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Bretnor, Reginald

Entry updated 4 March 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1911-1992) US author and anthologist, born Alfred Reginald Kahn – he changed his name legally to Bretnor after World War Two – in Vladivostok, Siberia, but resident in the US from 1920; active after World War Two in a number of genres as an author of both fiction and nonfiction. His interest in military theory, which first generated articles and Decisive Warfare (1969), later inspired the Future at War series of anthologies: The Future at War 1: Thor's Hammer: On or Near Earth (anth 1979; vt The Future at War 1: Thor's Hammer 1988), The Future at War 2: The Spear of Mars (anth 1980) and The Future at War 3: Orion's Sword (War in Interstellar and Intergalactic Space) (anth 1980; vt The Future at War 3: Orion's Sword 1989).

Bretnor began publishing sf with "Maybe Just a Little One" for Harper's Magazine in August 1947, and many of his later stories appeared in the slick magazines. His single most famous story is probably the hilarious "The Gnurrs Come from the Voodvork Out" (Winter/Spring 1950 F&SF), a tale that on its first publication epitomized for many the wit and literacy that The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction was quickly coming to represent. This was the first of a protracted series of stories about Papa Schimmelhorn, assembled as The Schimmelhorn File (coll 1979) and followed by Schimmelhorn's Gold (1986), a comic tale of alchemy which brews sf and fantasy tropes in a pot of hornswoggling. He was not a frequent author of sf proper, though Gilpin's Space (1982 F&SF; much exp 1986) describes a hegira through Hyperspace; the protagonists of the tale, escaping from a tyrannical Earth, eventually land on an inhabitable planet.

The three critical symposia Bretnor edited on sf – Modern Science Fiction: Its Meaning and Its Future (anth 1953; slightly exp 1979), Science Fiction, Today and Tomorrow (anth 1974) and The Craft of Science Fiction: A Symposium on Writing Science Fiction and Science Fantasy (anth 1976) – have proved among the most substantial early nonfiction contributions to the field. Each contains articles by well-known sf writers: the only critics represented are those who also write sf. Academic sf criticism was in its infancy during the years Bretnor assembled these anthologies, which remain useful, in part through their clarity.

As Grendel Briarton (an anagram of his name) Bretnor created from 1956, mostly for F&SF, a series of about 120 joke vignettes (see Flash Fiction) whose punch-lines were as a rule distorted or punning catch-phrases. Each of them was invariantly titled "Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot". They have become known, from Ferdinand Feghoot, their continuing protagonist, as Feghoots, and can be found assembled in Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: The First Forty-Five Feghoot Adventures with Five More Never Previously Heard Of (coll 1962 chap Japan; exp vt The Compleat Feghoot 1975; further exp vt The (Even) More Compleat Feghoot 1980; further exp vt The Collected Feghoot 1992) [for vt subtitles see Checklist] as Grendel Briarton. Feghoot was remembered as "imaginary guest of honour" at the 2002 Worldcon. Bretnor was also a translator and lecturer. [JC]

see also: Corpsicle; Critical and Historical Works About SF; Definitions of SF; Future War; Humour; The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Alfred Reginald Bretnor

born Vladivostok, Siberia, Russia: 30 July 1911

died Medford, Oregon: 22 July 1992



Papa Schimmelhorn

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works as editor


The Future at War

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about the author


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