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Tucker, Wilson

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author, Fan.

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(1914-2006) US author, orphaned, brought up in Bloomington and Normal, Illinois, where he set some of his fiction, some early stories being signed Bob Tucker. For several decades he worked as a film projectionist, retiring in 1972, and he always spoke of his writing – more than twenty books, half of them sf, half of them mysteries – as an avocation. Tucker began his involvement with sf about 1932, and during the 1930s was exceedingly active as a fan and Fanzine publisher, starting with The Planetoid in 1932, his most notable fanzine being Le Zombie, which lasted for 67 issues 1938-1975, the first half-decade of that period being its heyday; his The Neo-Fan's Guide (1955 chap; rev 1973 chap; rev 1984 chap) demonstrates the quality of this work. Some fanzine writing appeared as by Hoy Ping Pong. As an example of the violent humour and intense emotions aroused in early Fandom, it is notable that Tucker was twice subjected to hoax obituaries in the sf magazines of the time. His fanzine The Bloomington News Letter (later Science Fiction News Letter) dealt mainly with the professional field.

While active as a fan Tucker was also writing fiction, though not until May 1941 did he publish his first story, "Interstellar Way-Station" as by Bob Tucker, in Super Science Novels (see Super Science Stories). He never became prolific in shorter forms – The Best of Wilson Tucker (coll 1982) contains most of his better work – soon turning to novels. His first, The Chinese Doll (1946), was a mystery, but made Recursive use of the world of sf fandom, initiating his lifelong habit, which pleased the knowledgeable fans, while irritating some critics, of using the names of fans and writers for the characters of his books; these names became known as Tuckerisms (see also Fan Language).

Conspicuously hampered by contemporary Genre SF restrictions on sexual content (see Sex), Tucker's first sf novel, The City in the Sea (1951), conveys all the same, through a glass darkly, a modestly heterodox burden. A geographically transformed Ruined Earth, thousands of years into the Far Future, is gradually being rediscovered by a UK queendom (see Women in SF), which has established a colony in the sea-invested remains of America. The cast of occupying soldiers – all women because all known males have suffered Devolution and are useful mainly for breeding – embarks on an expedition into the American interior inspired by a markedly undevolved male Mysterious Stranger, a Telepath who entices them westwards in search of the eponymous City. En route they encounter winged men (see Evolution), and must avoid the ruins (see Ruins and Futurity) of a great metropolis still poisonous aeons after a nuclear World War Three. Concealed within a Zone of illusion maintained through Psi Powers, their destination turns out to be an immensely ancient Library and research centre whose contents are held in the trained Memories of its immensely long-lived curators (see Immortality). But more women are needed here to reinvigorate the race (see Eugenics), as the woman in charge tells the visitors; everyone then volunteers for this service, except for two main protagonists, who proceed westward with the Stranger. Like the same-sex relationships obscurely referenced throughout, their menage à trois is manifest (and approved of) but cannot be described.

Less hampered by imposed self-censorship, the much later Ice and Iron (1974; exp 1975) features a matriarchal culture that begins to re-invade an America reverted to savagery; in this case the far-future matriarchy is linked through Time Travel to an America, only generations hence, in the grip of a new ice age caused by Climate Change. This latter tale is not perhaps very coherently told, but the panoramas are lucid. Time travel is central to much of Tucker's work, featuring in tales like The Lincoln Hunters (1958), one of his best novels, in which time travellers from an imperial USA several hundred years hence are sent to acquire a recording of a lost speech of Abraham Lincoln (see Icons); the two cultures are effectively contrasted. The ending, in which the protagonist is trapped in an 1856 far less unattractive than the future from which he came, is both poignant and welcome. In the Time Masters sequence, comprising The Time Masters (1953; rev 1971) and Time Bomb (1955; vt Tomorrow Plus X 1957), two long-lived extraterrestrials' presence throughout human history as opposed Superman-like Secret Masters generates some of the same perspectives as time travel itself; throughout, sexual chauvinism is treated as a curse (see Women in SF).

Tucker had a knack of choosing unusually resonant and appropriate titles for his novels. Examples are The Long Loud Silence (1952; rev 1970; early US editions delete implications of cannibalism, UK editions do not), and The Year of the Quiet Sun (1970). The former is a powerful tale, set in Ruined Earth territory west of the Mississippi River, sombre and tough in feeling, though at points awkwardly told; the hero, unusually for a Genre-SF novel, is in many ways cruel and insensitive. The latter, which won a John W Campbell Memorial Award retrospectively in 1976, sends its Black protagonist forwards in time to around 2020 CE, where he finds America in dire shape, his Blackness terrifying to the racially divided remnants of the civil war which has ended civilization. The prophecy that he had discovered in a non-Biblical ancient manuscript is fulfilled: there is to be a Year of the Quiet Sun. He prepares to watch the final rites of history that signal the End of the World.

Tucker was a very uneven writer, but expanded the boundaries of genre sf with his downbeat and realistic variations on old material, and demonstrated how effective a generic Cliché like Time Travel could become when treated with due attention. By tying his use of time travel to virtual archaeologies of the worlds thus exposed, he transformed that Cliché into an instrument of vision. He became inactive in the professional sf field after about 1980, though remaining a genial presence in Fandom and even reviving Le Zombie as the online e-Zombie (2000-2001), continuing the earlier numbering from #68 to #72.

In 1996 he was honoured by SFWA as an Author Emeritus (see SFWA Grand Master Award). He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2003. [JC/PN/DRL]

see also: ESP; Hugo; Outer Planets; Skylark Award; Space Opera; Time Paradoxes.

Arthur Wilson Tucker

born Deer Creek, Illinois: 23 November 1914

died St Petersburg, Florida: 6 October 2006



Time Masters

  • The Time Masters (New York: Rinehart and Company, 1953) [Time Masters: hb/Rudolf de Harak]
    • The Time Masters (New York: Nelson Doubleday, 1971) [rev of the above: Time Masters: hb/Larry Kresek]
  • Time Bomb (New York: Rinehart and Company, 1955) [Time Masters: hb/Ed Flock]

individual titles (selected)

collections and stories


  • The Neo-Fan's Guide (Bloomington, Illinois: Bob Tucker, 1955) [nonfiction: chap: revised 1973, 1984: Fandom: pb/Ron Fleshman]

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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