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Clifton, Mark

Entry updated 15 March 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1906-1963) US author, an industrial psychologist for many years until his retirement around 1950 – mostly occupied in personnel work, putting together many thousands of case histories from which he extrapolated conclusions after the fashion of Kinsey and Sheldon. This practical experience, and the slant of mind it fuelled, mark his work as a writer, beginning with his first stories of genre interest, "What Have I Done?" for Astounding in May 1952, and the slightly later "Star, Bright" (July 1952 Galaxy), the latter tale vividly introducing his sophisticated take on Psi Powers to the field (see Dimensions; Teleportation).

Much of Clifton's fiction falls into two series. The Bossy sequence – "Crazy Joey" (August 1953 Astounding) with Alex Apostolides, "Hide! Hide! Witch!" (December 1953 Astounding) with Apostolides, and They'd Rather Be Right (August-November 1954 Astounding; edited version 1957; vt The Forever Machine 1958; text restored under original title 1981) with Frank Riley – concerns an advanced Computer named Bossy who is almost made ineffective by the fears of mankind about her, even though she is capable of conferring Immortality. Despite – or perhaps because of – its incorporation of inflamed Campbellian propaganda for taking Psi Powers seriously – They'd Rather be Right won the 1955 Hugo award for Best Novel. Clifton's second series, the Ralph Kennedy sequence – "What Thin Partitions" (September 1953 Astounding) with Alex Apostolides, Sense from Thought Divide (March 1955 Astounding; 2007 ebook), "How Allied" (March 1957 Astounding), "Remembrance and Reflection" (January 1958 F&SF) and When They Come from Space (January-February 1962 Amazing as "Pawn of the Black Fleet"; 1962) – is rather lighter in tone, focusing initially on Kennedy's dealings with Poltergeist activity and other psi phenomena (see Hive Minds; Iconoclasm; Psi Powers; Supernatural Creatures) in his role as the investigative personnel director for a Cybernetics firm, and moving on in the novel that concludes the series, a Satire on a typical target of 1950s sf: Federal bureaucracy, which is conceived of as self-evidently obstructive. In this novel, the long-suffering Kennedy is appointed "extraterrestrial psychologist" and is forced to cope with a passel of Aliens – representatives of a far-flung Galactic Empire – who both mount and seem to repel a vast hoax Invasion (see Scientific Hoax) as the opening gambit in their scheme to nudge humanity towards psychological maturity. The underlying premise is that we were long ago visited by less developed extraterrestrials who dazzled Earth's primitives with Technology-based "miracles", thus infecting us with a cargo-cult dependency on Gods and Religion which should now be shaken off.

Clifton's only out-of-series novel is Eight Keys to Eden (1960), in which an E or Extrapolator, a kind of super-Scientist, is sent to the colony planet of Eden to extricate it from an apparently insuperable problem: the problem (at least the one perceived and uncomfortably dealt with by hidden Alien mentors) turns out to be normal human civilization, not the paradise. Despite a slightly awkward prose style and an occasionally heavy wit, Clifton's novels and stories – a convenient selection is The Science Fiction of Mark Clifton (coll 1980) under the editorship and advocacy of Barry N Malzberg – convey a comfortable lucidity and optimism about the relation between technology and progress; his attempts to apply the tone of Hard SF to subjects derived from the Soft Sciences reflect Astounding's philosophical bent in the 1950s under John W Campbell Jr's editorial guidance. [JC/DRL]

see also: Automation; Colonization of Other Worlds; Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award; Ecology; Intelligence; Pastoral.

Mark Irvin Clifton

born Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 1906

died 1963



Ralph Kennedy

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