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Robinson, Frank M

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1926-2014) US editor and author, who began his career as an office boy with Ziff-Davis in the 1940s, where he first met his long-time colleague William Hamling; he began to publish work of genre interest with "The Maze" in Astounding for June 1950 and was for a time fairly prolific. At the end of this early period he released his first (and for decades his only) solo novel, The Power (1956), a tale which effectively combines sf and thriller in the story of the search for a malignant Superman with undefined Psi Powers or Superpowers, including the ability to seem different to everyone who looks at him. The protagonist, himself paranormally gifted, kills the bad superman and contemplates being a good one. It was filmed as The Power in 1967. Robinson then fell relatively silent – fewer than half the stories assembled in A Life in the Day of ... and Other Short Stories (coll 1981) were written after The Power – and concentrated on editorial jobs, working for a variety of publications including Hamling's Rogue (1959-1965) and Hugh M Hefner's Playboy (1969-1973).

In the 1970s Robinson changed direction and, in collaboration with Thomas N Scortia, produced a series of Disaster novels which, though sf devices and explanations are occasionally invoked, most closely resemble the Technothriller. The first of these, The Glass Inferno (1974), was filmed – along with Richard Martin Stern's The Tower (1973) – as The Towering Inferno (1974) directed by John Guillermin; further titles were The Prometheus Crisis (1975), which deals with the failure of a vast nuclear reactor, The Nightmare Factor (1978), about biological warfare, The Gold Crew (1980), in which the crew of an extremely advanced nuclear submarine is told World War Three has broken out in order to test their responses, and Blow Out! (1987). The Great Divide (1982), by Robinson with John Levin, is set in the Near Future, when a coup threatens the USA.

Robinson's concentration on these lucrative but unchallenging books tended to blur the early critical sense that he was a sharp and incisive writer, and The Dark Beyond the Stars (1991) came as a welcome reminder of his gifts. It is – perhaps rather late in genre history – a Generation-Starship tale, told with much of the claustrophobia and dramatic irony typical of Pocket-Universe narratives. In keeping with its late composition, ironies dominate: the family romance that the protagonist must decode in order to mature is unfruitful, and the ship turns homeward. The book itself was a welcome signal of its author's own return to the genre. In The Donor (2004), told in a Technothriller voice, it is eventually revealed that the harried protagonist (see Paranoia) is in fact the identical twin of a brother who is harvesting his organs to stay alive, and that a Clone of the two has been created to continue the process.

In Science Fiction of the Twentieth Century: An Illustrated History (graph 1999), Robinson presents a view of twentieth century sf as essentially restricted to those American writers of Genre SF who published – sometimes primarily – in Magazines; as a history of sf literature, the book is unhelpful, but as a history of sf Illustration, it is superb. Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America intended to honour Robinson as Special Honoree, formerly Author Emeritus (see SFWA Grand Master Award), in 2014; owing to organizational error the formal presentation was delayed until 2015, though ex-SFWA President Robin Wayne Bailey had attended the event in order to read Robinson's acceptance speech; this presentation was posthumous, as was the release of a memoir, Not So Good a Gay Man (2017), where he describes his life, as an sf writer and a gay man active in gay causes, with vivid pride. [JC]

see also: Cavalier; Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award; Dinosaurs; ESP; Fan Language.

Frank Malcolm Robinson

born Chicago, Illinois: 9 August 1926

died San Francisco, California: 30 June 2014


collections and stories



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