Stevens, Francis

Tagged: Author

Pseudonym of US author Gertrude Barrows Bennett (1883-1948), who began to publish work of genre interest with "The Curious Experience of Thomas Dunbar" in Argosy for March 1904 as by G M Barrows, and who ended her career with twelve quite highly acclaimed tales for the early Pulp magazines, all between 1917 and 1923. The longer stories include The Nightmare (14 April 1917 All-Story Weekly; 2003 chap) set in a surreal Lost World embedded in a Pacific Island with a storyline that sometimes prefigures the Television series Lost (2004-2010); "The Labyrinth" (27 July-10 August 1918 All-Story Weekly), "Avalon" (16 August-6 September 1919 Argosy), Serapion (19 June-10 July 1920 Argosy; 2003 chap), an exercise in cosmic horror evocative of later Horror in SF; and Sunfire (July-September 1923 Weird Tales; 1996 chap). Shorter stories include The Elf Trap (5 July 1919 Argosy; 2003 chap), Friend Island (7 September 1918 All-Story Weekly; 2011 ebook), an amused but telling Feminist tale, and "Behind the Curtain" (21 September 1918 All-Story Weekly). Five of these were assembled as The Elf Trap (coll 2003) and all eight mentioned above were later assembled as The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy (coll 2004).

Of Stevens's full-length novels, the sf content is highest in her Satire, The Heads of Cerberus (15 August-15 October 1919 Thrill Book; 1952), in which a grey dust from a silver vial transports its inhalers, via a mysterious plain or plane where time seems to run fast though the protagonists do not age correspondingly (see Time Distortion), into one of perhaps innumerable Parallel Worlds, this one containing a Dystopian gangster-run Philadelphia in the year 2118, a city-state whose post-1918 history has been shaped by the inventor of the dust, Norman Power, who seems (like a character from Philip K Dick) to inhabit all the worlds to which he gives potential life; in the end, the protagonists are cast back to 1918 by an explosion which dissolves the subatomic basis of the material universe of this 2118. It has been argued that The Heads of Cerberus may be the first Alternate World tale, certainly the first to appear in an American Genre SF context; the story does not, however, base itself on an alternate history of the world before 1918 (there is no Jonbar Point), but issues instead a Dreadful Warning of what might eventually come to pass after that date, a warning which, as usual in Utopias or Dystopias set in the future, is couched in the form of a potted Future History.

Other novels include a Lost-World tale, The Citadel of Fear (14 September-6 October 1918 Argosy Weekly; 1970) and Claimed (6-20 March 1920 Argosy Weekly; 1966) in which an elemental being recovers an ancient artefact. A similarity in style and imagery led many readers to believe that Stevens was a pseudonym of A Merritt, who in fact was aware early on of her work, was influenced by it, and who praised her straightforwardly. [JC/JE]

see also: Fantastic Voyages; Games and Sports; Women SF Writers.

Gertrude Barrows Bennett

born Minneapolis, Minnesota: 18 September 1883

died California: 1948

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collections and stories

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