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Rådström, Pär

Entry updated 31 August 2018. Tagged: Author.

(1925-1963) Swedish author, essayist and journalist. His father was a novelist, screenwriter and editor of a short story Magazine; at 17 Rådström went to work as a journalist, and two years later began to write about jazz for the new daily tabloid newspaper Expressen. After the end of World War Two, he left Sweden to travel and spent much of the following decade abroad while producing innumerable articles, reviews, essays, short stories, hundreds of radio programs, a movie script, radio plays and ten novels. A modernist, experimental writer and cosmopolitan, he is generally viewed as perhaps the finest Swedish prose writer to emerge during the 1950s. He was an avid reader of both hardboiled crime and sf, and had by the late 1940s written numerous crime stories; in 1953 he published his first clearcut sf story, "Rymdskeppet Tellus återkomst" ["The Return of Spaceship Tellus"] in a family weekly, Vi (1953 #28). A few weeks earlier, in his review of the first sf Anthology in Swedish – Morgondagens äventyr ["Tomorrow's Adventures"] (anth 1953) edited by E N Tigerstedt – he discussed the selection of stories and questioned the exclusion of Robert A Heinlein; in his first radio broadcast (September 1953), he spoke about reading for pleasure, an activity which included sf. Over the following years, Rådström kept reviewing sf in the Stockholm daily Morgon-Tidningen. He wrote about the 1958 Stockholm sf Convention in another daily newspaper and was an associate editor of the short-lived Swedish edition of Galaxy (19 issues, September 1958-June 1960), publishing two short sf stories in that magazine and a further half-dozen in other publications. In September 1962, his two-hour radio drama "Varför svarar du inte?" ["Why Don't You Answer?"] was aired in four instalments: it concerns the fate of the (initially) four members of a Spaceship crew as one by one they disappear. Since Rådström is viewed as a major author, while sf in Sweden has generally been viewed as "genre reading" and thus implicitly inferior, none of his short sf work has been reprinted in the collections published since his death, nor has the use of sf motifs in his novels been discussed as such.

His first sf novel, Sommargästerna ["The Summer Guests"] (1960) is a tale of alienation visualized via a Doppelganger plot. Author Pär Rådström, while on the Riviera, receives a letter informing him that in Sweden, Paul Renberg has inherited a small fortune and bought a boat. Rådström has no knowledge of Renberg but is intrigued by his name and begins making up a story about him. Returning to Sweden, Rådström meets Renberg and realizes that his made-up tale is in almost all respects true. They take an overnight boat trip, and in the morning Renberg has disappeared. With his friends, Rådström starts looking for him and gradually comes to realize that Renberg is actually himself, sharing both his true memories and the false ones he creates: the novel visualizes both the search for and escape from reality and memory (see Identity). In Rådström's next novel, Översten ["The Colonel"] (1961), the protagonist Peter Renner is a man of uncertain name ("I have lived under false names in many countries") and unknown nationality ("It depends on who wins the wars. I'm a European"). Renner's wish is to lose himself entirely in serving, and has found a perfect master – "Never has he given me an order. Never an encouraging word. Where to find such a master? I have found him. Envy me!" – in The Colonel, an enigmatic figure gradually identified as Colonel Gustafsson, the name under which the Swedish king Gustav IV Adolf travelled in Europe after his forced abdication in 1809. In the novel, set in 1960, he is still in good health, living in Basel, and states that though he once was robbed of the right to rule, "that doesn't mean that others have been robbed of their right to serve me" (see Immortality; Secret Masters). But the godlike Colonel, whom Renner believes to be the single unique man, also turns out to have a Doppelganger, a homeless and aged drunkard; this makes Renner's plan of destroying the world by making an exact copy of it – "it would be meaningless to live, strive and compete in a world that could be copied" – meaningless. The protagonist of Rådström's final novel, Mordet. En sörmländsk herrgårdsroman ["The Murder. A Country House Novel from Sörmland", Sörmland being a Swedish province] (1962), is stage magician George Bergman, who after fifteen years abroad returns to the mansion where he grew up; the murder he needs to commit is that of the child within him, and he kills it physically (see Horror in SF). Putting the child in his mother's bed, Bergman suffocates it with a pillow, and when he removes it the child has disappeared: "I smooth the sheets and now feel an immense sorrow. I am alone. I have done it. I have killed him. At last I am alone."

Obviously, these novels are hardly traditional sf, but while Swedish reviewers have confusedly discussed them as metaphoric and symbolic, they should perhaps more fruitfully be considered as philosophical investigations using the methods and tropes of both absurdism and sf (see Absurdist SF). With their unreliable narrators, their recurring Doppelganger motifs and their constantly shifting settings in time and place, Rådström's novels bring to mind those of another modernist author strongly influenced as well as fascinated by sf: Boris Vian, incidentally also long viewed as a "serious" as opposed to a "genre" author, a dichotomy through which many European academics as well as literary critics have blinded themselves to the actual nature of important bodies of work. [J-HH]

Pär Kristian Rådström

born Stockholm, Sweden: 29 August 1925

died Stockholm, Sweden: 29 August 1963

works (selected: sf interest only)


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