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Palmer, Philip

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1960-    ) UK author and scriptwriter, mostly for Radio beginning with "Gin and Rum" (30 June 2000 BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play). He began to publish his exuberant, slightly overloaded, gonzo Space Operas with Debatable Space (2008), whose double story focuses alternatively on the lengthy memoir of an Immortal woman behind the throne of her son, who had once ruled both Earth and then a Galactic Empire, and upon Captain Flanagan, the rock-star space-pirate who captures her space yacht and hopes to profit from holding her captive. A Forerunner being, as old as the universe, sates his/its boredom in the meanwhile by gaining its sustenance (see Parasitism and Symbiosis) from human emotions. Palmer's second novel, Red Claw (2009), stripped of its predecessor's longueurs, treats a human expedition to an exploitable planet – which fights back so ferociously that it may be a Living World – as a Thought Experiment seemingly designed to illustrate our own internecine behaviour on Earth. Less resonantly, Version 43 (2010) plays with the concept that quantum indeterminacies render Matter Transmission almost 50% fatal, so that only the desperate transmit themselves to the destination-planet Belladonna, which is therefore lawless. A Cyborg agent of the Galactic Police is seconded to straighten things out. The Berserker race that operates the eponymous Hell Ship (2011) destroy sentient life across the galaxy, but deposits one member of each race in a kind of Zoo at the heart of the great ship, where – as in the claustrophobic climax of Red Claw – sentients are devastatingly savage to one another. The eponymous, Superpowered antiheroine of Artemis (2011) – linked to Debatable Space and revisiting the hazardous matter transmission of Version 43 – moves from a personal revenge-killing spree to more generalized slaughter as a commando in a vicious galactic War. It may be that Palmer is too highly energized at this point in his career to allow the implications of his tales time to sink into the reader's mind; when he does so, his first several novels may be seen to stand as rehearsals for some highly significant mature work. [JC]

Philip Palmer

born Port Talbot, West Glamorgan: 7 June 1960



Debatable Space

individual titles

  • Hell Ship (London: Orbit, 2011) [pb/uncredited]
  • Artemis (London: Orbit, 2011) [pb/Eric Westpheling]
  • Morpho (Alconbury Weston, Cambridgeshire: NewCon Press, 2019) [novella: in the publisher's NewCon Novellas series: hb/Peter Hollinghurst]


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