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Blackburn, John

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1923-1993) UK antiquarian book dealer and author, in many of whose novels a powerful ambience of Horror derives from a calculated use of material from several genres, including sf, often simultaneously; he was a sophisticated, commercial exploiter of Equipoise in fantastic fiction. The loose General Kirk sequence beginning with A Scent of New-Mown Hay (1958; vt The Reluctant Spy 1966), A Sour Apple Tree (1958) and Broken Boy (1959), tends to manipulate the patterns of espionage and thriller fiction to buttress and ultimately provide explanations for tales whose effects are fundamentally akin to Gothic horror and fantasy. Ex-Nazis often crop up in these books, as in the first, where a German Scientist spreads around the world a mutated plague-bearing fungus boasting both the eponymous aroma (which provides early warning to its female victims) and the capacity to Shapeshift. The protagonist of this novel, General Charles Kirk, head of (the nonexistent) British Foreign Office Intelligence, oversees in further volumes assignments by various agents, whose missions cast an occultish glow on Cold War storylines, several featuring explicit sf motifs. A second series, the Bill Easter sequence – beginning with Devil Daddy (1972), a tale woven around appearances of the Wandering Jew – adheres more strictly to the supernatural.

But even in later stories – like the non-series The Face of the Lion (1976), which again (characteristically) deals with an abominable disease – loathsome though by now rather elderly SS officers make their dutiful bows. Blackburn's use of sf is usually borderline, though not in Children of the Night (1966), one of his better works, where an Underground Lost Race in northern England kills by telepathic powers (see Telepathy); nor in Bury Him Darkly (1969), in which what its obsessed discoverers think to be the Holy Grail is in fact an aeons-old artefact containing suddenly fruitful Alien spores; nor in the rather similar For Fear of Little Men (1972), in which the eponymous creatures – trolls and gnomes, et cetera – are another Lost Race, the degenerate survivals (see Devolution) of an ancient Welsh civilization.

Throughout Blackburn's more routine work, however, it is often the case that what seem to be sf plot devices on introduction turn out to be explicable in terms of contemporary science by the story's close, or are McGuffins like the atom-bomb conspiracy in The Face of the Lion. Though his use of sf situations is often ingenious, and though even his most straightforward novels are prone to internal generic mutations from one form to another, it would be unduly stretching matters to describe Blackburn as a genuine sf writer. [JC]

see also: Mythology.

John Fenwick Anderson Blackburn

born Corbridge on Tyne, Northumberland: 26 June 1923

died Richmond, Surrey: 1993



General Kirk

  • A Scent of New-Mown Hay (London: Secker and Warburg, 1958) [in the publisher's Knockout Thrillers series: General Kirk: hb/Peter Curl]
    • The Reluctant Spy (New York: Lancer Books, 1966) [vt of the above: General Kirk: pb/]
  • A Sour Apple Tree (London: Secker and Warburg, 1958) [in the publisher's Knockout Thrillers series: General Kirk: hb/Peter Curl]
  • Broken Boy (London: Secker and Warburg, 1959) [in the publisher's Knockout Thrillers series: General Kirk: hb/Peter Curl]
  • The Gaunt Woman (London: Jonathan Cape, 1962) [General Kirk: hb/Jenifer Armour]
  • Colonel Bogus (London: Jonathan Cape, 1964) [General Kirk: hb/Jenifer Armour]
    • Packed for Murder (New York: William Morrow, 1964) [vt of the above: General Kirk: hb/]
  • A Ring of Roses (London: Jonathan Cape, 1965) [General Kirk: hb/Colin Andrews]
    • A Wreath of Roses (New York: William Morrow, 1965) [vt of the above: General Kirk: hb/]
  • Nothing But the Night (London: Jonathan Cape, 1968) [General Kirk: hb/Colin Andrews]
  • The Young Man from Lima (London: Jonathan Cape, 1968) [General Kirk: hb/CJS Associates]
  • For Fear of Little Men (London: Jonathan Cape, 1972) [General Kirk: hb/Colin Andrews]

Bill Easter

individual titles


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