Bell, Neil

Tagged: Author

Preferred pseudonym of UK author Stephen Southwold (1887-1964), born Stephen Henry Critten; he took the name Southwold from his birthplace in Suffolk, because he despised his father, for reasons made clear in the semi-autobiographical chapters which recur in many of his novels; though it has been stated that he changed his name to Bell by deed poll around 1930, this seems not actually to have happened: at least one posthumous volume is copyrighted "Mrs Stephen Southwald". Though he also wrote as by Stephen Green, S H Lambert, Paul Martens and Miles, it was under the name Neil Bell that he was generally recognized during his life and afterwards, both for nonfantastic novels and for his sf. He served during World War One in the Royal Army Medical Corps; his pithy aftermath description of his response to the conflict evokes those of many of his fellow Scientific Romance authors:

And when he was nineteen the War of 1914-18 came, and he went through that long infamy, and came out with no shred or tatter of his former illusions to cover his nakedness.

As Southwold, Bell began to publish children's stories in 1922, his first collection of these being In Between Stories (coll 1923), plus a few biographical novels and juveniles, the most interesting of the latter being The Tales of Joe Egg (coll of linked stories 1936), which is narrated by a Robot. His first sf novel, The Seventh Bowl (1930) as by Miles, begins the short Gas War sequence; it is a bitter Future History in which the deployment of a technology of Immortality by corrupt politicians sets in train a chain of events leading to the Gas War of 1940 and to the World State which follows; the Invention of an Immortality drug corrupts government leaders, who create savage Eugenical laws to enforce their rule; but the development of a new Power Source causes the End of the World. The second volume of the sequence, The Gas War of 1940: A Novel: Being an Account of the World Catastrophe as Set Down by Raymond Denning, the First Dictator of Great Britain (1931 as by Miles; vt Valiant Clay 1934 as Bell), gives a more detailed account of the Gas War in terms prophetic of World War Two, except for its assumption that Poison will be used, and that it will cause the end civilization.

The caustic outlook of these works is displayed also in Precious Porcelain (1931) where a Mad Scientist generates diseased Doppelganger Avatars which savagely disrupt a provincial town. Other early Scientific Romances expressing a similar disillusion include The Disturbing Affair of Noel Blake (1932), which replicates the effects of the previous novel through its protagonist's access via Hypnosis to ancestral memories; the apocalyptic black comedy The Lord of Life (1933), where End of the World, Last Man and Adam and Eve topoi are combined to create a Parody of M P Shiel's recently reprinted Lord of the Sea (1901) and The Purple Cloud (1901); and the stories in his first and best adult collection, Mixed Pickles: Short Stories (coll 1935), which includes "The Mouse" and "The Evanescence of Adrian Fulk" and a sarcastic messianic fantasy (see Messiahs), "The Facts About Benjamin Crede" (July 1932 The London Mercury).

Death Rocks the Cradle: A Strange Tale (1933) as by Paul Martens depicts a hallucinatory Utopia in an Alternate World ruled by covert sadists who trick their victims into degrading behaviour then take grotesque pleasure in the medical tortures required to cure them. In The Lord of Life (1933) nineteen men and one woman, safely Under the Sea, survive the End of the World which has been caused by a Mad Scientist, but then must work out an Adam and Eve protocol for preserving the race. One Came Back (1938) is an interesting realistic novel which extends into the Near Future in describing the founding of a new Religion following an apparent miracle. In Life Comes to Seathorpe (1946) another Mad Scientist creates laboratory Monsters in an attempt to Uplift Homo sapiens into Homo splendidus, but they melt.

After his experience of World War Two, Bell's output decreased. Occasional sf or fantasy stories do crop up in his later collections, however, though most of the stories included in Alpha and Omega (coll 1946) are from the war years; the collection includes an introduction descriptive of his working methods. Who Walk in Fear (coll 1953) contains at least one tale describable in Horror in SF terms. His quirky studies in abnormal Psychology – including Portrait of Gideon Power (1944) as by S H Lambert, which is an afterlife fantasy, and The Dark Page (1951) – are mostly of fantasy interest. As with several other authors of the Scientific Romance who came close to flourishing before 1939, Bell no longer found the tools of his trade – or the pessimistic evolutionary bent of the form – of much use in the latter years of the twentieth century. [BS/JC]

see also: Biology; Crime and Punishment; Future War; Medicine; Telekinesis; Weapons.

Stephen Southwold/Stephen Henry Critten

born Southwold, Suffolk: 22 February 1887

died Brixham, Devon: 5 June 1964

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Gas War

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Early collections for children, as by Southwold, are selected only.

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