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Spufford, Francis

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1964-    ) UK academic and author, none of whose work is explicitly sf, though his nonfiction is deeply conversant with science-fictional modes of thought. Though it takes the form of a memoir, The Child That Books Built (2002) is in fact constructed around readings of various writers including Ursula K Le Guin, C S Lewis, J R R Tolkien and others. Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin (2003) encompasses in its historical narrative an understanding of the imaginative uses made of boffins (see Scientists) over the course of the twentieth century, with an emphasis on British attempts to create an advanced space programme (see Rockets). Red Plenty (2010) combines two levels of presentation: a nonfiction analysis of early 1960s Soviet society, a time when it seemed that the Communist government might pull off its claims to be creating a just society; and a fictionalized (but factual) narrative conducted as a kind of Thought Experiment. The end effect is curiously and legitimately moving: a rhapsody in honour of the dream of Utopia that simultaneously demolishes that asserted society. True Stories & Other Essays (coll 2017) includes commentaries on figures of interest including Charles Babbage, Iain M Banks, William Gibson, Rudyard Kipling, Kim Stanley Robinson and Bruce Sterling.

Spufford's first novel Golden Hill (2016), ostensibly told by an eighteen-century narrator, is nonfantastic though the intensity of its sly but manifest abhorrence of Slavery might be seen as anachronistic on the verge of alterity. In ways atmospherically evocative of Jenny Erpenbeck's The End of Days (2012) or Kate Atkinson's Life After Life (2013), his second novel Light Perpetual (2021) parlays the world-melodrama of World War Two into aspirations of something like Alternate History: in this case, five young people in this-world London are killed by a German rocket but, in an instantaneously instantiated other world, they survive till now. Music references are constantly applied, as though they were themselves music, embraced in the song of London.

Cultural Babbage: Technology, Time and Invention (anth 1996) with Jenny Uglow, honours Charles Babbage, though the various original essays included move rather far afield. [JC]

Francis Spufford

born Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: 22 April 1964

works (selected)

  • Red Plenty (London: Faber and Faber, 2010) [fiction/nonfiction: hb/Travis Coburn/Dutch Uncle]
  • Golden Hill (London: Faber and Faber, 2016) [hb/Eleanor Crow]
  • Light Perpetual (London: Faber and Faber, 2021) [hb/Faber]


works as editor


previous versions of this entry

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