(1959- ) US author whose work frequently utilizes sf topoi, in which context he exhibits none of the dis-ease typical of late twentieth-century Mainstream Writers of SF, a group to which he might plausibly be thought to belong. His vast gawping omnivorous oeuvre – comprising both fiction and intensely committed gonzo reportage – evokes in fact writers as far removed as Herman Melville or Jack Kerouac or a Norman Mailer capable of finishing a project. His debut novel, You Bright and Risen Angels: A Cartoon (1987), is an immense Fabulation whose interweavings of Paranoia and Cyberpunk tended to remind critics of the work of Thomas Pynchon. The war between the villain, who is attempting to control the world through an information web, and the "bugs" caught in his system, who attempt to remain subversively free, is also (see Equipoise, Postmodernism and SF) a war of words between contrasting methods of defining and controlling "reality". The stories assembled in The Rainbow Stories (coll of linked stories 1989), though they depict extreme states of being, almost entirely eschew fantasy; but some of the stories in Thirteen Stories and Thirteen Epitaphs (coll 1991), including one set in a version of New York called Gun City, are Fantasy. All the works assembled as Last Stories and Other Stories (coll 2014) are supernatural, death-haunted tales in which historical events and locales are interwoven with interventions by ghosts and other entities, with a cumulating effect of Magic Realism rendered with considerable intensity; some references to H P Lovecraft are included.
The ongoing sequence entitled Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes – of which The Ice-Shirt (1990) is the first instalment, Fathers and Crows (1992) is the second, Argall: The True Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith (2001) is the third, The Dying Grass (2015) is the fifth, and The Rifles (1994) is the sixth – attempts to construct out of language and Mythology and history a new version of America. Of more direct sf interest is the vast Europe Central (2005), in which the eponymous Communications web, if textual indications allow (as they should) a literal reading, is a self-conscious distributed network (see AI; Computers; Internet) that comprises and in a sense iterates the European story. Hinting that it is a Secret Master, this network mediates various "narrators'" hugely expansive attempts to encompass the nightmare of twentieth century totalitarianism and cultural suicide, a pattern of story in which Equipoisal figures, some from German Mythology, cohabit with historical men and women, including several participants in World War Two, where most of the action focuses, and Dmitir Shostakovich (1906-1975): all to tragic effect. [JC]
William Tanner Vollmann
born Santa Monica, California: 28 July 1959
Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes (listed in order of internal chronology)
about the author
Previous versions of this entry