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Condon, Richard

Entry updated 10 April 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1915-1996) US author, formerly in advertising, employed as a film publicist from 1936 to 1941 for Walt Disney and variously elsewhere until 1958; he is best-known for works outside the sf field such as the Prizzi sequence beginning with Prizzi's Honor (1982), and for rococo fantasies like A Talent for Loving; or, the Great Cowboy Race (1961), an extravagant spoof on Western topoi, and Money Is Love (1975); but several tales, beginning with The Manchurian Candidate (1959), employ sf elements in the complex generic mix characteristic of his fiction. Later made into a well-known film, The Manchurian Candidate (1962) – remade, also successfully, as The Manchurian Candidate (2004) – this novel combines an advanced form of brainwashing (see Memory Edit) and elements of the political thriller (see Politics) in a story of the very Near-Future planned assassination at the Republican convention in July 1960 of the Presidential candidate, by the brainwashed tool of a right-wing conspiracy controlled by an extravagantly poisonous woman – the assassin's actual mother – in the pay of the Russians and the Chinese (see Cold War; Yellow Peril), though she plans to betray them as well. She has groomed her husband, Senator Johnny Iselin, to replace the assassinated candidate: Iselin's populism, his contempt for truth, his constant flag-waving rage against "enemies", and his "patriotism", are conveyed with prescient clarity; Condon's original target was Senator Joe McCarthy (1906-1957). Dr Yen Lo, the courtly Villain responsible for the brainwashing, is clearly based on Sax Rohmer's Dr Fu-Manchu. Some passages dealing with the female villain's incestuous sex life were massaged from similar passages in Robert Graves's descriptions of Livia in I, Claudius (1934); it is the sort of plagiarism that can also be understood as a form of wit: a covert vision of two empires, rotting from within, coagulated into one.

It is typical of Condon's work in general that the savage social/political Satire in The Manchurian Candidate is interwoven with a similar savage depiction of personal/family dysfunction, a focus that also shapes the essentially nonfantastic An Infinity of Mirrors (1964), an example of Holocaust Fiction (though the Holocaust is not named as such): the tale approaches the fantastic in its depiction of Adolf Hitler as the late 1930s secret owner of a high-toned but vulgar brothel. So extreme is Condon's rendering (and rending) of the US political scene in particular (and of the self-lacerating families who run America) that it is fair to think of much of his work as occupying a series of Alternate Histories: Mile High (1969; rev 1970) argues the premise that Prohibition was long-planned by the Mafia (whose leader is a neurasthenic failed singer) as a hedge against the diminishing market in prostitution and other "vices"; the nihilistic Winter Kills (1974) features the assassination of a JFK-like US President (see Icons) at the behest of his own father.

Several of his later novels are also set in distorted Near Future Americas. The Star Spangled Crunch (1974), in which a 142-year-old tycoon manipulates the world through oil crises, is a genuine Comic Inferno; as is The Whisper of the Axe (1976), which augurs a successful overturning of the US Government as part and parcel of the unravelling of a family romance, and the similarly plotted The Emperor of America (1990), a weaker tale about the nuclear destruction of Washington. Death of a Politician (1978) castigates unto death, with Swiftian vigour (see Jonathan Swift), a criminal figure based unmistakably on Richard Nixon; The Final Addiction (1991), which is again set in a grotesquely corrupt Near Future, remixes much of the previous material, this time lacking some of Condon's saving savage wit: in his peak novels, the nihilistic savagery of his vision of an infernally corrupt America is sharpened by a hilarious saeva indignatio that takes no prisoners. In all of Condon's work, an almost Magic-Realist intensity of attention to the turns of plot combines with an unerring eye for the hypnotic surface of things to gloss over his profound cynicism about the human animal. But the abyss beneath never shelves. [JC]

see also: Fantasy; Paranoia.

Richard Thomas Condon

born New York: 18 March 1915

died Dallas, Texas: 9 April 1996


about the author

  • Joe Sanders. "Fantastic Non-Fantastic: Richard Condon's Waking Nightmares" (Summer 1984 Extrapolation vol 25 #2) [pp127-137: mag/]


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