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Mårtensson, Bertil

Entry updated 6 February 2023. Tagged: Author.

(1945-2018) Swedish philosopher and author. Mårtensson began reading sf in the mid-1950s, became active in Swedish sf Fandom in 1962 and published his first professional story: "Urhemmet" ["Original Home"] in the sf magazine Häpna! for December 1963. An extremely active fan, he edited numerous Fanzines during the 1960s and again in the 1990s, contributed stories, poetry, criticism and essays to many others, and was a dominant force for twenty years. As a philosopher, he wrote a textbook of formal logic and an introduction to the philosophy of science; here his primary interest was in cognition, concept formation and the growth of knowledge.

Mårtensson's first novel, titled Detta är verkligheten ["This Is Reality"] (1968) by the publisher (the author's title was «Worlds Without End»), begins with protagonist Carli trying to save a princess in a standard Fantasy setting. But halfway through the novel, Carli wakes in the Clinic, knowing that his real name is Carl and that in his induced dreams he visits other worlds to perform difficult missions – a notion earlier used by John D MacDonald in his Wine of the Dreamers (1951). But gradually he begins to doubt these memories as well, instead realizing that he is just one of innumerable inhabitants of an overpopulated Earth who spend their entire lives in Computer-generated dreaming, while a small technocratic elite rules the planet (see Dystopia; Overpopulation). In the end, Carli opts to return to the world of his princess. But is the world he returns to the same one he visited earlier? Is it real, or just a Virtual Reality computer simulation? Mårtensson gives no answers. In tone and style, Mårtensson was influenced by Clifford D Simak, but many of his concerns recall those of Philip K Dick. His second novel, Skeppet i kambrium ["The Ship in Cambrium"] (1974) is set in a world devoid of natural life but teeming with artificial plants, birds and insects. An artificial recreation of 1960s London serves as a Prison: dissenters are implanted with false memories and placed in the City. The novel is a play on Identity and reality. Samarkand 5617 (1975) is more traditional sf with touches of Jack Vance: basically an exploration of the human-colonized planet Vilahall, which thousands of years ago lost all contact with the rest of humanity (see Colonization of Other Worlds; Long Night); when contact was re-established, the population of Vilahall also became the unwitting chess pieces of two warring AIs previously dormant on a moon, which are now trying to control events via human agents. Again, the play on identities and reality is an important part of the novel.

In Mårtensson's later novels, the theme of Ecology – present also in his early work, but there less prominent – becomes central. In Jungfrulig planet ["Virgin Planet"] (1977), the protagonist becomes an ecological observer to one of many colony worlds and finds that reports have been falsified: in order to open the planet to exploitation, the fact that it is inhabited by intelligent indigenous beings has been kept secret (see Prime Directive), and the native inhabitants are being treated as animals. To underscore the theme of human callousness, the novel's strongest character is an Alien Cat-like woman who becomes the protagonist's lover and teacher, but who is hunted down and killed. A later novel, Det gyllene språnget ["The Golden Leap"] (1987) is set on the home world of the cat-like aliens, which is also subject to human colonization; the theme of the novel, though here expressed via a direct confrontation between different cultures, is similar to that of the earlier book.

In addition to his sf, which also included close to a hundred short stories, Mårtensson published the loosely connected Fantasy trilogy Maktens vägar ["The Roads of Power"] and four crime novels, one of which received the 1977 Sherlock Award for best Swedish crime novel. In English, he is represented by stories in The Penguin World Omnibus of Science Fiction (anth 1986) edited by Brian W Aldiss and Sam J Lundwall, and in Terra SF: The Year's Best European SF (anth 1981) edited Richard D Nolane. More than any other Swedish sf writer, Mårtensson produced original and impressive work seamlessly utilizing the tradition and themes of British and American sf. [J-HH]

Bertil Mårtensson

born Malmö, Sweden: 12 June 1945

died Helsingborg, Sweden: 4 November 2018

works (sf/fantasy only)


Maktens vägar ["The Roads of Power"]

individual titles


  • Vakthundarna ["Watchdogs"] (Stockholm, Sweden: SFSF, 1979) [poetry: coll: pb/]
  • Vilse ["Lost"] (Stockholm, Sweden: SFSF, 1979) with Steve Sem-Sandberg [coll: each author contributing half the stories: pb/]
  • Förvandlas ["Transforming"] (Lund, Sweden: Ellerström, 1986) [coll: pb/]


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