hacking protagonists. The book clearly and deliberately harks back to Philip K Dick's darker investigations of the nature of reality and to Roger Zelazny's The Dream Master (1966), though Newman's rather impersonal polish may have kept his tale from fully expressing the epistemological vertigo of some of its greater models; and certainly his use of tropes out of the dream-life of US film is, at times, soothingly nostalgic. His second novel, Bad Dreams (1990), replicates much of this material in terms of Horror, again diminished in its visceral effect by a sense that the author has good-humouredly distanced himself from the products of his imagination. Jago (1991), a full-blown horror tale, once again features an antagonist capable of exercising coercive control over his opponents' inner worlds, in this case by transfiguring their dream self-images into reality, so that – for instance – a farmer anguished by drought and debt becomes a Green Man. The Quorum (1994) is again horror: four ambitious young men (there are roman à clef elements in their depiction) sell their souls to the devil, who manifests himself as a newspaper magnate. Life's Lottery: A Choose-Your-Own Adventure Book (1999) is an Oulipo-esque experiment attempting to apply the mechanics of a choose-your-own adventure Gamebook to the life of an "average" man. As the title suggests, the element of choice (and so the reader's/protagonist's agency) is mocked by the author's control of events. The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School (2015) dashingly combines English children's fiction set in girls' schools and the wider universe depicted in the Harry Potter novels of J K Rowling.

Perhaps Newman's most influential works of fiction are contained in the sequence begun by Anno Dracula (1992; exp 2011). This book is set in a Recursive Alternate-World nineteenth-century England which has been transformed by the marriage of the Vampire Vlad Tepes, Count Dracula, to Queen Victoria. In retrospect, the book's joyful mingling of genre tropes and the ironies of the Victorian era is an early harbinger of Steampunk. Its direct sequel, The Bloody Red Baron (1995), which features among others the protagonist of Jules Verne's Robur the Conqueror (1886), is set in a version of World War One, with the German armies under the control of Dracula. The further novels in the sequence add more complexity to this alternate world, without perhaps the joy of the first volume, though Anno Dracula 1976-1991: Johnny Alucard (2013) – whose venues run from location shoots for Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) directed by Francis Ford Coppola to New York and Hollywood (see California), with real figures like Orson Welles mingling with supernatural – enjoyably foregrounds the series's Satirical elements.

At the same time as writing novels that eat at the consensual world while suggesting that reality could still be addressed in something like comfort, Newman also produced, as Jack Yeovil, a series of Ties for Games Workshop which leapt unashamedly into the explicitly easier environment of the Game-World. Drachenfels (1989), Beasts in Velvet (1991) and Genevieve Undead (1993) are fantasies constructed for the Warhammer enterprise; but the Demon Download sequence – written in the Dark Future series – contains elements of genuine sf, ruthlessly blended into a Near-Future/alternate-world/fantasy/horror/punk mix. Both game-worlds and horror as a genre tend to view Conceptual Breakthroughs as breakers of the dream, and it is not yet certain that Newman is much inclined to engage himself in the displacements necessary to compose full and unadulterated sf.

Newman's short fiction, never less than vividly readable, is collected in several volumes, beginning with The Original Dr. Shade and Other Stories (coll 1994). Throughout his fiction, Newman is fluently in control of genre materials which are only occasionally sf. His real importance is as an explicator and transformer of the stories Western culture has told itself over the last century or more.

Newman wrote many of the Cinema and television entries for the second edition of this encyclopedia. [JC/GS]

see also: BSFA Award; Computers; Dark Future; Gothic SF; Interzone; New Worlds; Psychology.

Kim James Newman

born London: 31 July 1959

died

works

series

Warhammer

  • Drachenfels (Brighton, Sussex: GW Books, 1989) as by Jack Yeovil [tie: Warhammer: pb/Ian Miller]
  • Beasts in Velvet (Brighton, Sussex: GW Books, 1991) as by Jack Yeovil [tie: Warhammer: pb/Chris Baker as Fangorn]
  • Genevieve Undead (Brighton, Sussex: GW Books, 1993) as by Jack Yeovil [tie: Warhammer: pb/]
  • Silver Nails (Nottingham: BL Publishing, 2002) as by Jack Yeovil [tie: Warhammer: pb/Clint Langley]
    • The Vampire Genevieve (Nottingham: BL Publishing, 2005) as by Jack Yeovil [omni of the above four titles: tie: Warhammer: pb/Clint Langley]

Dark Future

Anno Dracula

individual titles

collections and stories

nonfiction (selected)

works as editor

nonfiction works as editor

links

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