Tennant, Emma

Tagged: Author

(1937-2017) UK author whose first acknowledged novel – her actual first, The Colour of Rain (1964) as by Catherine Aydy, was not sf – is The Time of the Crack (as "The Crack" in New Worlds 5, anth 1973, ed Michael Moorcock; exp 1973; vt The Crack 1978), an sf novel about an inexplicable faultline – described in terms that imply a gamut of meanings, from Sex to apocalypse – that opens through the heart of London, told at least in part as a Parody of the Cosy Catastrophe tale. The Last of the Country House Murders (1974) is a rather shoddy and very short pastiche of a classic detective novel set in a hazily realized, depressed Near Future in which the last country house is maintained as a relic of a culture which Tennant – a member of the eminent Tennant family – viewed with considerable ambivalence. Indeed, it might be argued that her work as a whole repudiates Empire while seeming to lament its loss, a decline which became precipitate around 1950, certainly for those experiencing at first hand the post-War transformation of Britain.

Some sf devices figure in Hotel de Dream (1976), set in a surreal Keep whose obsessively nostalgic residents begin to find themselves in each other's dreams: the nostalgia they share – for a cleansed and triumphant royal Britain, the kind of land Edwardians might have anticipated, but which World War One destroyed any chance of – somewhat resembles in detail and ironical import the proto-Steampunk Edwardian futures ironically promulgated by Michael Moorcock in his Jerry Cornelius and Oswald Bastable series and elsewhere, intensifying a lifelong practice of self-consciously rifling through existing texts (see Postmodernism and SF). Tennant's next several books – including The Bad Sister (1978), which takes off from The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) by James Hogg (1770-1835), Wild Nights (1979), Alice Fell (1980), Queen of Stones (1982) and Woman Beware Woman (1983; vt The Half-Mother 1985) – tend to combine Gothic furniture, a complex Feminism, supernatural intrusions and a continuing ambivalence. This refusal to settle meaning (or bestow her sanction) upon her characters, her plots or her generic surrounds results in books of dream-like vivacity which, through their tendency to close insecurely, occasionally diminish the insights they have dodged towards. At the same time, works in which she unleashes a strong bent towards Fantastika remain her strongest. Of her later titles of interest, the most interesting are fables in the indeterminate mode of her best work. Two Women of London: The Strange Case of Ms Jekyll and Mrs Hyde (1989) plays on its classic source an intricate game of female possession in the late twentieth century. Sisters and Strangers: A Moral Tale (1990) is a feminist reconstruction of history in which Adam and Eve survive to the present day. Faustine (1992) replays the Faust myth with a female protagonist whose beauty chills the world. Some of Tennant's last novels directly or indirectly reflected, sequelized or parodied the works and world of Jane Austen (1775-1817).

In 1975-1978 Tennant edited the journal Bananas, which published J G Ballard, Angela Carter, John T Sladek and others. Bananas (anth 1977) was taken from the journal, and Saturday Night Reader (anth 1979) fairly represents its bent. [JC]

see also: Women SF Writers.

Emma Christina Tennant

born London: 20 October 1937

died London: 20 January 2017


works as editor


Previous versions of this entry

Website design and build: STEEL

Site ©2011 Gollancz, SFE content ©2011 SFE Ltd.