Barrett, Neal, Jr

Tagged: Author

(1929-2014) US writer who worked extensively under his own name, and also as Victor Appleton, Chad Calhoun, Franklin W Dixon (a Stratemeyer House Name), Rebecca Drury and J D Hardin. He began publishing sf with "To Tell the Truth" for Galaxy in August 1960 and contributed with some regularity to the SF Magazines, much of this early material being assembled in A Different Vintage (coll 2001), though he never published prolifically in shorter forms. Some of his later tales, like "Hero" (September 1979 F&SF), "A Day at the Fair" (March 1981 F&SF), "Trading Post" (October 1986 Asimov's), "Sallie C" (in Best of the West, anth 1986, ed Western Writers of America), "Perpetuity Blues" (May 1987 Asimov's), "Diner" (November 1987 Omni), "Stairs" (September 1988 Asimov's), "Tony Red Dog" (in Razored Saddles, anth 1989, ed Joe R Lansdale and Pat LoBrutto), "Under Old New York" (February 1991 Asimov's), and "Cush" (November 1993 Asimov's) caused considerable stir for the dark bravura of the vision they sometimes expose of a savaged USA. Many of these stories are assembled in Slightly Off Center: Eleven Extraordinarily Exhilarating Tales (coll 1992), which includes "The Last Cardinal Bird in Tennessee"; in Perpetuity Blues and Other Stories (coll 2000); and in Way Out There (coll 2004). His stories, which are more roller-coaster in their effect than his longer work, achieve at times a remarkable, humane intensity.

Barrett's first novels, it can be said, did not seem urgently to foretell the ambitious author of the 1980s, and titles like Kelwin (1970), whose eponymous hero has stirring adventures in a Post-Holocaust venue, the equally rambunctious The Gates of Time (1970), and the Alternate History tale The Leaves of Time (1971) – despite the title, not connected to the earlier volume – seem little more than amusing and competently told routine fare, with twists. But Stress Pattern (1974), a densely constructed Planetary Romance set on a planet so profligately alien that it is at points reminiscent of the worlds of Stanisław Lem, was clearly more ambitious. Barrett followed this striking work with the Aldair series – Aldair in Albion (1976), Aldair, Master of Ships (1977), Aldair, Across the Misty Sea (1980) and Aldair: The Legion of Beasts (1982) – whose baroque surface tends to disguise the alarming implications of the tale, for the hero is a Genetically Engineered humanoid pig, the Far-Future Earth he traverses lacks real solace, and his discovery of humans on another planet grants him no peace, for they themselves have been enslaved by a race of Aliens. In retrospect, then, the Through Darkest America sequence comprising Through Darkest America (1987) and Dawn's Uncertain Light (1989), which gained Barrett considerable attention almost 30 years into his career, is a logical development of his earlier work. The protagonists' hegira through a most terrifyingly bleak and terminally scarred USA, though told with an exhilarating and genre-sensitive competence, conveys a sense of grieved, embedded, millennial pessimism impossible to sidestep; and even The Hereafter Gang (1991), a Posthumous Fantasy [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] which less savagely focuses this vision on the churning psyche of a middle-aged man in crisis, turns into a sharp and garish Parody of a sentimentalized small-town past over which it is easy, but dangerous, to pine.

It was not lucky for the genre that Barrett no longer continued, in the 1990s and later, to focus the hell-raising, fluorescent gemutlichkeit of his high style on sf; novels like Pink Vodka Blues (1992) and its successors in the Wiley Moss sequence, or PIGGS (2001), though gonzo and hyperbolic, are in fact crime thrillers. But Interstate Dreams (1999) – set like most of his best work in his native Texas – is a gritty, eyes-open fantasy about the condition of America at the end of its century; and Prince of Christler-Coke (in Ten Tales, anth 1994, ed James Cahill; much exp 2004) is a sharp Satire on a splintered, post-Disaster but still corporate America. Though far more humorous than Edward Abbey, Barrett was also a prophet, and his message was complexly dark. He was deeply American in his rage and his joy. He was honoured with the Science Fiction Writers of America Author Emeritus award in 2010 (> SFWA Grand Master Award). [JC]

see also: Ecology; Evolution; Living Worlds.

Neal Patrick Barrett Jr

born San Antonio, Texas: 3 November 1929

died Austin, Texas: 12 January 2014

works

series

Aldair

Tom Swift

Hardy Boys

Wiley Moss

  • Pink Vodka Blues (New York: St Martin's Press, 1992) [Wiley Moss: hb/Adam Cohen]
  • Dead Dog Blues (New York: St Martin's Press, 1994) [Wiley Moss: hb/Adam Cohen]
  • Skinny Annie Blues (New York: Kensington Press, 1996) [Wiley Moss: hb/Lisa Henderling]
  • Bad Eye Blues (New York: Kensington Press, 1997) [Wiley Moss: hb/]

Spider-Man Super Thriller

Through Darkest America

  • Through Darkest America (New York: Congdon and Weed, 1987) [in the Isaac Asimov Presents series: Through Darkest America: hb/Joe Burleson]
  • Dawn's Uncertain Light (New York: New American Library/Signet Books, 1989) [Through Darkest America: pb/]

Finn the Master Lizard Maker

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