Christopher, John

Tagged: Author

Principal working name of UK writer Sam Youd (1922-2012), whose birth forename was Sam rather than Samuel; he adopted the first name Christopher on confirmation into the Church of England, but was never so called by intimates although many sources give his full name as Christopher Samuel Youd. He was active in sf Fandom before World War Two, in which he served; very early he published a poem, "Dreamer" for Weird Tales in March 1941 as C S Youd, and began publishing sf proper with "Christmas Tree" for Astounding in February 1949 as by Christopher Youd. His first novel, The Winter Swan (1949), again as by Youd, was a fantasy; over the years – under a variety of names including Hilary Ford, William Godfrey, Peter Graaf, Peter Nichols (not the playwright), Anthony Rye, William Vine, Stanley Winchester, Christopher Youd and Samuel Youd – he wrote many non-fantastic novels. His first sf book, The Twenty-Second Century (coll 1954; with 1 story dropped and 1 added, rev 1962) as Christopher, assembles early work; after the success of his first sf novel, The Year of the Comet (1955; vt Planet in Peril 1959), and the even greater impact of his second, The Death of Grass (1956; vt No Blade of Grass 1957), he concentrated for some years on adult novels, soon becoming perceived as John Wyndham's rival and successor as the premier writer of the post-World War Two UK Disaster novel in the decade 1955-1965.

The disaster which changes the face of England (and of the world) in The Death of Grass (filmed in 1970 by Cornel Wilde as No Blade of Grass) is, as the title makes clear, an upset in the balance of Nature which causes the extinction of all grass and related food plants, with catastrophic effects. Where Wyndham's novels featured protagonists whose middle-class indomitability signalled to the reader that the crisis would somehow come out right in the end (> Cosy Catastrophe), Christopher's characters – as witness John Custance's gradual hardening and deterioration of personality in this novel, dramatized through his reenactment of an ominous Cain and Abel scenario with his isolated brother – inhabit and respond to a darker, less secure universe. It is a harshness of perspective characteristic of most of his work at this time: The World in Winter (1962; vt The Long Winter 1962) (> Climate Change), A Wrinkle in the Skin (1965; vt The Ragged Edge 1966) and Pendulum (1968) all deal decks similarly stacked against political or environmental complacency, and their protagonists concentrate on the grim business of staying alive and making a life fit to live in a Post-Holocaust world stripped of culture and security; and a late novel like Bad Dream (2003) treats the Near Future subjection of Britain to Europe with jeremiad intensity.

When Christopher turned to other kinds of stories his touch was sometimes less assured, though Sweeney's Island (1964; vt Cloud on Silver 1964) plausibly updates the traditional Island theme as the eponymous tycoon creates a Dystopian microcosm under stress; and The Little People (January-March 1967 F&SF; dated 1966 but 1967) cleverly misleads readers expecting a traditional fantasy, based on its title and Irish setting, for the eponymous one-foot tall creatures are in fact artificial beings with Psi Powers created by a Nazi Mad Scientist. However, in 1967 Christopher successfully inaugurated a fresh phase of his sf career, this time in the Young Adult market, with the Tripods sequence: The White Mountains (1967), The City of Gold and Lead (1967) and The Pool of Fire (1968); a prequel, When the Tripods Came (1988), followed much later. In these books, the Alien tripods control all adults [for renumbered vts, see Checklist below]. However, the young protagonists avoid their thrall, discover their secret and save Earth (whose adults revert to their distressing old ways). The first two books of the Tripods trilogy were serialized on BBC TV: The White Mountains (13 parts, 1984, adapted by Alick Rowe) and The City of Gold and Lead (12 parts, 1985, adapted by Christopher Penfield). A BBC adaptation of The Pool of Fire was cancelled in preproduction.

Other juveniles followed, including The Guardians (1970), a Dystopian vision of a Britain under the ruthless control of a central Conurb which won the Guardian award for best children's book of the year; Dom and Va (1973), much expanded from In the Beginning (1972 chap); a tale for smaller children, Wild Jack (1974); the Fireball trilogy – Fireball (1981), New Found Land (1983) and Dragon Dance (1986) – set in a Parallel-World version of Roman Britain and elsewhere, as the young protagonists test (and find wanting) various political systems (> Politics). The Prince in Waiting sequence – The Prince in Waiting (1970), Beyond the Burning Lands (1971) and The Sword of the Spirits (1972), assembled as The Swords of the Spirits Trilogy (omni 1980; vt The Prince in Waiting Trilogy 1983) – initially reads as Fantasy set in a medievalized version of England, but it is in fact about Scientists, some of whom have survived in hiding, who are pretending to magical powers (> Medieval Futurism). As with his adult sf, most of Christopher's juveniles are set in post-Disaster or Ruined Earth venues, in which the romantic individualism of young protagonists finds itself pitted against some kind of conformist or even brainwashed system, sometimes symbolized as a struggle between the country and the city. A much later novel, A Dusk of Demons (1993), sets a similar conflict in a haunted Scotland. They have been remarkably and deservedly popular. [JC/PN]

see also: Children's SF; Ecology; Great and Small; Pastoral; Publishing; Radio; Supernatural Creatures.

Sam Youd

born Huyton, Lancaster, Lancashire: 16 April 1922

died Bath, Somerset: 3 February 2012

works

series

Tripods

The Prince in Waiting

Fireball

  • Fireball (London: Victor Gollancz, 1981) [Fireball: hb/Michael Garland]
  • New Found Land (London: Victor Gollancz, 1983) [Fireball: hb/Josh Kirby]
  • Dragon Dance (London: Viking Kestrel, 1986) [Fireball: hb/Stephen Marchesi]

individual titles including collection (selected)

about the author

links

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