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Newton, W Douglas

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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Working name of Irish author Wilfrid Bernard Michael Newton (1884-1951), active from around 1907 in British magazines, where he published a wide variety of fiction including the occult, the supernatural, thrillers and sf; he also wrote as by Bernard Birmingham, W N Douglas, John Halstead, John How and Ian Irons. His first sf novels are set in the Near Future, and speculate upon the possibility of Invasion and World War One: War (1914) unpacks a Future War among the countries of Europe, and The North Afire: A Picture of What May Be (1914) locates the eponymous conflagration in Near Future Northern Ireland; the latter volume was prefaced by Robert Hugh Benson and introduced by Rudyard Kipling.

Newton was disturbed by the prospects of Eugenics, especially the personal, social and racial implications of this "science". He refers to its negative potential in several stories, most vividly "The Chosen" (5 May 1922 The Yellow Magazine) which depicts an isolated community established in the Xingu area of northern Brazil in the nineteenth century by eugenic "faddists", as Newton terms them. They have developed powerful Weapons, and have become scientifically advanced in certain abilities – notably Telepathy – though not others, and the community is highly regimented with no understanding of free will or choice. "The Hub of All Hate" (30 May 1924 The Yellow Magazine) could almost be a companion piece to "The Chosen" as it features another hidden community of individuals with powerful telepathic and radio facilities who spread hate round the world. Further specifically eugenics-based stories, where "breeding" threatens the world with Disaster, include Dr Odin (June-November 1926 Cassell's Magazine as "Dr. Dyn"; rev 1933), about a Mad Scientist's attempts to perfect a Nordic "master race", which he houses in an Underground City at the North Pole; and "Out of Time: A Eugenic Nightmare" (October-December 1936 The Month), in which a Scientist has a vision of a future totalitarian scientific regime.

Other works include "Sunken Cities" (November 1923 Munsey's Magazine), featuring a Lost Race housed on an Island in the Pacific; "Wave Madness" (January 1926 Cassell's Magazine) where criminals invent a gas that drives people into a homicidal frenzy; The Black Fear (28 September 1929 The Thriller as "The Black Terror"; 1935) as by John Halstead, in which a powerful African of near-Superman qualities takes revenge upon those who exploited his country by developing a method for turning the skins of white people black (see Race in SF); "Disaster" (17 May 1930 The Thriller; vt "The End of England", September 1930 Excitement; vt "Menace Over England", 5 December 1936 Detective Weekly) in which an evil scientist plans to destroy England with a virulent weed that kills all other plant life (see Ecology); and two stories in The Beggar and Other Stories (coll 1933): "The Joke that Ended War" (November 1931 Windsor Magazine), a Future War tale involving guided missiles (see Weapons), and "The Flash" (Christmas 1932 Help Yourself Annual), with a disease that causes all metals to disintegrate.

The power of the mind (see Psi Powers) is the key to the eponymous gift in "The Man Who Thought Diamonds" (Christmas 1937 Help Yourself Annual). Mesmeric and even telepathic control also features in Newton's crime novel The Black Arab (February-July 1928 Cassell's Magazine; fixup 1933; cut 1944) both book editions as by John Halstead, and The Black Hate (1937 as John Halstead).

The Savaran series, about an adventurer and soldier-of-fortune who carves a kingdom for himself in deepest Africa, includes two Lost-World stories, "The Great Quest" (4 January 1931 Chicago Sunday Tribune; vt "The Hills of Mystery" 20 March 1937 The Passing Show) in I, Savaran (coll 1937) and Savaran and the Great Sand (10 September-29 October 1938 The Passing Show as "The Devil Comes Aboard"; 1939).

Newton was a prolific writer with over a thousand stories to his credit, but his output was so diverse in a variety of non-genre magazines, with only a small proportion reprinted in book form, that his full contribution to sf has easily been overlooked. [JE/MA]

Wilfrid Bernard Michael Newton

born London: 9 September 1884

died London: 6 April 1951




individual titles

  • War (London: Methuen and Co, 1914) [hb/Frank Wright]
  • The North Afire: A Picture of What May Be (London: Methuen and Co, 1914) [hb/]
  • The Beggar and Other Stories (London: Washbourne and Bogan, 1933) [coll: hb/uncredited]
  • The Black Arab (London: Stanley Paul, 1933) as by John Halstead [fixup: first version appeared February-July 1928 Cassell's Magazine: hb/]
    • The Black Arab (London: Mellifont Press, 1944) as by John Halstead [cut version of the above: pb/]
  • Dr Odin (London: Cassell and Co, 1933) [first version appeared June-November 1926 Cassell's Magazine as "Dr. Dyn": hb/]
  • The Black Fear (London: Stanley Paul, 1935) as by John Halstead [first version appeared 28 September 1929 The Thriller as "The Black Terror" as by Newton: later appeared 8 May 1937 Detective Weekly as "The Black Curse": hb/]
  • The Black Hate (London: Stanley Paul, 1937) as by John Halstead [hb/]
    • The Black Hate (London: Mellifont Press, 1944) as by John Halstead [cut version of the above: pb/]


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