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Sheffield, Charles

Entry updated 27 September 2021. Tagged: Author.

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(1935-2002) UK-born physicist and author, permanently in the USA from 1971, married to Nancy Kress from 1998 until his death; he published the first of more than 100 technical papers and science articles in 1962, and the first of 100 or more sf stories, "What Song the Sirens Sang", for Galaxy in April 1977. Much of his short fiction is assembled in Vectors (coll 1979), Hidden Variables (coll 1981), Dancing With Myself (coll 1993) and Georgia on My Mind, and Other Places (coll 1995), the title story of which won the 1993 Nebula and the 1994 Hugo awards for Best Novelette, and The Lady Vanishes and Other Oddities of Nature (coll 2002). His first novel, Sight of Proteus (1978), describes in ultimately optimistic terms the wide-ranging effects of machine-driven shapechanging Technologies, including intense Genetic Engineering, which might open the way to the nearby stars; the book almost instantly established Sheffield's reputation for briskly argued, cleverly plotted, sanguine Hard SF, a reputation only marginally darkened by its quasi-sequel Proteus Unbound (1989), which recasts material from the earlier book. Both tales were assembled as Proteus Manifest (omni 1989; rev vt Proteus Combined 1994); a further sequel is Proteus in the Underworld (1995). Sheffield's second novel, The Web Between the Worlds (1979; exp 1989; further exp 2001), famously posited a sky-hook Space Elevator (which he called a "beanstalk") at almost exactly the same time that Arthur C Clarke presented an astonishingly similar space elevator in The Fountains of Paradise (1979); the concepts had clearly been arrived at independently, as Clarke emphasized in a letter published in the 2001 revision of Web, and though their premises derived from 1960s scientific speculation, the similarity of the two presentations only underscored the clarity of each man's scientific imagination.

In the 1980s, with an exuberance that seemed almost irresponsible in a writer of his scientific bent, Sheffield ranged very widely in his choice of metier. Two short series, differing sharply from one another, were begun then: the Erasmus Darwin sequence comprising Erasmus Magister (coll of linked stories 1982) and The Amazing Dr Darwin (coll of linked stories 2002), which featured Erasmus Darwin in a series of lightly told scientific adventures; and the Chan Dalton sequence comprising The Nimrod Hunt (1986; rev vt The Mind Pool 1993) and The Spheres of Heaven (2001), an exceedingly exuberant Space Opera whose large and multifarious cast, including some Cyborgs and several Larry Niven-esque Aliens, must initially track down an AI designed to deal with First Contact scenarios but now on the cusp of becoming a Berserker, and in the second volume must attempt to break the quarantine that has been imposed upon humans, restricting them to the home solar system.

During the same period he published several individual titles, beginning with The Selkie (1982) with David F Bischoff, a Science-Fantasy novel tinged with elements of horror, which describes a Mutant race of male "wereseals" who must mate with human women to perpetuate their kind. My Brother's Keeper (1982) is an sf thriller whose McGuffin, astonishingly, is half of the protagonist's brother's brain housed in the spare half of the protagonist's head (see Identity Exchange). The McAndrew Chronicles (coll of linked stories 1983; exp vt One Man's Universe 1994; exp vt The Compleat McAndrew 2000) follows the exploits of the eponymous creator of Inventions. Between the Strokes of Night (March-May 1985 Analog; 1985; rev 2002) is a "cosmogony opera" sometimes compared to novels by Greg Bear about exploring, understanding and transforming the Universe; in this case, exiled from Earth and living in various Space Habitats, humanity finds infinite resources in "S-space" and travels down the aisles of Time to visit the Galaxy until the End of Time is encountered; the 2002 edition was revised to take into account advances in the Physics that underpinned Sheffield's speculations in Cosmology. Trader's World (1988) moves from a Post-Holocaust venue to higher things, including the threat of alien Invasion. Later novels include the Young Adult Godspeed (1993), homaging both Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883) and Robert A Heinlein's Have Space Suit – Will Travel (1958), which focuses on the recovery of a Forerunner-made Faster Than Light drive; The Judas Cross (1994) with David Bischoff, a World War Two horror/fantasy; and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (in Far Futures, coll 1995, as "At the Eschaton"; exp 1997), which again deals with issues of Cosmology.

Later series include the Cold As Ice sequence, comprising Cold as Ice (1992), The Ganymede Club (1995) and Dark As Day (2002), an intricate and polished Space Opera epic depicting with glad clarity a solar system full of highly active and scientifically curious human beings who have regrouped themselves after the destruction of Earth. The Heritage Universe Young Adult sequence – Summertide (1990), Divergence (1991), Transcendence (1992) and Transvergence (1999) [for omnis see Checklist] – fills much of the Universe with Macrostructures and sets in train a complex of plots hinging upon their decipherment and use, within a Planetary Romance frame; by the end of the sequence, a vast Time Abyss has opened up with the discovery that the striving races of the galaxy are the offspring of an exceedingly impressive Forerunner species. The Jupiter sequence beginning with Higher Education: A Jupiter Book (February-May Analog 1996; 1996) with Jerry Pournelle, another Young Adult sequence, tended to the educational.

Some of his tales were dark enough, and ironies were frequently evident, even in work written for younger readers; but Sheffield continued to the end of his life to conceive of the Universe as not only fate but also playground. He gave the impression that he thought sf was worth writing both because of his joy in doing so, but through his faith that the future might be worth the trouble. [JC]

see also: Astounding Science-Fiction; Biology; Del Rey Books; Discovery; End of the World; Information Theory; John W Campbell Memorial Award; Seiun Award; Suspended Animation; Transportation.

Charles A Sheffield

born Kingston Upon Hull, Yorkshire: 25 June 1935

died Silver Spring, Maryland: 2 November 2002




Erasmus Darwin

Chan Dalton

Heritage Universe

  • Summertide (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 1990) [Heritage Universe: hb/Barclay Shaw]
  • Divergence (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 1991) [Heritage Universe: hb/Barclay Shaw]
    • Convergent Series (New York: Baen Books, 1998) [omni of the above two: Heritage Universe: pb/Gary Freeman]
  • Transcendence (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 1992) [Heritage Universe: hb/Barclay Shaw]
    • The Heritage Universe (New York: GuildAmerica Books/Science Fiction Book Club, 1992) [omni of the above three: Heritage Universe: hb/Bob Eggleton]
  • Convergence (New York: Baen Books, 1997) [Heritage Universe: pb/Gary Freeman]
    • Transvergence (New York: Baen Books, 1999) [omni of the above two: Heritage Universe: pb/Dru Blair]
  • Resurgence (New York: Baen Books, 2002) [Heritage Universe: hb/Bob Eggleton]

Cold as Ice



  • Aftermath (New York: Bantam Spectra, 1998) [Aftermath: pb/Paul Youll]
  • Starfire (New York: Bantam Spectra, 1999) [Aftermath: pb/Cliff Mills]

individual titles



individual titles

nonfiction works as editor


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