Oppenheim, E Phillips

Tagged: Author

(1866-1946) UK author, publishing at least 160 novels from 1887 until just before his death, some as by Anthony Partridge; most of them are tales of espionage or society detective mysteries, the best known being The Great Impersonation (February-July 1919 The Grand Magazine; 1920), a non-fantastic thriller. His sf novels of interest – several of the titles given in the Checklist below are romantic-fantasy potboilers, some with Ruritanian elements – begin with Mysterious Mr Sabin (1898), whose mysterious protagonist attempts in the very Near Future to foment a German Invasion of Britain with the aid of his Invention of a devastating electric Weapon.

Variations on this pattern of story would recur throughout Oppenheim's long career, generally focusing upon charismatic figures who foment or prevent War while conducting romances. Titles include The Great Prince Shan (November 1921-January 1922 Blue Book; 1922), whose mysterious protagonist – his powers make him into a kind of Superman – rules China in the Near Future and helps save the world from conflict; The Wrath to Come (February-May 1924 Everybody's Magazine; 1924), which unwraps a World War Two-like scenario, with America threatened by a 1940s German-Russian-Japanese axis; Gabriel Samara, Peacemaker (March-July 1925 Everybody's Magazine as "The Great Samara"; 1925; vt Gabriel Samara 1925; vt Exit a Dictator 1939), again set in the 1940s, in which Samara overthrows the Bolshevik rulers of Russia and establishes a capitalist Utopia in its place as well as restoring the monarchy; Matorni's Vineyard (1928). in which a 1940s conspiracy to instigate World War Two is foiled; Up the Ladder of Gold (1931), in which the world's richest man attempts to coerce the governments of the world to make a very Near Future world peaceful again; The Spy Paramount (1935), whose protagonist persuades France to demonstrate her secret Weapon, a disintegrating Ray known as the hellnotter, thus establishing international peace; The Dumb Gods Speak (29 August-31 October 1936 Collier's Weekly; 1937), in which another secret Weapon, a Ray which cancels all electromagnetic activity, is used initially to end the Japanese invasion of the Philippines by destroying its fleet, and is later brought to bear during a world crisis in 1947;and Mr Mirakel (1943), which repeats some of these themes as realized within the frame of a Keep-like enclave where the eponymous aspirational Secret Master hopes to save a taste of civilization while the world seems to end without the walls.

Other sf titles include A Daughter of Astrea (1898), a Lost Race tale; The Great Awakening (1902; vt A Sleeping Memory 1902), in which an innocent shopgirl is subject to an experimental Memory Edit by a Mad Scientist; The Double Life of Mr Alfred Burton (1913), a Near Future Satire about a bean (see Drugs) which forces those who eat it to tell the truth; and The Black Box (1915), a Tie to the film The Black Box (1915) directed by Otis Turner, in which a "missing link" (see Apes as Human) bites the protagonist, turning him into a dual personality, all being revealed when the Invention of the eponymous Telepathy-inducing device shows the "Hyde" side of the Professor committing dark sins in a mirror.

Oppenheim's limitations were obvious – snobbishness, careless writing, a constant slackness in the middle of his tales – but his capacity to carry the reader along with him was at times extraordinary. [JC]

Edward Phillips Oppenheim

born London: 22 October 1866

died St Peter Port, Guernsey: 3 February 1946

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