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Dunn, Mark

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

(1956-    ) US author and playwright who is of both sf and Oulipo interest for his first novel Ella Minnow Pea: A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable (2001), whose premise echoes James Thurber's The Wonderful O (1957 chap) – in which the titular O is banned from speech and writing – and ventures further with a steady loss of letters from the alphabet. The imaginary land of Nollop reveres the author of the well-known pangrammatic sentence "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog", whose letters are enshrined in a national monument. One by one, at intervals, they begin to drop off: Z is the first to go and, with mild Satire on Religion, the priests declare that words containing Z may no longer be spoken or written. Difficulty in Communications increases towards impossibility as the process continues; the heroine Ella Minnow Pea (or LMNOP, the last letters left standing) must explode the now oppressive religion by finding a shorter and thus "better" though not absurdly artificial pangram, which by happy accident she does.

In Dunn's earlier stage play Frank's Life (performed 1992; 1998), the protagonist Frank has unknowingly been the central character in a television soap opera for nearly all his life, surrounded since the age of three by actors who are all in the know; now the ratings are falling and cast members are leaving by (to Frank's manipulated Perception) killing themselves off; Paranoia mounts until the moment of Conceptual Breakthrough. The similarity to The Truman Show (1998) directed by Peter Weir is obvious, and Dunn filed a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures; the case was reportedly settled in favour of the studio after mediation. The existence of roughly similar prior art such as Philip K Dick's Time Out of Joint (1958) may have been a factor in this result.

The Age Altertron (2009) opens the Young Adult sequence Calamitous Adventures of Rodney and Wayne, Cosmic Repairboys: in an alternate 1956, the small US town of Pitcherville is imprisoned in a Force Field and subjected to various weird-science experiments, beginning with all inhabitants becoming nearly twelve years younger. Only the initially thirteen-year-old Repairboys and their mentor Professor Johnson can perceive the changes; they patch together a series of Inventions to repair each successive weirdness. The series continues with The Meteorological Manipulator (2010). Under the Harrow (2010) features a kind of Pocket Universe: another seemingly experimental US community called Dingley Dell whose original inhabitants were abandoned as children in the nineteenth century and left to tackle their own Education with the only textbooks being a Bible, the 1890 Encyclopedia Britannica and the novels of Charles Dickens (whose stylistic influence permeates the narrative). A runaway boy from Dingley Dell encounters the reality of the twenty-first century, and complications ensue.

This writer should not be confused with the artist Mark Dunn who drew for Dark Horizons and other UK horror/fantasy venues 1985-1994; nor with the UK author who won the inaugural James White Award in 2000. [DRL]

Mark Dunn

born Memphis, Tennessee: 22 October 1956

works (highly selected)


Calamitous Adventures of Rodney and Wayne, Cosmic Repairboys

  • The Age Altertron (San Francisco, California: Cage Publishing/MacAdam, 2009) [Calamitous Adventures of Rodney and Wayne, Cosmic Repairboys: hb/]
  • The Meteorological Manipulator (San Francisco, California: Cage Publishing/MacAdam, 2010) [Calamitous Adventures of Rodney and Wayne, Cosmic Repairboys: hb/]

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