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Anonymous SF Authors

Entry updated 23 August 2019. Tagged: Author, Theme.

This rubric covers the authors of works which, in their first edition, appeared with no indication of authorship whatsoever, and any in which authorship is indicated only by a row of asterisks or some similar symbol; cases where authorship has never been ascertained are discussed in the author entry for Anonymous. Works attributed to "the author of ..." are considered anonymous only if the work referred to is itself anonymous. Cases where subsequent editions reveal authorship are included; all other attributions are regarded as Pseudonyms. For anonymously edited sf Anthologies, see Anonymous SF Editors.

Before the twentieth century literary anonymity was prevalent, and although the absence of the author's name on the title page was sometimes meant to hide identity, as in the case of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726; rev 1735), it was more frequently a convention applied with no real intent to conceal, as in the case of Samuel Johnson's Rasselas (1759). The numerous works of Grub-Street fictional journalism of the early nineteenth century were anonymous in order to conceal, while novels of a higher status continued conventionally to hide their authorship with no sustained attempt to conceal, as in the case of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), her identity being revealed in the first French translation (1821), and in the second English edition (1823), each acknowledging her on its the title page. Anonymity was a practice decreasingly found after 1830 or, by which point anonymity had become a condition to be remarked upon rather than assumed (the first editions of all Charles Dickens's novels, 1837-1870, are for instance under his name). On some later occasions anonymity was applied by well-known writers – e.g. Lord Lytton for The Coming Race (1871) – when the content of a novel differed radically from their earlier writings; but almost always these later works are "anonymous" solely in a bibliographic sense (and so within our purview), and their authorship was often widely known at the time of publication.

Other authors used anonymity because their work was controversial. Such was the case with Utopian novels, where the depiction of an ideal state highlighted faults writers saw in their own society. Falling into this category is The Reign of George VI, 1900-1925 (1763), the earliest known example of the Future War novel (see Anonymous). Of more importance in the History of SF is L'an deux mille quatre cent quarante (1771; trans W Hooper as Memoirs of the Year Two Thousand Five Hundred 1772) (by Louis-Sebastien Mercier), the first futuristic novel to show change as an inevitable process. It was widely translated and reprinted, inspiring many imitators. Also anonymous, but set in an imaginary country, was one of the earliest American utopian works, Equality, or A History of Lithconia (15 May-26 June 1802 The Temple of Reason as "Equality: A Political Romance"; 1837); see Anonymous.

Other anonymous utopian works, some of considerable importance like Lytton's tale (see above) appeared throughout the nineteenth century. Of similar importance is W H Hudson's A Crystal Age (1887), whose Darwinian extrapolation, although obscured by the author's animistic view of the world, shows humankind evolved towards a hive structure (see Hive Minds) and living in perfect harmony with Nature. Another noteworthy Darwinian novel was Colymbia (1873) (by Robert Ellis Dudgeon, a friend of and physician to Samuel Butler), which describes a remote Archipelago where humans have evolved into amphibious beings. Integral to this gentle Satire is a scene in which the country's leading philosophers debate their common origins with the seal family. Particular mention should also be made of Ellis James Davis, author of the highly imaginative and carefully detailed novels Pyrna, a Commune, or Under the Ice (1875) and Etymonia (1875) – both utopias, the first located under a glacier, the second on an Island – and of Coralia: A Plaint of Futurity (1876), a supernatural fantasy.

Other anonymous sf authors eschewed the utopian format for a more direct attack on aspects of contemporary society. Following the build-up in power by Germany in the early 1870s there appeared The Battle of Dorking; Reminiscences of a Volunteer (May 1871 Blackwood's Magazine; 1871 chap) (by Sir George T Chesney), the most socially influential sf story of all time (see Battle of Dorking). Advocating a restructuring of the UK military system to meet a conceived Invasion, it provoked a storm in Parliament and enjoyed numerous reprints and translations throughout the world; it inspired many anonymous refutations, many of these also anonymous. In the United States, the Civil War (1861-1865) aroused even more complex anxieties, and though no Future War genre evolved to express this dis-ease, What May Happen in the Next 90 Days: The Disruption of the United States: Or, the Origin of the Second Civil War (1877 chap) (see Anonymous) conveys a similarly melodramatic sense that the floodgates had opened and collapse was nigh. Back across the Atlantic, the Irish Question was addressed in The Battle of the Moy; Or, How Ireland Gained Her Independence 1892-1894 (1883), whose title is self-explanatory and which has been ascribed to Rufus Magee.

Many other anonymous sf works, by contrast, enjoyed only rapid obscurity, in some case to the detriment of sf's development. Perhaps the three most important of these are: Annals of the Twenty-ninth Century, or The Autobiography of the Tenth President of the World Republic (1874) (by Andrew Blair), a massive work describing the step-by-step Colonization of our solar system; In the Future: A Sketch in Ten Chapters (1875 chap), the story of a struggle for religious tolerance in a future European empire; and Thoth: A Romance (1888) (by Joseph Shield Nicholson), an impressive Lost-World novel set in Hellenic times and depicting a scientifically advanced race using Airships in the North African desert. Another anonymously published warning of Future War was The Back Door (1897 The China Mail: 1897 chap), incorporated into Hong Kong Invaded! A '97 Nightmare (coll 2001) by – that is, otherwise by – Gillian Bickley.

Among the diversity of ideas expressed by anonymous sf authors were the stress inflicted upon an ape (see Apes as Human) when taught to speak, in The Curse of Intellect (1895) (by Frank Challice Constable), the emancipation of women, in the futuristic satire The Revolt of Man (1882) (by Sir Walter Besant) and, in Man Abroad: A Yarn of Some Other Century (1887), the notion that humankind will take its international disputes into space.

The Checklist of Fantastic Literature (1948) by Everett F Bleiler lists 127 anonymous works (though many are fantasy rather than sf). The Supplemental Checklist of Fantastic Literature (1963) by Bradford M Day adds a further 27 titles to Bleiler's total, and there are certainly more waiting to be found – such as The History of Benjamin Kennicott (1932).

Anonymous sf authors are still with us today, particularly in the Comics and in Boys' Papers, often retaining their role as social critics or outrageous prognosticators. However, most modern authors, when seeking to retain their privacy, make use of Pseudonyms. Very few anonymous books – except for non-sf anthologies (which are often released without crediting the compiler) and erotica – are published today. A minor exception from the 1980s was the generic spoof No Frills Science Fiction (1981 chap), actually written by Silbersack [JE]

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