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Haldane, J B S

Entry updated 25 September 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1892-1964) UK biologist and author, brother of Naomi Mitchison, married to Charlotte Haldane (1926-1945); in active service in World War One, beginning 1914; an Indian citizen from 1961. His work in population genetics, and his sophistications of the theory of Evolution to properly incorporate Mendelian genetics, were of contemporary significance (see Biology). He wrote relatively little fiction. My Friend Mr Leakey (coll of linked stories 1937) is a book of light-hearted fantasies for children, with no sf element, though the eponymous magus-like Communist scientist at the heart of the tales has his eye on a better future. Haldane's only sf proper is an incomplete and posthumously published Scientific Romance, The Man with Two Memories (1976), about a man's Telepathic link with an Alien of the planet Ulro, which he describes as a Utopia in which Drugs are used to control human behaviour, and most new births are Clones bred for quality.

Haldane is probably best remembered for his bold speculative essays, which heavily influenced significant works by other writers. Dedalus; Or, Science and the Future (1923 chap), which espoused Eugenics and inspired the long-running series of To-day and To-morrow texts, is a classic anticipation of Genetic Engineering, and provided the image of the future sarcastically extrapolated by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World (1932); Haldane himself soon came to disapprove of this "science", arguing its moral and practical inefficacy in his Heredity and Politics (1938). In Callinicus: A Defence of Chemical Warfare (1925), also in the To-Day and To-Morrow series, he argues that Poison gas is no more or less horrific than any other Weapon of mass destruction. The semifictional "The Last Judgment", in Possible Worlds and Other Essays (coll 1927), sets out an Evolutionary prospectus for the human race which was extensively elaborated by Olaf Stapledon in Last and First Men (1930). Haldane's wife from 1926 to 1945, Charlotte Haldane, published the novel Man's World (1926) which explicitly draws not only on his arguments but on those of Bertrand Russell's riposte, Icarus; Or, the Future of Science (1924 chap).

"On Being the Right Size", also from Possible Worlds and Other Essays, discusses recurring problems of scale in sf (see Great and Small), such as giants who are ten times human size but with – unworkably owing such to limitations as the strength of bone – the exact same proportions. Some further pieces in A Banned Broadcast and Other Essays (coll 1946) – assembling short science articles mostly written for the communist newspaper The Daily Worker – are of sf interest, including a debunking of World War Two rumours of Death Rays (see also Urban Legends). [BS/DRL]

see also: Anthropology; Children's SF; Colonization of Other Worlds; Dystopias; End of the World; Far Future; Futures Studies; Sun; Venus.

John Burdon Sanderson Haldane

born Oxford, Oxfordshire: 5 November 1892

died Bhubaneswar, India: 1 December 1964


nonfiction (selected)

about the author


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