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Roth, Philip

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1933-2018) US author, along with Thomas Pynchon the most influential writer of his generation still active well into the twenty-first century; he is probably still best known for Portnoy's Complaint (1969), a novel whose sophisticated and often comic treatment of the freedoms and imprisonments of Sex is fantastically furthered (see Fabulation) in The Breast (1972), in which a man named Kepesh (ie K) is suddenly and painfully turned into a giant female breast (see Absurdist SF). As with most ventures into Fantastika, the implications of the tale come clearest when its premise is taken literally, as Roth signals through specific textual references to Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis (1915 chap). The descent to Hell of "Trick E Dixon" in Our Gang (Starring Tricky and His Friends) (1971) is arousing. Everyman (2006) is narrated by an unnamed everyman protagonist after his death, and in Nemesis (2010) the spread of polio at a time and place it did not historically occur intensifies into a close to allegorical depiction of the effects of a Pandemic on the world.

Of direct sf interest is The Plot Against America (2004) – televised as The Plot Against America (6 episodes 2020), showrunners Ed Burns and David Simon – is an Alternate History tale set during the early years of World War Two, whose Jonbar Point is the election of the historical isolationist (and more or less explicit anti-Semite) Charles Lindbergh (1902-1974) as American President in 1940. Ominous signs of a dreadful Hitler Wins future come swiftly: a strength-through-joy organization called Just Folks designed to alienate Jewish children from their families; hints of darker actions designed to isolate Jews from "normal" Americans. But by having Lindbergh die in an air crash two years into his term, Roth allowed his monitory tale to slide back into "normality", as though Lindbergh's eccentric presidency had changed nothing – an absence of follow-through typical of the Mainstream Writer of SF. The Plot Against America nevertheless won a Sidewise Award. [JC]

see also: Race in SF.

Philip Milton Roth

born Newark, New Jersey: 19 March 1933

died New York: 22 May 2018

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about the author


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