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Amis, Martin

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1949-    ) UK author, son of Kingsley Amis. From the first his novels have threatened and distressed their protagonists – and their readers – with narrative displacements that undermine consensual reality, so that moments of normality in his work are, like as not, intended to reveal themselves as forms of entrapment; his work hovers constantly in an Equipoise between the mundane and (usually) horror, though his interest in sf-like (and sf-mocking) venues dates back to his second novel, Dead Babies (1975), set in an indistinct Near Future and featuring a protagonist who has made his pile by working at a local abortion factory. Amis was responsible for the screenplay for Saturn 3 (1980), though Stephen Gallagher wrote the book tie. Other People: A Mystery Story (1981) – which took its title from the definition of Hell in Huis clos (first performed 1944; 1945; trans Stuart Gilbert as In Camera in anth 1946; vt No Exit 1947) by Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), as being other people – is an afterlife fantasy which has been described as an example of "Martianism" (see Craig Raine). Einstein's Monsters (1987; cut vt God's Dice 1995 chap) and Heavy Water; and Other Stories (1998) assemble several sf stories variously concerned with the decaying of the world into Holocausts, nuclear and otherwise; the savagery of the Satire in his shorter work – as in "Heavy Water" (22-29 December 1978 New Statesman; rewritten for coll) or in "State of England" (24 June-1 July 1996 The New Yorker) is sometimes extremely intense. London Fields (1989), whose tempo is comparatively leisurely, is set in 1999 in a world approaching a dread millennium. Amis's next novel, the feeble Yellow Dog (2003) was set in an Alternate History version of modern Britain, mostly consonant with actual Britain except at such places where Amis's satirical appetite prompted changes to (for instance) the political power and engagement of the monarchy. Lionel Asbo: State of England (2012) extends into the very Near Future.

Amis's novel of greatest sf interest is Time's Arrow; Or, the Nature of the Offense (1991) – which begins, as does Other People, at the moment at which its protagonist "awakens" into a radically displaced world – and is based on the premise that the arrow of time has been reversed; Amis's acknowledged sf sources for his use of the Time in Reverse premise run from Philip K Dick's Counter-Clock World (1967) to Kurt Vonnegut Jr's Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), but he very much sharpens the implications of the conceit by making the protagonist an old Nazi, whose involvement in the death camps (see Holocaust Fiction; World War Two) now becomes (precariously) a hymn to life. Throughout the book, the reversal of the twentieth century reads as a reprieve. It is a tale whose joys encode ironies so grim that the "happier" moments of return and redemption are impossible to read without considerable pain. Time's Arrow was, inevitably, received as a "literary" text whose sf structure was embarrassing, a response itself embarrassing to contemporary readers; despite, or because of, its engagement with the engines of sf, the novel reads with all the clarity of the best century reportage. The Zone of Interest (2014), which is nonfantastic, again attempts to approach what may be unsayable, citing in his afterword the phrase –"that which happened" – that Paul Celan (1920-1970), himself a Holocaust survivor, used in 1958 to emphasize the murderous effect on language of the Final Solution.

Invasion of the Space Invaders: An Addict's Guide to Battle Tactics, Big Scores and the Best Machines (1982) is a nonfiction guide to arcade Videogames (see Space Invaders; Defender; Missile Command; Asteroids), now technically out of date but of interest for Amis's approach to the subject. Of the essays assembled in The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America (coll 1986), "Kurt Vonnegut: After the Slaughterhouse" (1983 Observer) is of strong interest (see Kurt Vonnegut); Visiting Mrs Nabokov and Other Excursions (coll 1993) includes pieces on Isaac Asimov, J G Ballard and RoboCop 2 (1990); The War against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 (coll 2001) includes pieces on Brian Aldiss, Ballard again, Anthony Burgess and several others of sf interest. [JC]

see also: Perception; Time Travel.

Martin Louis Amis

born Oxford, Oxfordshire: 25 August 1949

works (selected)


nonfiction (selected)


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