Platt, Charles

Tagged: Author | Editor | Fan | Critic

(1945-    ) UK-born writer and editor, in the USA from 1970; he was born Charles Michael Platt but legally abandoned his middle name on becoming a US citizen; he has also published as by Aston Cantwell, Robert Clarke, Charlotte Prentiss and Blakely St James; married to Nancy Weber (see Lindsay West) 1977-circa 1980. Initially active in sf Fandom, writing Fanzines during this early 1960s period, he began publishing sf with "One of Those Days" for the December 1964-January 1965 issue of Science Fantasy, and soon became associated with New Worlds during the period when, under Michael Moorcock's editorship, it was seen as the pre-eminent New-Wave journal. Platt served initially as the magazine's designer, becoming editor in 1970 after Moorcock stepped down. He also co-edited two issues of the New Worlds anthology series New Worlds Quarterly: New Worlds 6: The Science Fiction (anth 1973; vt New Worlds #5 1974) with Moorcock, and New Worlds 7 (anth 1974; vt New Worlds #6 1975) with Hilary Bailey.

Platt's first novel, initially serialized in New Worlds, was Garbage World (October-November 1966 New Worlds; 1967), in which sf premise and scatological humour sometimes war – for instance, the Asteroid of the title, used as a garbage dump, is called Kopra. Planet of the Voles (1971) is a confused Space Opera, but The City Dwellers (1970; rev vt Twilight of the City: A Novel of the Near Future 1977) is, in its heavily revised version, a substantial Near-Future look at the death of an unnamed city closely resembling New York and of the crisis-ridden America surrounding it. From the first, his work demonstrated undeviating clarity, Pulp-magazine plotting instincts, and a sure inclination to offend. The Gas (1970; rev 1980), which has a genuine sf premise – the eponymous gas, accidentally released over England, works as an irresistible aphrodisiac – treats its Sex material in transgressively pornographic terms. The Image Job (1971) and The Power and the Pain (1971) are pornography with marginal sf elements. Some of his other work was less forthright, including A Song for Christina (1976) as by Blakely St James (a Playboy Press House Name), which has no genre content, though Christina Enchanted (1980), also as by St James, uses sf arguments to underpin an occult hoax; a third St James volume, Christina's Touch (1981), once again has no genre content.

In the early 1980s Platt wrote little sf, concentrating his activities in the field on The Patchin Review (June 1981-March 1985), a journal of comment, sometimes controversial, which he edited and of which he wrote significant portions. A successor journal, REM (July 1985-December 1987), after ten issues became Science Fiction Guide (occasionally from March 1988; though none appeared after 1989, the journal was never officially terminated). Far more intense than his earlier "amateur" publications, these later journals were notable for a rigorous concentration upon literary issues, and should not perhaps be categorized as fanzines were it not that he retained a tough-love fondness for gossip and scandal. During these years Platt also published Dream Makers: The Uncommon People who Write Science Fiction (coll 1980; exp vt Who Writes Science Fiction? 1980) and Dream Makers, Volume II: The Uncommon Men & Women Who Write Science Fiction (coll 1983), two separate revised selections from both volumes being published as Dream Makers: SF and Fantasy Writers at Work (coll 1986) and Dream Makers (coll 2014); the interviews here collected were polished and showed an attentive, surprisingly sympathetic mind at work, perhaps most notably in the long piece about James Tiptree Jr.

Platt then returned to active sf writing with Less than Human (1986 as by Robert Clarke), a comically couched adventure in which a fully human-appearing Android who has descended upon New York is hunted down by a police officer gradually transformed into a Cyborg as the plot advances. Free Zone (1988), a novel which hilariously makes use of almost every sf theme, trope and instrument yet devised (a chart was provided; see Clichés) to tell a pixilated tale of urban anarchy and dreadful threat; and The Silicon Man (1991), a Hard-SF perusal of the implications of Cyberpunk in which the sense of what it means actually to become information (in Platt's terms an infomorph) in Cyberspace is chillingly and at points bracingly examined. The Tribal sequence – beginning with Children of the Ice (1993) and ending with The Ocean Tribe (1998), all as by Charlotte Prentiss – begins as Prehistoric SF and progresses into somewhat fantasticated historical times, featuring different protagonists through this progress. The AI eponym of his most recent standalone novel, Protektor (1996), travels to a planet in technological disarray, and, rather like an author of Hard SF, analyses the world in terms of fixable dysfunctions.

Though sometimes arousing, and knowingly contrarian, Platt could never be described as a warm or overheated writer of sf, nor that he has generally found it easy to create a narrative structure fit to convey the rigour of his thinking. That rigorousness is most clearly expressed in Loose Canon (coll 2003), which assembles much of his criticism, the heart of which is a surprisingly eloquent lament for American sf's abandonment of what he felt was its mission: to tell the truth about the future and how to make it ours. This sense of sf as engaging in a just advocacy did not easily survive the twentieth century, and the essays in Loose Canon necessarily employ a retrospective gaze. Platt has indicated, here and elsewhere, that his disaffection from sf is likely to remain permanent. Sf as a genre remains naggingly short of genuine iconoclasts: Platt has therefore been a necessary writer; his return to the field would be welcome. [JC]

see also: Cities; Disaster; Games Workshop; Interzone; Music; Perception; Pollution; Women SF Writers.

Charles Platt

born London: 26 April 1945

died

works

series

Christina

  • A Song for Christina (New York: Playboy Paperbacks, 1976) as by Blakeley St James [Christina: pb/]
  • Christina Enchanted (New York: Playboy Paperbacks, 1980) as by Blakeley St James [Christina: pb/]
  • Christina's Touch (New York: Playboy Paperbacks, 1982) as by Blakeley St James [Christina: pb/]

Tribal

Piers Anthony's Worlds of Chthon

individual titles

nonfiction

series

Dream Makers

individual titles

works as editor

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