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O'Brien, Robert C

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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Pseudonym of US author Robert Leslie Conly (1918-1973); his books were marketed as juveniles, though the last two are essentially adult. His first, The Silver Crown (1968; rev 1973) [see Checklist below], is a sometimes frightening, complex fantasy about the kidnapping of a young girl by a king who in turn is ruled by a malignant Machine. Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971; vt The Secret of NIMH 1982), which won the Newbery Medal, tells of a group of fugitive rats who have escaped from a laboratory where their Intelligence has been enhanced (see Uplift), and have established an Underground Keep; with the help of Mrs Frisby, a field mouse, they later found an independent colony, being determined not to batten on humans. The treatment is realistic and without a trace of whimsy; the tale was filmed as The Secret of NIMH (1982) directed by Don Bluth. The NIMH of the title alludes to the US National Institute of Mental Health, where Dr John B Calhoun conducted 1940s-1960s research on mouse and rat population dynamics that inspired the novel. Some time after his death his daughter, Jane Leslie Conly, wrote two Sequels by Other Hands, Rasco and the Rats of NIMH (1986) and R.T., Margaret, and the Rats of NIMH (1991).

O'Brien's A Report from Group 17 (1972) is about biological warfare between the USA and Russia; it is competent, but less successful than his other work. In his final Young Adult tale, Z for Zachariah (1975), which is a Post-Holocaust novel of considerable sensitivity, a solitary surviving adolescent girl comes to realize that she cannot make a life with a male survivor (see Last Man), who has entered her quiet valley and attempts to take control; she eludes his attempt at rape and travels across the desolated landscape in search of other survivors. It is a fine book, morally complex, and not simply a story of good versus evil; the girl's victory is ambiguous. O'Brien died before the novel was quite finished; it was completed by his family. [PN/JC]

see also: Children's SF.

Robert Leslie Conly

born New York: 11 January 1918

died Washington, District of Columbia: 5 March 1973



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