Entry updated 24 August 2020. Tagged: Author.
(1890-1967) US electrical engineer, editor and author of more than 70 crime-and-detection thrillers whose bizarre complexity – the "webwork novel", in his own phrase – irrelevant stories-within-stories and reliance on a multiplicity of staggering coincidences led to his being cherished by fans for other than literary reasons, rather as R Lionel Fanthorpe is enjoyed for his unashamed padding. Keeler's situations often verge on the science-fictional, with semi-plausible Inventions like the titular glasses of The Spectacles of Mr Cagliostro (1926; vt The Blue Spectacles 1931): these allow the reading of a "secret" message that is blazoned across the country on billboards. Sing Sing Nights (1928), though primarily a suspense thriller, features the transplant of a human brain into the skull of a gorilla. The Box from Japan (1932) is set in the Near Future of 1942, with various eccentric Predictions including a new food source (the Giant Sugar Cactus), the return of Prohibition and holographic colour television.
The Face of the Man from Saturn (1933; vt The Crilly Court Mystery 1933) is not itself sf but centres on a piece of sf artwork concealing another hidden message, and includes the inset sf story "John Jones's Dollar" (August 1915 Black Cat), here introduced as a manuscript titled "How Socialism Finally Arrived in the World!" – socialism being one of Keeler's enthusiasms. This 1915 tale, which was reprinted in Amazing Stories for April 1927, is the author's best known (albeit poorly written) contribution to sf: a story of runaway compound interest in which the dollar invested in trust for John Jones's distant descendants grows to a sum of Money exceeding the total wealth of the Far-Future solar system; the framing story features Education in SF via television link as a professor in 3221 CE (3235 in The Face of the Man from Saturn) addresses his globally scattered class.
From 1919 to 1940 Keeler edited the minor Pulp magazine 10-Story Book. His late novel The Man Who Changed His Skin (written 1959; trans into Spanish 1966; 2000) is true sf, a story of Identity Exchange caused by a Drug derived from an extraterrestrial tree whose seed came to Earth via meteorite; a white Bostonian of 1855 is trapped in the body of a Black man and his own body cannot be found. [DRL]
see also: Food Pills.
Harry Stephen Keeler
born Chicago, Illinois: 3 November 1890
died Chicago, Illinois: 22 January 1967
works (highly selected)
- The Spectacles of Mr Cagliostro (London: Hutchinson, 1926) [hb/]
- The Blue Spectacles (London: Ward Lock, 1931) [vt of the above: hb/]
- Sing Sing Nights (New York: E P Dutton, 1928) [hb/]
- The Box from Japan (New York: E P Dutton, 1932) [hb/]
- The Face of the Man from Saturn (New York: E P Dutton, 1933) [hb/]
- The Crilly Court Mystery (London: Ward Lock, 1933) [vt of the above: hb/]
- The Man Who Changed His Skin (Vancleave, Mississippi: Ramble House, 2000) [written 1959: pb/Gavin L O'Keefe]
about the author
- Bill Pronzini. "The Amazing Adventures of the Kracked King of Keelerland" in Son of Gun in Cheek (New York: The Mysterious Press, 1987) [nonfiction: pp65-83: hb/Pamela Noftsinger]
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