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, 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 has not been verified. He served during World War One in the Royal Army Medical Corps. As Southwold he 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) as by Southwold, which is narrated by a Robot. 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.

Bell's first sf novel, The Seventh Bowl (1930 as by Miles; 1934 as by Bell), 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 by 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 of civilization. The caustic outlook of these works is displayed also in Precious Porcelain (1931), where a Mad Scientist generates Avatars of his diseased selfhood 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 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 the sarcastic messianic fantasy (see Messiahs) "The Facts About Benjamin Crede".

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. 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. Occasional sf or fantasy stories crop up in Bell's later collections, most significantly in several items in Alpha and Omega (coll 1946), which includes an introduction descriptive of his working methods, and the first of the three horror novellas in Who Walk in Fear (coll 1953). His quirky studies in abnormal psychology – including Portrait of Gideon Power (1944 as by S H Lambert; reprinted 1962 as by Bell), which is an afterlife fantasy, and The Dark Page (1951) – are mostly of fantasy interest. [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



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

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