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Kotzwinkle, William

Entry updated 13 May 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1938-    ) US author who began his career in 1969 as an author of books for Young Adults and younger children [see Checklist below], most of which – like The Ants Who Took away Time (1978 chap), in which the solar system must be searched for the ant-dismembered Watch which keeps Time together, and Walter the Farting Dog (2001) – are visibly accomplished. His genre-crossing Fabulations – some of them making use of sf material – created something of a literary stir in the 1970s. These early tales for adults – like Hermes 3000 (1972), Fata Morgana (1977), set in the Paris of 1871 and plausibly describable as proto-Steampunk, and Herr Nightingale and the Satin Woman (1978) – tend to treat genre boundaries as thresholds through which characters pass from more or less everyday realities into fantastic or sf-like worlds that rewrite those realities in allegorical terms, sometimes feyly. Doctor Rat (1976), on the other hand, never shifts from one plane, and seems all the more extraordinary for that consistency. The tale is mostly narrated by an animal narrator, an elderly laboratory Rat whose mind has been jumbled by too much maze-running (see Labyrinths), and who sees himself as an active collaborator with the humans experimenting on him and his kin (see Zoo); the destiny of the animal world, he feels, is that it be subjected to such experiments for the ultimate good. Crises in the Ecology, however, drive the brutalized animals to form a global consciousness, and war ensues between Man and animals; Doctor Rat heroically quells revolt in the lab, until eventually he is the only animal left alive.

Kotzwinkle is best known in the sf world for some excellent film Ties. They include E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial, in His Adventure on Earth (1982) – which appeared at the same time as a text for younger readers, E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial Storybook (1982 chap) – and E.T., The Book of the Green Planet (1985; cut for younger readers 1985 chap), based on a story by Steven Spielberg (see E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial) and designed to work as a bridge between the first E.T. film and its yet-unmade successor. It too was accompanied by a text for younger readers, E.T., The Storybook of the Green Planet: A New Storybook (1985 chap), probably derived from the cut version of the main title. A further tie, Superman III (1983), is perhaps less memorable.

At the same time Kotzwinkle continued to produce fabulations, including Christmas at Fontaine's (1982), Great World Circus (1983), Queen of Swords (1984) and The Exile (1987), in which a contemporary US actor is transported back to Nazi Germany (see World War Two), where he gets involved in black-market activities. The Midnight Examiner (1989) is a perhaps over-broad comedy in which a journalist – an ideal kind of protagonist for the typical Kotzwinkle novel – becomes tangled in a world of Mafia revenges, voodoo and other sorceries; not entirely dissimilar is the Beast Fable [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], The Bear Went Over the Mountain (1996), in which a bear, having discovered an author's manuscript, takes it with him to New York, where he becomes a literary celebrity to some mild Satiric effect. The aerated mildness of Kotzwinkle's normal take on the world he lives in and the books that tell that world is perhaps clearest in his most recent sf novel, The Amphora Project (2005), a deliberately congested Space Opera in which a cast clearly evocative of the world of sf Cinema, specifically Star Wars, encounters an arbitrary destroyer from another Dimension; the consequences are strangely moving.

The Bugland series, beginning with Trouble in Bugland: A Collection of Inspector Mantis Mysteries (coll 1983), is made up of Sherlock Holmes pastiches for Young Adult readers couched as a set of Beast Fables [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Independent short stories have been assembled as Elephant Bangs Train (coll 1971),` Jewel of the Moon (coll 1985), Hearts of Wood and Other Timeless Tales (coll 1986 chap) – mostly fairytales – and The Hot Jazz Trio (coll 1989), which contains three long stories, each involving a transgressive journey from "normal" reality into other worlds, including the Land of the Dead. Because he crosses genres with such ease, Kotzwinkle could fairly be accused of frivolity; but the charge itself seems frivolous when his harsher texts are looked at squarely. [JC/PN]

William Kotzwinkle

born Scranton, Pennsylvania: 22 November 1938 [22 November 1943 has also been given]

works (selected)



individual titles

collections and stories

children's fiction


Walter the Farting Dog

individual titles for children



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