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Phillips, Peter

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

(1920-2012) UK author and journalist, whose first published story was "No Silence for Maloeween" (May 1948 Weird Tales), and who was noted for a number of stories published during the decade 1948-1957 – especially "Dreams are Sacred" (September 1948 Astounding), regarded as one of the primary texts about dream worlds and psychic Virtual Reality. A man links minds with a writer in a coma and enters into his imaginary world in order to combat his mental demons. The tale prefigures later, far better known works, including Roger Zelazny's The Dream Master (January-February 1965 Amazing as "He Who Shapes"; exp 1966) and others discussed under Dream Hacking. The story was adapted for Out of the Unknown as "Get Off My Cloud" (1969). Phillips was interested in the concept of mind control and it featured again in "P-Plus" (August 1949 Astounding), where techniques not too distant from those put forward the following year by L Ron Hubbard in Dianetics help change individuals' personalities. He explored the Psychological implications of long-term confinement during space travel in "University" (April 1953 Galaxy). These stories raise questions about how much "being human" is defined by our psychological awareness or Perception of the world: Phillips continued to explore this theme in two Robot stories, one of which, "Lost Memory" (May 1952 Galaxy), is set on a world of self-replicating Robots initially created by the Computer on an automated Spaceship which had crashed there decades before. The robots have no concept of a human being; when one arrives and is injured, they set out to repair him. The other story is "Unknown Quantity" (1949 New Worlds #5; vt "At No Extra Cost" August 1951 Marvel Science Stories), which considers what criteria would distinguish a highly advanced robot from a human.

Many of Phillips's stories qualify as Fantasy, but he had a remarkable ability to blur the edges between genres. "Manna" (February 1949 Astounding) concerns the spirits of two medieval monks trapped in the ruins of an old monastery because they are unable to move on – a situation which Phillips explains scientifically and which he then blends with both Time Travel and super-foods. Time travel also features in "Plagiarist" (Summer 1950 New Worlds) and "Variety Agent" (June 1956 Infinity), both with unusual twists. Phillips' last story, "Next Stop the Moon" (October 1957 Daily Herald), deals with an unconventional solution to a hazard in the early days of space exploration. A study of his comparatively small output – twenty-one stories, none of them long – reveals a writer of ingenuity, linguistic dexterity and bravado; his retirement was a severe loss to the field. [MA]

see also: Dreamscape; Fantastic Voyages; Paranoia.

Peter Phillips

born Isle of Dogs, London: 21 January 1920

died North Walsham, Norfolk: 28 March 2012


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