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Lake, Jay

Entry updated 29 April 2024. Tagged: Author, Editor.

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(1964-2014) Taiwan-born US marketing executive and author, raised in Taiwan and in West Africa (his father being in the American foreign service); he began publishing work of genre interest with "The Courtesy of Guests" in Bones of the World: Tales from Time's End (anth 2001) edited by Bruce Holland Rogers, and published short fiction prolifically throughout his career. He won the 2004 John W Campbell Award for best new writer in science fiction for his stories, no novels having yet appeared. Some of this production was hasty, and (like many prolific authors) he had a habit of writing long; but the adventurousness of his work amply repaid the cost of clearing one's way into it. This adventurousness typically expressed itself in a very contemporary fashion, through an exuberant and at times merciless jostling of genre conceits and narrative patterns. Some of his work is "faithful" to the SF Megatext; some is coolly experimental; most exhibits a sometimes slapdash Equipoise, charming, irritating, liberating. Stories have been assembled in Greetings from Lake Wu (coll 2003; exp 2006), Green Grow the Rushes-Oh (coll 2003 chap), American Sorrows (coll 2004), Dogs in the Moonlight (coll 2004), The River Knows its Own (coll 2007) and, most comprehensively, in The Sky That Wraps: Collected Short Fiction (coll 2010), Almost All the Way Home from the Stars (coll 2013) with Ruth Nestvold, assembling early collaborations, and Last Plane to Heaven: The Final Collection (coll 2014), which assembles mostly work subsequent to The Sky That Wraps.

Lake's first novel, Rocket Science (2005), is a superficially orthodox but in fact transgressive replay of the kind of Young Adult tale that Robert A Heinlein gave early mature form to, and which was influential for years: the kind of story whose initially constrictive world is shaken by a young protagonist who learns his (sometimes her) own potential through a process which ultimately honours his setting-off point, though sometimes he does not return. In Rocket Science, which is set just after World War Two, the young protagonist's discovery that there are corrupt forces in his home town segues into a distressing realization that the entire town is corrupt, which is to say that America is corrupt: the protagonist's discovery of an Alien Spaceship run by a ship-mind he cannot comprehend only deepens his alienation; and his escape from his home is redemptive only to him.

But Lake's inherent turn of mind is less savage than Rocket Science implies. His major work, the Mainspring Alternate Cosmos sequence, comprising Mainspring (2007), Escapement (2008) and Pinion (2010), slowly and fascinatedly uncovers the nature of a solar system constructed literally in terms of clockwork, rather like an orrery; the fascination with the gearing of this world, and its setting at the beginning of its alternate twentieth century, with Queen Victoria still semi-magically active, marks the series as a whole as being unmistakably Steampunk. The slow unveiling of the physical nature of Earth in such a universe – the planet turns on a vast cogwheel mounted along the rim of a miles-high equatorial wall – is vividly conveyed, in steampunk fashion, through the peregrinations (see Transportation) of various highly intelligent characters across the planet. There is some sense that the whole construct, and the stories that reveal it, comprise the moves of a vast Godgame or Thought Experiment, but the primary impact of the series comes from the unfolding revelations.

The Green sequence, comprising Green (2009), Endurance (2011) and Kalimpura (2013), initially describes the constricted youth and compromised maturity of its young protagonist on a planet possibly colonized by human aeons ago (see Colonization of Other Worlds), but is no more an orthodox Young Adult story than Gene Wolfe's "The Fifth Head of Cerberus" (in Orbit 10, anth 1972, ed Damon Knight), which it clearly resembles; the continuations of this strong tale carry Green into early adulthood, where she (see Women in SF) copes successfully with Politics and gods, and returns her to Kalimpura, the eponymous City where her destiny – it might be speculated – was to be unfolded in full. Lake's career burgeoned remarkably, and future instalments of that career were awaited with strong interest, but his activities were constricted through his last years (from 2008 until his death just short of his fiftieth birthday) by ultimately untreatable cancer, whose progress he documented unflinchingly; the sf world was therefore denied his expected further flowering, though further manuscripts await publication. Last Plane to Heaven: The Final Collection (coll 2014) won a posthumous Locus Award as best collection; again posthumously, Lake received a Special Committee Award (see Hugo) from the 2015 Worldcon. [JC]

Joseph Edward Lake Jr

born Taiwan: 6 June 1964

died Portland, Oregon: 1 June 2014



The City Imperishable



  • Green (New York: Tor, 2009) [Green: hb/Daniel Dos Santos]
  • Endurance (New York: Tor, 2011) [Green: hb/Daniel Dos Santos]
  • Kalimpura (New York: Tor, 2013) [Green: hb/Daniel Dos Santos]
  • Our Lady of the Islands (Seattle, Washington: Per Aspera Press, 2014) with Shannon Page [Green: hb/Mark J Ferrari]

individual titles

collections and stories

works as editor


  • Polyphony 1 (Wilsonville, Oregon: Wheatland Press, 2002) with Deborah Layne [anth: Polyphony: pb/John Elliott]
  • Polyphony 2 (Wilsonville, Oregon: Wheatland Press, 2003) with Deborah Layne [anth: Polyphony: pb/]
  • Polyphony 3 (Wilsonville, Oregon: Wheatland Press, 2003) with Deborah Layne [anth: Polyphony: pb/Jay Lake]
  • Polyphony 4 (Wilsonville, Oregon: Wheatland Press, 2004) with Deborah Layne [anth: Polyphony: pb/Jay Lake]
  • Polyphony 5 (Wilsonville, Oregon: Wheatland Press, 2005) with Deborah Layne [anth: Polyphony: pb/Alexander Lamb]
  • Polyphony 6 (Wilsonville, Oregon: Wheatland Press, 2006) with Deborah Layne [anth: Polyphony: pb/Alexander Lamb]


An earlier Lake/Scholes anthology in the METAtropolis series appears to have been released only in audiobook form.

individual titles


previous versions of this entry

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