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Jakes, John

Entry updated 18 September 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1932-2023) US author initially best known for sf and fantasy, under his own name and various pseudonyms including Alan Henry, Jacob Johns, Alan Payne, Jay Scotland and Alan Wilder, before launching his Bicentennial series of novels, which traces the fictional history of a US family over the past 200 years. It achieved extraordinary bestsellerdom, undoubtedly justifying, at least financially, his decision to retire from the genre. Most of his shorter work, beginning with "The Dreaming Trees" in Fantastic Adventures for November 1950, was written by the 1960s – a good selection appearing as The Best of John Jakes (coll 1977) edited by Martin H Greenberg and Joseph D Olander – and he published his last sf novel in 1973. He generally displayed competence, but his early work lacked bite and his later novels, though sharper, were published in some obscurity. He was in any case from the first actively involved in other genres, and published at least twenty books, including several historicals as by Jay Scotland, before When the Star Kings Die (1967), the first volume in the Dragonard/II Galaxy series of Space Operas, marked his full-scale entry into the sf field. The three novels in the sequence – the others are The Planet Wizard (1969) and Tonight We Steal the Stars (1969 dos) – follow the adventures of the Dragonard clan as they guard II Galaxy and its corporate "star kings" against various perils.

His second series, the Brak the Barbarian Sword-and-Sorcery epic, includes Brak the Barbarian (coll of linked stories 1968), Brak the Barbarian versus the Sorceress (November-December 1963 Fantastic as "Witch of the Four Winds"; exp 1969; vt Brak the Barbarian – The Sorceress 1970; vt The Sorceress 1976), Brak the Barbarian versus the Mark of the Demons (1969; vt Brak the Barbarian – The Mark of the Demons 1970; vt The Mark of the Demons 1976), Brak: When the Idols Walked (August-September 1964 Fantastic as "When the Idols Walked"; exp 1978) and The Fortunes of Brak (coll 1980). The deep debt of these stories to Robert E Howard's rather more energetic Conan tales was acknowledged in the publication of Mention My Name in Atlantis [for subtitle see Checklist] (1972), an amusing pastiche of the subgenre, which also takes aim at the Lost World tale.

Out of the several sf novels Jakes published 1969-1973, four stand out. Six-Gun Planet (1970), a Western featuring appearances by Billy the Kid, depicts a deliberately archaic colony planet called Missouri complete with Robot gunfighters, just as in the later film Westworld (1973). Black in Time (1970) presents vignettes from Black history dramatized through a Time-Travel plot device. Time Gate (1972) is a light Alternate History tale effectively couched for its Young Adult audience. On Wheels (1973), set about a century hence, tautly depicts a mobile American subculture whose members live, breed and die on wheels, whether in large trailers or on their own vehicles, never leaving the Interstates, never legally dropping below 40mph (65kph). Their god is the Texaco Firebird, which they see only at the moment of death. As Satire the story is simple but gripping, like most of Jakes's best work. It is one of the relatively few twentieth-century sf tales to treat the triumph of the automobile in America (see Dystopia; Transportation) as nightmarish. [JC]

see also: Colonization of Other Worlds; Sociology.

John William Jakes

born Chicago, Illinois: 31 March 1932

died Sarasota, Florida: 11 March 2023

works (selected)


Dragonard/II Galaxy

Brak the Barbarian

Gavin Black

individual titles

collections and stories


previous versions of this entry

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