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Harness, Charles L

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1915-2005) US patent attorney and author, born in Texas. His first published story was "Time Trap" for Astounding in August 1948, a convoluted Time-Loop tale involving the working of tremendous forces off-stage and a quasi-transcendental experience as the hero goes back in time to remake the world. His subsequent output for the next several years showed a remarkable consistency in echoing and developing these themes. His first two novels, Flight into Yesterday (May 1949 Startling; exp 1953; vt The Paradox Men 1955 dos) and The Ring of Ritornel (1968), feature cycles in time – the first tale invoking Toynbee's cyclic history (see Decadence; Devolution; History in SF) and the second a conflict between free will (or chance) and the determinism of a recurring Time-Loop universe – and Heroes who undergo transcendental metamorphoses in order to manipulate their own destinies and that of the human race. Both novels are shamelessly melodramatic, and have an obvious kinship with the work of A E van Vogt; both authors are cited by Brian W Aldiss as notable examples of the subgenre he termed Widescreen Baroque. Shorter works in the same vein include "The New Reality" (December 1950 Thrilling Wonder) – sf's best Adam and Eve story – and "Stalemate in Space" (Summer 1949 Planet Stories; vt "Stalemate in Time" August 1966 New Worlds). The first phase of his career (1948-1953) may well have ended because of his failure to sell the remarkable novella "The Rose" (March 1953 Authentic) to a US market. It later became the title story of The Rose (coll 1966), Harness's first collection, which also includes "The New Reality" and "The Chessplayers" (October 1953 F&SF) (see Chess). This striking allegory of the opposed worldviews of science and the Arts is a memorable exemplar of the particular kind of Superman story which represents future human Evolution in metamorphic terms. Its revival in the 1960s was the result of the interest in Harness's work of Michael Moorcock, who reprinted several Harness stories in New Worlds, awakening an interest in his work which may have been responsible for his second burst of creativity, when he produced The Ring of Ritornel and several shorter works drawing on his experience as a lawyer, including "An Ornament to his Profession" (February 1966 Analog) and "The Alchemist" (May 1966 Analog). (Harness had earlier drawn on this experience in writing whimsical articles and stories for Astounding as Leonard Lockhard, sometimes working in collaboration with Theodore L Thomas.) Much of this work, plus other stories, was assembled as An Ornament to His Profession (coll 1998), a title which began to correct the long indifference he had suffered in America.

Harness returned to sf writing for a third time with the futuristic infernal romance Wolfhead (November-December 1977 F&SF; 1978), one of several sf novels to borrow heavily from Dante Alighieri and to recast the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. He then remained moderately prolific until the 1990s, aided by his retirement from legal work in 1981. The Catalyst (1980) is one of several Harness stories featuring quasimiraculous scientific discoveries made in frank defiance of supposedly rational procedures. The transcendental time-looping of his earlier novels is reiterated in Firebird (1981), Krono (1988), and – in an un-space-operatic fashion – in Lurid Dreams (1990), whose out-of-body time traveller meets up with Edgar Allan Poe and transforms him from dejected drunk – Harness seemingly accepts Rufus Wilmot Griswold's calumnies about Poe – into Civil War hero. Redworld (1986) is an eccentric Bildungsroman set on a peculiar alien world, which may be in part a transfiguration of the author's early life, which also serves as a base for transfiguration in Cybele, With Bluebonnets (2002), his last novel. His fondness for outrageously melodramatic courtroom dramas in which absolutely everything is rigged against the defendant, first displayed in "Probable Cause" (in Orbit 4, anth 1968, ed Damon Knight), is echoed in The Venetian Court (early version 30 March 1981 Analog; 1982) and Lunar Justice (1991).

Harness was an original, stylish and imaginatively audacious writer whose relative neglect is difficult to understand. His most recent books may not have had quite the scope and exuberant panache of his earlier efforts, but it is nevertheless fortunate that several of the works of this colourful and highly readable writer – most of which first appeared only as ephemeral paperback originals – were brought into public notice toward the end of his life. In addition to the 1998 collection of his best stories (see above), Rings (omni 2000) successfully assembled several novels: The Ring of Ritornel, Flight into Yesterday under its vt The Paradox Men, The Firebird and the previously unpublished "Drunkard's Endgame". By the end of his long life, he had finally gained due renown. In 2004 he was honoured by SFWA as Author of Distinction, a variation of the more usual Author Emeritus (see SFWA Grand Master Award). [BS/JC]

see also: Amnesia; Computers; Cosmology; Continuous Creation; Crime and Punishment; End of Time; Eschatology; Force Field; Galactic Empires; Games and Sports; Jupiter; Medicine; Metaphysics; Moon; Music; Mythology; Prehistoric SF; Rays; Recursive SF; Scientists; Sun; Telekinesis; Time Paradoxes; Torture; Upload; Weapons.

Charles Leonard Harness

born Colorado City, Texas: 29 December 1915

died North Newton, Kansas: 20 September 2005


  • Flight into Yesterday (New York: Bouregy and Curl, Inc, 1953) [author's original title for this novel was "Toynbee Twenty-Two": hb/Ric Binkley]
  • The Rose (London: Compact Books, 1966) [coll: introduction by Michael Moorcock: pb/uncredited]
  • The Ring of Ritornel (London: Victor Gollancz, 1968) [hb/nonpictorial]
  • Wolfhead (New York: Berkley Medallion, 1978) [first appeared November-December 1977 F&SF: pb/Richard M Powers]
  • The Catalyst (New York: Pocket Books, 1980) [pb/Michael Whelan]
  • Firebird (New York: Pocket Books, 1981) [pb/Rowena Morrill]
    • Rings (Framingham, Massachusetts: The NESFA Press, 2000) [omni: containing The Ring of Ritornel, Flight into Yesterday under its vt The Paradox Men, The Firebird as above and the previously unpublished "Drunkard's Endgame": hb/Jane Dennis]
  • The Venetian Court (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 1982) [first appeared 30 March 1981 Analog: pb/Ralph Brillhart]
  • Redworld (New York: DAW Books, 1986) [pb/Angus McKie]
  • Krono (New York: Franklin Watts, 1988) [hb/Tere LoPrete]
  • Lurid Dreams (New York: Avon Books, 1990) [pb/Dorian Vallejo]
  • Lunar Justice (New York: Avon Books, 1990) [pb/Glen Orbik]
  • An Ornament to His Profession (Framingham, Massachusetts: The NESFA Press, 1998) [coll: hb/James Stanley Daugherty]
  • Cybele, With Bluebonnets (Framingham, Massachusetts: The NESFA Press, 2002) [hb/Jane Dennis]

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