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Nelson, Ray Faraday

Entry updated 2 December 2022. Tagged: Author, Fan.

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Working name of US author Radell Faraday Nelson (1931-2022), who also wrote as R F Nelson and R Faraday Nelson, sex books as M R N Elson ("Mr Nelson"), and once under the House Name Jeffrey Lord. He was active in both sf and detective genres, beginning to publish sf with "Turn off the Sky" in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for August 1963. His short story "Eight O'Clock in the Morning" (November 1963 F&SF) was the basis for the film They Live (1988) directed by John Carpenter. He worked as a gag-writer for cartoonist Grant Canfield, and for a time collaborated with Michael Moorcock in smuggling Henry Miller books from France into the UK; Moorcock was caught, Nelson forced to cease. Nelson had also been active as a fan artist from the 1940s and holds a secure place in the hearts of sf Fandom [see lifetime honours below] for having first invented and then in Fanzine cartoons popularized the propeller beanie headwear which was to become emblematic of the sf fan.

Nelson's first sf novel was The Ganymede Takeover (1967) with Philip K Dick, a tale in which Dickian preoccupations are somewhat dampened by implausibly foregrounded action sequences involving wormlike Aliens. His second, Blake's Progress (1975; rev vt Timequest 1985) for Laser Books, accords the poet/painter William Blake (1757-1827) the capacity to Time-Travel, along with his wife Kate; she is by far the better painter of the two, though her husband signs her works. History is altered, the novel being in part an Alternate-History story. In its full revised form as Timequest it is a highly energetic vision of the poet, and Nelson's best work.

The Beggars diptych, comprising Then Beggars Could Ride (1976) and its sequel The Revolt of the Unemployables (1978), depicts an Ecological Utopia of small, self-contained but interacting units, in which a protagonist tries to sort himself out. Only one volume of the projected Timebinder sequence appeared, The Prometheus Man: A Nrobook (1982), in which a rigid and therefore Dystopian meritocracy has transformed America into a land of employables (not numerous) and the Uns, or unemployables (the great majority). The plot revolves around a marriage broken by the system as well as an assortment of gurus, tycoons and revolutionaries; it does not fully resolve. Similar in tone is Virtual Zen (1996), whose protagonist reacts to the suicide of his composer father through a "zen" revolt against the Dystopia which America has become. Though sometimes over-easily applied, Nelson's Iconoclasm was all the more welcome for its surprising rarity in the sf field.

His contributions to fandom and Fanzine art were recognized by the Rotsler Award in 2003, the Fanzine Activity Achievement award for life achievement in 2014, and induction into the First Fandom Hall of Fame in 2019. [JC]

see also: Invasion; Niekas; Philip K Dick Award; Transportation.

Radell Faraday Nelson

born Schenectady, New York: 3 October 1931

died El Cerrito, California: 30 November 2022 [on the night of 29/30 November]

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