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Berger, Thomas

Entry updated 9 January 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1924-2014) US author active from around 1951, and who began to publish work of genre interest with "Professor Hyde" for Playboy in December 1961. Though much of his work is fantastic, he remained best known for novels perceived as nongeneric, like the meta-Western epic Little Big Man (1964), which combines farce and Fabulation, with the eponymous Little Big Man, who is 111, narrating his tale with supernatural vigour. The sequel, The Return of Little Big Man (1999), moves even further from anything like a Western. In general, his novels read as though they are generated by spontaneous conceits – some of them fantastic, some Postmodern – which he treats with an absolute, dead-pan seriousness; each tale constitutes a blackly comic and chastening argument from premise. Perhaps because of this conceptual and generic range, he never gained the critical attention he clearly merited.

Berger's large oeuvre includes several works of sf or fantasy interest: Vital Parts (1970) contains a modest but savage examination of Cryonics; Regiment of Women (1973) presents a world about a century hence where the roles of men and women have been completely reversed, direly for the men. Arthur Rex: A Legendary Novel (1978) achieves comedy through faithfulness to its rich material; Nowhere (1986), a yawningly vacuous spoof on Samuel Butler's Erewhon (1871), is terrifyingly bland; Being Invisible (1987) plays with Invisibility; Changing the Past (1989) plays with Alternate History and Time Paradoxes; Robert Crews (1994) is a Robinsonade; and Adventures of the Artificial Woman (2004) narrates the travails of an Android, created by an animatronics designer as a Sex toy, who fails to please men because she is too literal, but after doing a nude Macbeth becomes a film star. The Satire broadens as her career moves into politics; in her presidential campaign, her defeated opponent is a heavy caricature of the second President Bush. A further relevant Playboy appearance is "Planet of the Losers" (November 1988 Playboy).

In almost all of Berger's novels the laws of human nature, operating like theorems that admit of no exceptions, dictate the shape of our lives, and as a consequence even his most seemingly liberating tales of the fantastic, like Being Invisible or Changing the Past, can in the end seem carceral. This unwarming rigour may have affected his popularity, despite the strong advocacy of those critics and readers who found his work deeply realistic. [JC]

see also: Sociology; Time Travel.

Thomas Louis Berger

born Cincinnati, Ohio: 20 July 1924

died Nyack, New York: 13 July 2014



Little Big Man

individual titles

about the author

  • Brooks Landon. Thomas Berger (Boston, Massachusetts: Twayne, 1989) [nonfiction: in the publisher's Critical Essays on American Literature series: hb/nonpictorial]
  • Brooks Landon. Understanding Thomas Berger (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2009) [nonfiction: in the publisher's Understanding Contemporary American Literature series: hb/photographic]


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