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Tevis, Walter

Entry updated 3 July 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1928-1984) US author, professor of English literature at the University of Ohio, who perhaps remains best known as the author of The Hustler (1959), filmed in 1961, and its sequel, The Color of Money (1984), filmed in 1986. He began publishing sf with "The Ifth of Oofth" in Galaxy for April 1957 as Walter S Tevis – his early work, and the tales he wrote around 1980, are assembled as Far from Home (coll 1981) – but he first came to wide notice as an sf writer with The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963), the basis of Nicolas Roeg's film The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), which starred David Bowie. It is the delicately crafted story of an Alien who comes to Earth from "Anthea" (his people's name for their planet) in an attempt to arrange asylum for his dying race. In return, he will pass on the benefits of Anthean science; this will in fact entail the Antheans taking control of Earth as better custodians than humans have so far shown themselves. Becoming as physically and emotionally human as his Technology and his powers of empathy permit, he finds the xenophobic bureaucracy of humanity's response to him, when he reveals himself and his quest, impossible to bear; and the clumsily inadvertent blinding he suffers fairly represents the dying of any hope he might have had of making sense of us. Anthea itself is never explicitly identified, but it is indicated that the world is arid, of lesser Gravity than Earth, and located within our own solar system; the only remotely plausible candidate is Mars. A Television series sequel set 50 years later is The Man Who Fell To Earth (2022).

Tevis's subsequent novels were less darkly inspired. Mockingbird (1980) rather mechanically runs its Android protagonist through a process of self-realization in a senescent USA 500 years hence. The Steps of the Sun (1983) is the story of an impotent tycoon who revivifies himself and perhaps the entire Earth by finding a sentient, motherly and cornucopian Living World on his first – highly illegal – Space Flight and bringing her gifts back home; an earlier planetfall on the same voyage has provided unlimited supplies of "safe uranium" (see Elements; Power Sources); but too often the plot fades away into psychodrama. Tevis himself said that his work was autobiographical. His early death perhaps kept him from telling a whole story. [JC/DRL]

see also: Robots.

Walter Stone Tevis

born San Francisco, California: 28 February 1928

died New York: 9 August 1984



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