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Effinger, George Alec

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1947-2002) US author long resident in New Orleans, where he died before the flood; he was married (1998-2000) to Barbara Hambly, with whom he remained close. He entered sf writing via the 1970 Clarion Science Fiction Writers' Workshop, having three stories in the workshop's first anthology, Clarion (anth 1971), edited by Robin Scott Wilson, though his first published story was "The Eight Thirty to Nine Slot" for Fantastic in April 1971. Some early work was written as by John K Diomede or Susan Doenim. Within a very short time Effinger established himself as a writer of stylish, surrealistic sf stories, becoming a regular contributor to such series anthologies as Orbit, New Dimensions and Universe as well as the major magazines; and, despite a steady production of novels, he was for at least a decade most admired for this work – about 150 stories in total – much of which was assembled in Mixed Feelings (coll 1974), Irrational Numbers (coll 1976), Dirty Tricks (coll 1978), Idle Tricks (coll 1978), Idle Pleasures (coll 1983), The Old Funny Stuff (coll 1989), Schrödinger's Kitten (September 1988 Omni; 1992 chap) – which won both Hugo and Nebula for Best Novelette – and Budayeen Nights (coll 2003), the latter two volumes both set in the Budayeen universe, and George Alec Effinger Live! from Planet Earth (coll 2005).

At the same time, What Entropy Means to Me (1972), Effinger's first novel, did gain praise from Theodore Sturgeon and Robert Silverberg among others, and was nominated for a Nebula. It is an elaborate, multi-layered work, combining elements of Space Opera, family romance and quest fable within a self-referential discourse about the impulsions and restraints of creation. Relatives (fixup 1973), less well received, fails to unify its disparate parts, which tell of one man in three Parallel Worlds. Nightmare Blue (1975) with Gardner Dozois and Those Gentle Voices: A Promethean Romance of the Spaceways (1976) were dithering attempts to disguise a lack of creative impetus through demonstrations of professional skill. For some time, it seemed that he would always remain a better short-story writer than novelist, the knowledgeable, witty master of a sly tone and unlikely subject matter, with a particular interest in various kinds of games (see Games and Sports), but failing to fulfil his promise. His very considerable capacity to dazzle – and an adroit use of parallel-world conventions, with characters dodging into changed identities with frivolous inevitability – led undoubtedly to a body of work unduly insistent on the wonderland interlockings typical of play. "Many of my stories interlock," he once said, "and some day I will figure out a kind of chronology and key to the business." Perhaps fortunately, he never discovered – or at any rate never published – anything of the sort, and the wise absurdities (see Fabulation) of his best work were never reduced to a system.

After two moderately successful novels – Death in Florence (1978; vt Utopia 3 1980) and Heroics (1979) – Effinger began the 1980s with the darkly Dystopian The Wolves of Memory (1981), whose surreal mise-en-scene effortlessly draws the book's brooding hero, Sandor Courane, into the depths when he is sent by Earth's ruling Computer to a penal planet which infects its denizens with a fatal disease destructive to memory. This novel – possibly Effinger's finest – was assembled with seven further stories featuring Courane as A Thousand Deaths (coll 2007). And, in the self-referential dance of motif and character of The Nick of Time (1985) and its sequel, The Bird of Time (1986), he at last successfully manifested at novel length his long-felt need to present Time Travel as a form of play. Appalling ill health and other disasters severely afflicted him during these years, but When Gravity Fails (1987), A Fire in the Sun (1989) and The Exile Kiss (1991), comprising as much of the Marid Audran: Budayeen sequence as he would be able to write, were perhaps his most successful books. In the walled City of Budayeen – a fantasticated rendering of New Orleans before it was lost – young streetwise Marid Audran becomes more and more deeply embroiled in the technological and electronic complexities of the twenty-first-century Middle East life, the Near Future world here being displayed in terms as dazzling as any dervish of alternating realities from Effinger's previous work. Effinger also scripted Circuit's Edge, a Videogame with the same protagonist and setting.

Having become ill from intestinal ulcers (and other chronic disabilities) early in life, Effinger found health-care difficult or impossible to gain; his career was therefore hampered throughout by enormous medical debts, and after about 1993, when his health deteriorated further (and his debts ballooned), he wrote no more. [JC/DP]

see also: Disaster; Ecology; Entropy; Game-Worlds; Omni; Physics; Seiun Award; Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award; Thought Experiment.

George Alec Effinger

born Cleveland, Ohio: 10 January 1947

died New Orleans, Louisiana: 27 April 2002



Planet of the Apes

Sandor Courane

  • The Wolves of Memory (New York: G P Putnam's Sons, 1981) [Sandor Courane: hb/Norman Walker]
  • A Thousand Deaths (Urbana, Illinois: Golden Gryphon Press, 2007) [coll: incorporating the above plus seven additional stories: Sandor Courane: hb/John Picacio]

Bird of Time

  • The Nick of Time (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1985) [Bird of Time: hb/William Naegels]
  • The Bird of Time (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1986) [Bird of Time: hb/William Naegels]

Budayeen: Marid Audran


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collections and stories

about the author


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