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Shirley, John

Entry updated 11 March 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1954-    ) US author who began publishing sf with "The Word 'Random,' Deliberately Repeated" for Clarion (anth 1973) edited by Robin Scott Wilson, and who has performed as lead singer in rock bands, including the punk band Sado Nation. This background heavily influenced his first novel, the Dystopian Transmaniacon (1979) – the title is taken from a Blue Öyster Cult song – in which the typical Shirley protagonist appears: punk, anarchic, exorbitant, his mind evacuated of normal constraints, death-loving. Similar characters appear in Three-Ring Psychus (1980; rev vt High 2014 ebook), which describes mass levitation (see Telekinesis) with anarchist rapture, and City Come A-Walkin' (1980), set in a surrealistically harsh inner City. After writing some horror novels – to which genre his inclinations have constantly urged him, for Shirley is not at heart an sf writer – and several titles in the Traveler sequence under the House Name D B Drumm, which see for details, he created his finest sf work in the Cyberpunk-coloured Song Called Youth trilogy – Eclipse (1985), Eclipse Penumbra (1988) and Eclipse Corona (1990) – set after a realistically conceived World War Three and describing a technologically deft resistance movement which fights a neofascist regime to a standstill, ultimately defeating it.

In A Splendid Chaos: An Interplanetary Fantasy (1988), Shirley returns to a more surreal background, this time a hazardous planet where a small group of humans must compete for survival against unpredictable Aliens, who seem to have constructed a Thought Experiment in which "normal" humans, locked into this planetary Zoo, have been pitted against possibly Genetically Engineered members of their own and other species, who have been remoulded in the image of their darkest fantasies – a horror device typical of the author, whose best effects have always come from sparking the gap between normality and horrific madness. The best of his later books, like Wetbones (1992; rev 2010) or Spider Moon (1996), are horror, the latter nonfantastic. But Silicon Embrace (1996), which reuses the Aliens from A Splendid Chaos in a Near Future UFO frame, is a salutary Satire on governmental attempts to control information; and Black Glass: The Lost Cyberpunk Novel (2008) carries noir Cyberpunk tropes into a recognizably later world, with plausible corporate villains, and Avatars known as semblants, who cloud themselves into an inimical AI. Everything Is Broken (2012) is set in a Near Future Keep-like town, isolated in northern California and threatened by a tsunami; but its ability to mount a civic self-rescue has been fatally privatized by its Libertarian mayor, and chaos descends. And in Doyle After Death (2013) a private eye dies and awakens as an assistant to Arthur Conan Doyle in the afterlife.

Though his short work sometimes suffers burnout from excessive intensity, the stories assembled in Heatseeker (coll 1989) and Really, Really, Really, Really, Weird Stories (coll 1999) and others effectively demonstrate Shirley's range of horror effects and convictions, the flare of his anger. Later collections like Darkness Divided: An Anthology of the Works of John Shirley [sic] (coll 2001), Living Shadows: Stories New and Preowned (coll 2007) and In Extremis: The Most Extreme Short Stories of John Shirley (coll 2011) usefully survey his prolific career as a whole. [JC/CW]

see also: Music; Politics; Stardate.

John Patrick Shirley

born Houston, Texas: 10 February 1954



Song Called Youth/Eclipse


John Constantine

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