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Dickinson, Peter

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1927-2015) Northern-Rhodesia born author, in UK from 1935, father of John Dickinson; married from 1992 until his death to Robin McKinley, with whom he collaborated on the Elementals fantasy sequence [listed below]; assistant editor of the humorous magazine Punch from 1952 to 1969. Dickinson was initially best known for his detective stories, beginning with the first volume in the James Pibble sequence, Skin Deep (1968; vt The Glass Sided Ants' Nest 1968), which like its successors edges casually in and out of the fantastic, most vividly in Sleep and His Brother (1971), where a seemingly fatal though only gradually progressing disease that resembles sleeping sickness ("Cathypny") gives children the power of thought transference (see Telepathy); and his Young Adult fiction. Non-Pibble singletons include The Green Gene (1973), an amusing Satire on many issues including racial prejudice (see Race in SF), set in an Dystopian Alternate-History UK, whose population is increasingly afflicted by a gene that gives some new-borns green skin (all such officially become "Celts", and are persecuted); The Poison Oracle (1974), in which the only witness to murder is a chimpanzee (see Apes as Human) taught to communicate via a symbolic alphabet (a line of research tending towards Uplift); and Walking Dead (1977), which contains meditations on the belief in Zombies.

The Princess Louise sequence, beginning with King and Joker (1976), is set in an Alternate History version of England where George V's elder brother Clarence did not die of pneumonia but lived to become King Victor I; its belated sequel is Skeleton-in-Waiting (1989). Differences between this second Victorian world and ours are minor, which may be a deliberate comment by Dickinson on the current unimportance of the Royals.

But Dickinson's most important contribution to sf lies in his parallel career as an author for younger readers and the Young Adult market, beginning with the Changes trilogy: in order of internal chronology the novels are The Devil's Children (1970), Heartsease (1969) and The Weathermonger (1968; with chapters 10 and 11 rev, 1969), all assembled as The Changes (omni 1975; vt The Changes Trilogy 1985; vt The Changes: A Trilogy 1991); in an adaptation co-written by Dickinson, the sequence was televised by the BBC as The Changes (1975). The three books deal with the aftermath of an uncanny change in English life when the population suddenly turns against Machines and adopts medieval superstitions. Dickinson's Sleeper Awakes explanation for this transformation in The Weathermonger – a Drug-addled revived Merlin [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] contaminates Britain (though not the outside world) through his panicked refusal of the modern – lacks much conviction, though it is tentatively suggested that Merlin is in fact a Mutant gifted with vast Psi Powers. One of these talents, that of Weather Control, is also awakened in others – the titular weathermongers of the first-written book, including the protagonist – but only while Merlin's power remains active. The Devil's Children, where a twelve-year-old girl subject to the fear of machines is adopted by a band of travelling Sikhs who are immune to this hysteria, is more sensitive; Heartsease is a rousing action-adventure in which youngsters arrange the escape of a "witch" (an outside investigator who unwisely used radio communications) in an old diesel-powered tugboat which must negotiate a system of canal locks – some guarded by witch-hunters – before reaching the sea. There are minor inconsistencies in the world picture from book to book.

In 1972 the BBC presented a six-episode sf serial for children, Man Dog, written by Dickinson, and novelized as Mandog (1972) by Lois Lamplugh. Escapees from the twenty-sixth century transfer their leader's mind into a dog belonging to one of a group of children in the present (see Identity Transfer). They are pursued by future police.

Many of Dickinson's other juveniles have fantastic elements: in Emma Tupper's Diary (1971) children in an ancient submarine discover a creature resembling the Loch Ness Monster – in fact a whole surviving colony of aquatic Dinosaurs in a more obscure loch – and must work out how to protect the species; The Gift (1973) has a boy with Telepathic powers in a thriller with mythic overtones; The Blue Hawk (1976), which won the Guardian Award for Best Children's Book of the year, is set in an imaginary ancient kingdom, where the gods – who are powerful but not very intelligent – are withdrawing their magic from the world; Chance, Luck and Destiny (coll 1975) contains an sf story, "Mr Monnow"; Annerton Pit (1977) features an ambiguous presence – it may be science-fictional rather than fantastic – lurking in a mineshaft of ill repute – which the blind young protagonist detects; Tulku (1979), a Carnegie Medal winner, describes fantastic happenings in Tibet; Healer (1983; vt The Healer 1985) features a girl with the special Psi Powers of the title, and her would-be exploiters; Giant Cold (1984 chap), couched as a fairy tale, describes a child's search for his father; in Eva (1988), which is an Apes as Human tale, the girl protagonist's personality undergoes Identity Transfer to a chimpanzee after a car accident – much social adjustment is necessary; A Bone from a Dry Sea (1992) reworks the Apes as Human theme in an examination of the thesis that humans may have evolved from semi-aquatic beings; Time and the Clockmice, Etcetera (1993) involves Telepathic mice in a clockwork world; The Kin (1998) [for complex US publishing history see Checklist] is an expansive Prehistoric SF tale with five well-differentiated protagonists who as an ensemble provide a deep cross-section of an imagined society in turmoil; the Ropemaker sequence comprising The Ropemaker (2001) and Angel Isle (2006) is set in a fantasy land with an Asian/prehistoric feel; The Tears of the Salamander (2003) is a fantasy about Magic set in eighteenth-century Italy; Inside Grandad (2004; vt The Gift Boat 2004) is a fantasy involving incursions from Faerie.

Dickinson's juveniles are extremely various, and sometimes uneven, but at their best they are among the finest in the genre: exploratory, nonconformist and vivid, often giving old themes new life by thinking them through afresh from the beginning, rather than accepting them as givens. In anything he wrote, there was almost always an initial sense of decorum, a sense of the matter-of-fact givenness of the world: a sense which is almost always challenged and penetrated, sometimes thrillingly. Though The Green Gene was runner-up for the John W Campbell Memorial Award in 1974, Dickinson's work as a whole was not perhaps fully appreciated by sf readers. In 2009 he was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) for services to literature. [PN/JC/DRL]

see also: Children's SF.

Peter Malcolm de Brissac Dickinson

born Livingston, Northern Rhodesia [now Zambia]: 16 December 1927

died Winchester, Hampshire: 16 December 2015


for adults (selected)


James Pibble

Princess Louise

  • King and Joker (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1976) [Princess Louise: hb/George Crichard]
  • Skeleton-in-Waiting (London: The Bodley Head, 1989) [Princess Louise: hb/R Goldstrom]

individual titles

for children and young adults (selected)



  • The Weathermonger (London: Victor Gollancz, 1968) [Changes: hb/John Holder]
    • The Weathermonger (Boston, Massachusetts: Atlantic/Little, Brown, 1969) [rev: with chapters 10 and 11 reversed: Changes: hb/]
  • Heartsease (London: Victor Gollancz, 1969) [Changes: hb/Robert Hales]
  • The Devil's Children (London: Victor Gollancz, 1970) [Changes: hb/Robert Hales]
    • The Changes: A Trilogy (London: Victor Gollancz, 1975) [omni of The Devil's Children, Heartsease and The Weathermonger in this order: Changes: hb/photographic]
      • The Changes Trilogy (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Puffin Books, 1985) [omni: vt of the above: Changes: pb/Alun Hood]


  • The Ropemaker (London: Macmillan, 2001) [Ropemaker: hb/Steve Stone]
  • Angel Isle (London: Macmillan Children's Books, 2006) [Ropemaker: hb/David Wyatt]


individual titles

  • Emma Tupper's Diary (London: Victor Gollancz, 1971) [hb/John Douet]
  • Mandog (London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1972) adapted by Lois Lamplugh [tie: hb/photographic – still from programme]
  • The Gift (London: Victor Gollancz, 1973) [hb/Gareth Floyd]
  • The Blue Hawk (London: Victor Gollancz, 1976) [hb/Mary Dickinson]
  • Annerton Pit (London: Victor Gollancz, 1977) [hb/Yvonne Gilbert]
  • Tulku (London: Victor Gollancz, 1979) [hb/Tudor Humphries]
  • The Flight of Dragons (London: Pierrot Publishing/NEL, 1979) [couched as a nonfiction analysis of the nature of dragons: illus/hb/Wayne Anderson]
  • Healer (London: Victor Gollancz, 1983) [hb/Alun Hood]
    • The Healer (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1985) [vt of the above: hb/uncredited]
  • A Box of Nothing (London: Victor Gollancz, 1985) [hb/Ian Newsham]
  • Eva (London: Victor Gollancz, 1988) [hb/Alun Hood]
  • A Bone from a Dry Sea (London: Victor Gollancz, 1992) [hb/Anthea Toorchen]
  • Time and the Clockmice, Etcetera (London: Doubleday, 1993) [hb/Emma Chichester-Clark]
  • Chuck and Danielle (New York: Doubleday, 1996) [illus/hb/Robin Lawrie]
  • The Kin (London: Macmillan, 1998) [hb/Alun Hood]
    • The Kin: Noli's Story (New York: Putnam/Grosset and Dunlap, 1998) [rev vt of the above: part one of the four parts: precedes the UK title: pb/Nenad Jakesevic]
    • The Kin: Suth's Story (New York: Putnam/Grosset and Dunlap, 1998) [rev vt of the above: part two of the four parts: precedes the UK title: pb/Nenad Jakesevic]
    • The Kin: Po's Story (New York: Putnam/Grosset and Dunlap, 1998) [rev vt of the above: part three of the four parts: pb/Nenad Jakesevic]
    • The Kin: Mana's Story (New York: Putnam/Grosset and Dunlap, 1998) [rev vt of the above: part four of the four parts: pb/Nenad Jakesevic]
  • The Tears of the Salamander (London: Macmillan, 2003) [hb/Jason Cox]
  • Inside Grandad (New York: Random House/Lamb, 2004) [hb/David Johnson]
    • The Gift Boat (London: Macmillan, 2004) [vt of the above: hb/Getty Images]
  • In the Palace of the Khans (no place given: Peter Dickinson Books, 2013) [pb/]

collections and stories


works as editor


previous versions of this entry

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