Stableford, Brian M

Tagged: Author | Editor | Critic

(1948-    ) UK academic, critic, translator and author, with a degree in Biology and a doctorate in Sociology, which he taught 1977-1988 before turning to writing full-time. He began his writing career early, collaborating with a schoolfriend, Craig A Mackintosh (writing together as Brian Craig), on his first published story, "Beyond Time's Aegis" for Science Fantasy #78 in 1965; much expanded, it was eventually published in book form as Firefly: A Novel of the Far Future (1994), where the initial Dying Earth ambience is carried to its logical conclusion: everyone dies. Stableford then dropped the Brian Craig pseudonym, using it again only in the late 1980s when he undertook to Sharecrop some Ties for a Game-World enterprise (> Games Workshop and listing below). His first novel, Cradle of the Sun (1969 dos), a quest story set in the Far Future, is notable for its colourful imagery; The Blind Worm (1970 dos), hastily written, is in the same vein. In these early works, and in most of his subsequent sf novels, Stableford put his knowledge of biology to good use, constructing a long series of outrageous but plausible Ecologies whose intricacy sometimes overwhelmed the Space-Opera formats to which he generally adhered over the first fifteen years of his career, even those tales placed in the relatively stable frame of the Planetary Romance. This lack of fit between daring and sometimes arduous speculation, often governed through extrapolations based on the theory of Evolution, has marked his career throughout; at its least effective, the attempted marriage of Genre SF idioms and the Scientific Romance gives off a sense of barely concealed impatience with the former.

The early Dies Irae trilogy – The Days of Glory (1971), In the Kingdom of the Beasts (1971) and Day of Wrath (1971) – mixed these usual space-opera trappings with Sword and Sorcery. Based on Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, the trilogy was dismissed as cynical hackwork (not least by Stableford himself); although the narrative has verve, it clearly does not attempt to pay due homage to its source. To Challenge Chaos (1972), the last example of Stableford's juvenilia, is an overextravagant adventure set on the chaotic hemisphere of a planet that intersects another Dimension; short stories associated with this novel are "The Sun's Tears" (October 1974 Amazing), "An Offer of Oblivion" (December 1974 Amazing) and "Captain Fagan Died Alone" (in The DAW Science Fiction Reader, anth 1976, ed Donald A Wollheim).

It was with the Grainger or Hooded Swan series – The Halcyon Drift (1972), Rhapsody in Black (1973; rev 1975), Promised Land (1974), The Paradise Game (1974), The Fenris Device (1974) and Swan Song (1975) – that Stableford began to attract serious notice in America, where his early work was all first published, being marketed there as adventure sf. The Grainger novels – first-person narratives in a Chandleresque style – concern the adventures of the pilot of a Faster-than-Light Spaceship, the Hooded Swan, on a variety of planets. In the first tale Grainger, marooned on a remote world, becomes host to a mind parasite, a benign entity which occasionally takes over his body and drives it to feats of endurance. In later books the increasingly disillusioned, sardonic, pacific Grainger penetrates further biological mysteries, but the series itself holds back from fully articulating the subversiveness of his behaviour, and there is little sense of accumulating burden. A second series – the Daedalus Mission books, comprising The Florians (1976), Critical Threshold (1977), Wildeblood's Empire (1977), The City of the Sun (1978), Balance of Power (1979) and The Paradox of the Sets (1979) – recounts to similar effect the various experiences of the crew of the spaceship Daedalus, which has been sent out to re-contact lost Earth colonies after the Interregnum period frequently found at the heart of the dominant form of American Future History from the 1940s on.

Most of Stableford's fiction has been confined to series, but Man in a Cage (1975), an unformulaic singleton, deals with the Psychology of social adaptation as dramatized through a schizophrenic narrator selected to participate in a space-project where "sane" men have already proved inadequate. A powerfully written but difficult novel, it is slightly reminiscent of the best work of Robert Silverberg and Barry N Malzberg. The Mind-Riders (1976), perhaps somewhat more conventional, is narrated by a cynical boxer who performs via an electronic simulation device while the audience "plugs in" to his emotions. Like Grainger's wonderful spaceship, and like the false personality which "cages" the hero of Man in a Cage, the simulator is an armour surrounding the self (> Mecha), enabling the protagonist to survive in a hostile world. The Face of Heaven (1976) – the first part of a trilogy published in one volume as The Realms of Tartarus (1977) – is a biological phantasmagoria concerning a Utopia built on a huge platform above the Earth's surface, and the conflict with the mutated lifeforms which proliferate below. This tale, choked with ingenious invention and grotesqueries, and The Walking Shadow (1979) stand as Stableford's most clearly Stapledon-esque epics, and show a vein of contemplative wonder that he was later – in the impressive academic study, The Scientific Romance in Britain 1890-1950 (1985) – to characterize as an essential element tending to distinguish British from American sf.

Further novels of interest from this period include The Castaways of Tanagar (1981) and The Gates of Eden (1983). The Asgard trilogy, set on a kind of Hollow Earth in another solar system, begins with Journey to the Center (1982; rev 1989) and was belatedly completed with Invaders from the Centre (1990) and The Centre Cannot Hold (1990). After this trilogy Stableford stopped producing fiction for some time, concentrating on popular and scholarly studies of sf and Futures Studies like The Science in Science Fiction (1982) with David Langford and Peter Nicholls and The Sociology of Science Fiction (1985); he also contributed very widely during this period to a number of journals, including Foundation:, and to various scholarly anthologies, including many of the essays in E F Bleiler's two anthologies devoted to extended studies of individual authors: Science Fiction Writers (anth 1982) and Supernatural Fiction Writers (anth 1985 US 2vols). He has served as contributing editor to both editions of this encyclopedia. Other important works include The Scientific Romance in Britain (see above) and The 2024 Report: A Concise History of the Future, 1974-2024 (1984) with Norman and Christopher MacRae, all writing together as Norman MaCrae, in which the future is treated in Utopian terms, Technology having brought huge benefits to post-bureaucratic-states self-governing small communities.

Stableford returned seriously to fiction with The Empire of Fear (1988), an Alternate History of Europe from the Middle Ages to the present in which immortal Vampires – whose condition is here scientifically premised and shorn of supernatural trappings – dominate the world; told with the geographic sweep and visionary didacticism typical of the Scientific Romance, the book successfully assimilates into sf modes some of the vast lore of the Vampire. The slightly later David Lydyard sequence, comprising The Werewolves of London (1990), The Angel of Pain (1991) and The Carnival of Destruction, focuses on nineteenth/early twentieth century Britain, up to and encompassing the events of World War One; Stableford appropriates here further material from other genres, creating a sequence in which Werewolves, bred by primordial godling-like creatures at the dawn of time, participate in an apocalyptic – and thoroughly discussed – testing of the nature of reality. With these novels, Stableford suddenly became a writer whose fiction befitted his intelligence, for in much of his earlier work a certain tone of chill indifference had tended to baulk the reader's identification. The change was most welcome, and Young Blood (1992) – which could be described as a Scientific Romance about the biochemical roots of human identity within the context of an unconventional Vampire tale – fully justifies the sense that Stableford had entered his years of flourishing.

This sense that Stableford had entered his late prime is even more clearly evident in the long experiment in describing the future that began in a nonfiction book, The Third Millennium: A History of the World AD 2000-3000 (1985) with David Langford, which again provides a vision of Utopia, though with an optimism less forthright than in previous similar work. The Third Millennium, with its focus on biotechnology (> Biology; Genetic Engineering), provided a taking-off point for the sharp tales assembled in Sexual Chemistry: Sardonic Tales of the Genetic Revolution (coll 1991), which is thematically connected to the Biotech Revolution sequence (see below); and underlies the most ambitious sf work of Stableford's career (similarly connected to the Biotech Revolution sequence), the Emortality sequence comprising (here listed according to internal chronology) The Cassandra Complex (2001), Inherit the Earth (July 1995 Analog; exp 1998), Dark Ararat (2002), Architects of Emortality (October 1994 Asimov's as "Les Fleurs du Mal"; exp 1999), The Fountains of Youth (April 1995 Asimov's as "Mortimer Gray's History of Death"; exp 2000) and The Omega Expedition (2002), the last volume playing off on most of what has gone before. The overall story is a Future History conducted in the mode of the Scientific Romance, only intermittently focusing on continuous figures in a long drama consequent upon the near destruction of human life through a biotech Disaster known as the Plague Wars in the distant Near Future, after warnings of disastrous Climate Change have been ignored. The society that then evolves is explained essayistically through an intense application of the principles of Sociology to the various dilemmas and opportunities – from Overpopulation to Immortality and the ultimate Transcendence of our human condition (> Posthuman) – that follow on from the introduction of Nanotechnology-enabled extended lifespans, whose eventual use in Generation Starships justifies the exploration of nearby stars, where First Contact is made and ethical dilemmas proliferate. It is notable that the Utopian world Stableford creates incorporates a vigorously post-nuclear-family culture.

As indicated, much of his work has been loosely retrofitted into the Biotech Revolution sequence including in its own right, among other titles, Designer Genes: Tales of the Biotech Revolution (coll of linked stories 2004), The Undead: A Tale of the Biotech Revolution (2010 pod) and Les Fleurs du Mal: A Tale of the Biotech Revolution (2010 pod) [for titles see Checklist]; the sequence posits a multi-textured future profoundly influenced by Genetic Engineering. Also of sf interest is a later sequence – the Empire of the Necromancers series comprising The Shadow of Frankenstein (coll of linked stories/fixup 2008 pod), Frankenstein and the Vampire Countess (coll of linked stories/fixup, 2009 pod) and Frankenstein in London (coll of linked stories/fixup, 2011 pod) – set in an Alternate History where the Frankenstein Monster is real.

In the twenty-first century Stableford has focused on translations from and studies of the French literature of Decadence, and upon tales intricately derived from and interrogatory of earlier models in the English language, including The Curse of the Coral Bride (in The Last Continent: New Tales of Zothique, anth 1999, edited by John Pelan, as "The Light of Achernar" much exp 2004 pod), a Far Future tale set in the Dying Earth created by Clark Ashton Smith; and The Novel of the Future (2008 pod), a translation of Le roman de l'avenir (1834) by Félix Bodin. In recent years he has also translated dozens of volumes of French sf, much of this, but not all, examples of Gallic ventures into the Scientific Romance; it should be noted that although many of these are described as adaptations, they are all in fact translations in the normal understanding of the term. He has also published a large amount of fiction – including the intensely conveyed The Wayward Muse (coll of linked stories 2005), set in a Decadent artist's colony in an Alternate History where Rome did not fall – and numerous collections of essays, much of this being work that had awaited publication for considerable periods, some of this work being routine, much not. Among his relatively few commercially published novels is Streaking (2006), in which an attempt to argue the possibility of a good-luck gene is perhaps unfortunately embedded in a Gothic context. Perhaps more important than any of these individual titles, however, is Stableford's most ambitious work of nonfiction: Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia (2006), a massive encyclopediacal examination of the complex back-and-forth relationship between speculative fiction and scientific knowledge and advances. This text, and the Emortality sequence (see above), make up together the most sustained, measured, thought-through and extensive body of argument yet presented about sf and the sciences that sf feeds and feeds upon. Stableford's great and sometimes indiscriminate productivity should not conceal the significant achievement, in fiction and in nonfiction, of these two late enterprises, which climax his career. [JC/DP]

see also: Anthropology; Arts; Collections; Cosmology; Critical and Historical Works About SF; Cryonics; Dark Future; Definitions of SF; Eaton Award; Fantasy; Games and Sports; Gods and Demons; Hard SF; History in SF; History of SF; Horror in SF; Interzone; Living Worlds; Media Landscape; Messiahs; Monsters; Mythology; Paranoia; Parasitism and Symbiosis; Pastoral; Precognition; Sex; Steampunk; Zombies.

Brian Michael Stableford

born Shipley, Yorkshire: 25 July 1948

died

works

series

Dies Irae

Grainger/Hooded Swan

Daedalus Mission

Asgard

  • Journey to the Center (Garden City, New York: Nelson Doubleday/Science Fiction Book Club, 1982) [Asgard: hb/Jim Yost]
    • Journey to the Centre (London: New English Library, 1989) [rev of the above: Asgard: pb/Danny Flynn]
      • Asgard's Secret (Waterville, Maine: Five Star, 2004) [rev vt of the above: Asgard: hb/Alan M Clark]
  • Invaders from the Centre (London: New English Library, 1990) [Asgard: pb/Danny Flynn]
    • Asgard's Conquerors (Waterville, Maine: Five Star, 2004) [rev vt of the above: Asgard: hb/Alan M Clark]
  • The Centre Cannot Hold (London: New English Library, 1990) [Asgard: pb/Danny Flynn]
    • Asgard's Heart (Waterville, Maine: Five Star, 2005) [rev vt of the above: Asgard: hb/Alan M Clark]

Warhammer: Orfeo

  • Zaragoz (Brighton, Sussex: GW Books, 1989) as by Brian Craig [tie to the fantasy Wargame: Warhammer: Orfeo: pb/John Blanche]
  • Plague Daemon (Brighton, Sussex: GW Books, 1990) as by Brian Craig [tie to the fantasy Wargame: Warhammer: Orfeo: pb/Les Edwards]
  • Storm Warriors (Brighton, Sussex: GW Books, 1991) as by Brian Craig [tie to the fantasy Wargame: Warhammer: Orfeo: pb/Chris Baker as Fangorn]

Warhammer

  • The Wine of Dreams (Brighton, Sussex: BL Publishing/Black Library, 1991) as by Brian Craig [tie to the fantasy Wargame: Warhammer: pb/Adrian Smith]

Warhammer 40,000

David Lydyard

Books of Genesys

Emortality

Empire of the Necromancers

  • The Shadow of Frankenstein (Encino, California: Hollywood Comics/Black Coat Press, 2008) [coll of linked stories/fixup: pod: Empire of the Necromancers: pb/Daniele Serra]
  • Frankenstein and the Vampire Countess (Encino, California: Hollywood Comics/Black Coat Press, 2009) [coll of linked stories/fixup: pod: Empire of the Necromancers: pb/Daniele Serra]
  • Frankenstein in London (Encino, California: Hollywood Comics/Black Coat Press, 2011) [coll of linked stories/fixup: pod: Empire of the Necromancers: pb/Daniele Serra]

Biotech Revolution

August Dupin

individual titles

collections and stories

works as translator (selected)

Note that the house style employed by Black Coat Press, Stableford's usual publisher, uses the term "adapted" to designate what would elsewhere be considered translations. The consequent tendency of academics to sideline his Black Coat translations on this score is unhelpful to readers.

series

The Blackcoats

Translated works only; for the full series, including magazine publications, see the entry for Paul Féval; for translated non-series titles by this author see individual works below.

The Scientific Marvel Fiction of Maurice Renard

  • Maurice Renard. Doctor Lerne, Sub-God (Encino, California: Black Coat Press, 2010) [pod: exp as coll: trans of Le docteur Lerne, sous-dieu (1908) with one added story: The Scientific Marvel Fiction #1: pb/Gilles Francesco]
  • Maurice Renard. A Man Among the Microbes and Other Stories (Encino, California: Black Coat Press, 2010) [omni: pod: trans of Un Homme chez les Microbes, Scherzo (1928) plus Le Voyage immobile suive d'autres histories singulieres (coll 1908): The Scientific Marvel Fiction #2: pb/Gilles Francesco]
  • Maurice Renard. The Blue Peril (Encino, California: Black Coat Press, 2010) [trans of Le Péril Bleu (1911): The Scientific Marvel Fiction #3: pb/Gilles Francesco]
  • Maurice Renard. The Doctored Man and Other Stories (Encino, California: Black Coat Press, 2010) [trans of Monsieur D'Outremort et autres histoires singulières (coll 1913) plus other material: The Scientific Marvel Fiction #4: pb/Gilles Francesco]
  • Maurice Renard. The Master of Light (Encino, California: Black Coat Press, 2010) [pod: trans of Le Maître de la Lumière (1933): The Scientific Marvel Fiction #5: pb/Gilles Francesco]

The Scientific Romances of J-H Rosny aîné

individual titles

works as editor

series

Dedalus Decadence

works as translator and editor

series

French Proto-Science Fiction

nonfiction

series

Historical Dictionary Series

individual titles

about the author

links

Previous versions of this entry

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