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Koestler, Arthur

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author, Theatre.

(1905-1983) Hungarian-born linguist – he wrote in four languages – journalist, playwright and author. An early Zionist, he began publishing in Tel Aviv in 1925, but abandoned Zionism and left the Middle East by 1929; as a Jewish Communist in Berlin in the early 1930s, he was clearly at risk; he later narrowly avoided execution in the Spanish Civil War, but was admitted to the UK in 1937, becoming a naturalized UK citizen in 1948.

All Koestler's books after the famous Dystopia Darkness at Noon (incomplete trans Daphne Hardy from original German manuscript 1940; new trans, from the rediscovered manuscript, Philip Boehm 2019) were written in English. Several of the speculative, philosophical works of his later career have a direct interest for sf readers and have probably been influential on sf writers. They include The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), including an intensely couched evaluation of Johannes Kepler, The Act of Creation (1964), The Case of the Midwife Toad (1971) – about the "Lamarckian" inheritance of acquired characteristics (see Evolution; Pseudoscience) – and The Roots of Coincidence (1972).

Koestler was an intermittent sf author. His play, Twilight Bar: An Escapade in Four Acts (written 1933; English version 1945 chap; performed 1946), is a Utopian fantasia set on a world-Island visited by Aliens who threaten to destroy human life unless we better ourselves immediately. The Age of Longing (1951) is a symposium novel set in Near-Future France; it distils his intimate experience with European thought and Politics into a prediction of the nature of our response to a threatened Invasion from the East. The Call Girls: A Tragi-Comedy (1972) is a discussion novel on sf-related themes including Psi Powers. Koestler was an important speculative thinker, many of whose ideas challenged (sometimes with some success) "orthodox" scientific and social thought. Unsurprisingly for an author whose attempts at writing sf were conspicuously wooden (see Mainstream Writers of SF), he several times expressed contempt for sf. [JC]

see also: Theatre.

Arthur Koestler

born Budapest, Hungary: 5 September 1905

died London: 1 March 1983




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