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Theroux, Marcel

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1968-    ) Uganda-born broadcaster and author, in UK from early childhood, son of Paul Theroux. Of his novels, The Confessions of Mycroft Holmes: A Paper Chase (2001) hints at the fantastic in its conflation of a recently dead relative of the narrator and Mycroft Holmes (see Sherlock Holmes); and The Secret Books (2017), by treating the past century of European history as a story that Story itself makes more real, generates a sense that the anachronisms that suffuse it – like transistor radios in nineteenth-century India – are co-substantial with "actual" history: Fantastika not conceit. One of the secret books referred to argues that Jesus spent his early manhood in the Far East, imbibing Hindu and Buddhist wisdom (see Messiahs; Religion). The protagonist of The Sorcerer of Pyongyang (2022), models his existence in modern North Korea on Role Playing Games like Dungeons and Dragons, but nonfantastically. Of more direct sf interest is Far North (2009; rev 2009), set in Siberia in a Near Future where civilization has been crippled by Climate Change and the terms under which human beings can continue to survive, and remain civilized, have become problematical; a lack of focus about the actual nature of the northern tundra may tend at points to blur a sense that our likely future is here accurately anatomized.

In Strange Bodies (2013), a man appears in a deftly portrayed London, claiming to embody the transmitted Identity of a dead man who did not at all resemble him physically. But this reborn or reconstituted Nicholas Slopen, who seems to be nothing more or less than the implacably relevant information that fuels his plea, cannot be dismissed: for he knows exactly who he is; as does an earlier subject of the experimental programme of which they are both victims, who has been constructed from the copious verbal records left behind by the historical Samuel Johnson, out of the words, the sensorium, the lineaments of the soul of the great writer, and sharing his terror of death. Both "Slopen" and "Johnson" have been fabricated through a process of "Identity Transfer", a "Procedure" initially promulgated by a Soviet scientist in the 1940s, analogous to but profoundly more fixative than brainwashing. They are constructs, artefacts of "their" amply recorded previous selves inhabiting new bodies whose original minds have been permanently wiped out by torture and Drugs; "Slopen" and "Johnson" are Mankurt – Russian slang for slaves – experiments in a process ultimately intended to create Supermen, but so far grotesquely unsuccessful. Theroux's rendering of "Johnson" in particular is virtuoso and moving, with some of the some elegiac intensity of Chris Adrian's Gob's Grief (2000), whose obsessed protagonist attempts to resuscitate/recreate his dead identical twin through mechanical means. Both of Theroux's protagonists, trapped in meat puppet bodies, suffer deep vastation (see Horror in SF) as a consequence of their immurement. In the end, "Slopen" recognizes the truth: the self he inhabits, the world he loves so deeply, are nothing but words; and the energy that inspires him to tell his story derives, not from that reconstructed self, but from the Mankurt within. After some initial disregard, Strange Bodies won the 2014 John W Campbell Memorial Award. [JC]

Marcel Raymond Theroux

born Kampala, Uganda: 13 June 1968

works (selected)


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