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McElroy, Joseph

Entry updated 26 October 2021. Tagged: Author.

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(1930-    ) US author who has gained attention for a series of intellectually formidable novels, almost all of which may be described as epistemological studies of contemporary life, exceedingly ambitious attempts to emplace narrated human beings into fields of what might be called planetary knowing and unknowing, while at the same time introducing arguments that these systemic "metaphors" are in fact good Physics. The mazes he creates may seem Borgesian (see Jorge Luis Borges), not least because of a sense that they comprise as close a description of reality as we are likely to achieve. Most of McElroy's work can be read as fields within which non-existent sf stories might have been told. Notable among these are Hind's Kidnap: A Pastoral on Familiar Airs (1969), a metaphysical detective novel; Ancient History: A Paraphrase (1971), whose plays on textuality evoke (among others) the work of Vladimir Nabokov; Lookout Cartridge (1974), which plays on Cinema and the mappability of the world, and inter alia speculates on the use of Telepathy as a form of sensitivity to Computer networks; the extremely long and ambitious Women and Men (1987), which again tests the hypothesis that human beings are in a sense uttered by the world (or in this case New York); and Actress in the House (2003), where the webs of connection extend into the future. All his work may be most fruitfully likened to the Fabulations of writers like Thomas Pynchon – whose Against the Day (2006), like Women and Men, could be read as a "mythopoeikon" of nineteenth century America – and Don DeLillo; a young writer whose work seems marked by McElroy is David Foster Wallace. Cannonball (2013) is a Satire on post-2003 America focused on the discovery Underground in war-torn Iraq of a lost gospel in which Jesus advocates neoliberalist doctrines.

Of all this work, however, only one tale can properly be called sf: in Plus (1977), Imp Plus, a Memory-Edited Brain in a Box housed in a Near Future research satellite in orbit (see Space Stations), records to interlocutors on Earth its/his sensations and observations as the universe seems to fructify around his casing. [JC/GF]

Joseph Prince McElroy

born New York: 21 August 1930

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