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Kersh, Gerald

Entry updated 8 January 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1911-1968) UK author, born in the county of Middlesex, despite stories that he was born in Russia; in the USA from the 1950s, becoming an American citizen; active from the mid-1930s. He was very prolific in shorter forms but is known mainly for such work outside the sf field as Night and the City (1938) and They Die with Their Boots Clean (1941). Many of his numerous short stories (some 400 were published, over 100 of them never collected in his lifetime) are sf or fantasy, often having their original book appearance in collections such as Selected Stories (coll 1943; cut vt The Battle of the Singing Men 1944 chap), The Horrible Dummy and Other Stories (coll 1944), Neither Man nor Dog: Short Stories (coll 1946), Sad Road to the Sea (coll 1947), The Brighton Monster and Others (coll 1953), Men Without Bones and Other Stories (coll 1955; with differing contents, rev 1962), The Ugly Face of Love and Other Stories (coll 1960), The Terribly Wild Flowers (coll 1962) and The Hospitality of Miss Tolliver and Other Stories (coll 1965). Two US compilations, On an Odd Note (coll 1958) and Nightshade and Damnations (coll 1968), the latter edited by Harlan Ellison, conveniently abstract some of Kersh's fantasies and sf from his other short stories. These often take the shape of anecdotes told to a narrator (sometimes identified as Kersh himself), so that much of his work tends to verge upon the tall-tale or Club-Story genre; The Best of Gerald Kersh (coll 1960) is more general. A further selection of his fantastic tales is The World, the Flesh, & the Devil: Fantastical Writings Volume 1 (coll 2006) edited by Paul Duncan.

In "Whatever Happened to Corporal Cuckoo?" (in The Brighton Monster, coll 1953) the titular corporal tells Kersh of his 500 years of unedifying soldier life following a mysterious cure given to him about 1537 (see Immortality). "Voices in the Dust of Annan" (13 September 1947 Saturday Evening Post as "Voices in the Dust"; vt in Sad Road to the Sea, coll 1947) is a Post-Holocaust tale starring fairies or "Little People" who prove to be the pitiable descendants – much changed by Devolution – of London's survivors (see Ruins and Futurity). "The Brighton Monster" (21 February 1948 Saturday Evening Post as "The Monster"; vt in The Brighton Monster, coll 1953) reveals the strange being captured in 1745 England to be a lavishly tattooed Japanese wrestler who underwent Timeslip in the 1945 Hiroshima explosion. In "Men Without Bones" (Fall 1954 Esquire) a tropical explorer tells us of a species of loathsome invertebrates, adding the hypothesis that these are Earth's true natives and we are really Martians (see Mars).

The few Kersh novels containing fantastic elements are perhaps less impressive. The Weak and the Strong (1945) grotesquely carries its cast – trapped Underground – into claustrophobic near-fantasy realms, and An Ape, a Dog, and a Serpent: A Fantastic Novel (1945) fabulates a history of film-making with borderline sf elements. The Great Wash (22 November-20 December 1952 Saturday Evening Post as "The Mystery of the Third Compartment"; 1953; vt The Secret Masters 1953) is an sf thriller in which another Kersh-like narrator – here named Kemp – becomes gradually involved in the uncovering of a plot to inundate most of the world and to rule the remains on authoritarian lines. A subplot of the picaresque Brock (1969) revolves around a cataclysmic new form of nuclear explosive and is a reworking of Kersh's short sf comedy "The Unsafe Deposit Box" (14 April 1962 Saturday Evening Post; vt "Impasse" December 1962 Argosy UK; vt "A Little Something in the Bank" in More Than Once Upon a Time, coll 1964). But his strengths as an author are everywhere evident: a powerful and vivid sense of character, a colourful style and a capacity to infuse his stories with a deep emotional charge (though sometimes sentimentalized). He has strong admirers. [JC/DRL]

see also: Ambrose Bierce; Horror in SF; Leonardo da Vinci; Humour; SETI; Time Distortion; Time in Reverse; Toys.

Gerald Kersh

born Teddington-on-Thames, Middlesex: 26 August 1911

died Kingston, New York: 5 November 1968

works (selected)



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