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Turner, George

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

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(1916-1997) Australian sf critic and author, whose connection with sf came quite late in life, long after the publication 1959-1967 of his first five novels, all of them mainstream; they were eventually followed by Transit of Cassidy (1978), also nonfantastic. He became well known for somewhat stern sf criticism in the 1970s, published in SF Commentary, Foundation and elsewhere, and edited The View from the Edge (anth 1977), stories from a major Australian sf workshop; Turner then began writing sf himself. His first sf novel, beginning the loose Ethical Culture sequence, was Beloved Son (1978), in which an interstellar expedition returns to Earth in 2032 CE to find a diminished Post-Holocaust population with very few old people, and a radically changed and somewhat merciless Dystopian culture; the scenario is complicated by developments in Genetic Engineering. The book is perhaps ponderous, but was well received for its careful exploration of some plausible moral problems of the Near Future. The other novels in the Ethical Culture series – with different protagonists but a common background – are Vaneglory (1981) and Yesterday's Men (1983), which like Beloved Son won a Ditmar Award. They are serious and interesting, but the characteristic solemnity of their presentation alienated some. The first piece in the series was the story "In a Petri Dish Upstairs" (in Rooms of Paradise, anth 1978, ed Lee Harding), one of the stories collected in A Pursuit of Miracles: Eight Stories (coll 1990).

Astonishingly, for he was now in his seventies, Turner then changed gear. His next two novels are more fluid and spirited than his earlier work, though sharing with them a (this time different) twenty-first-century setting. The Sea and Summer (1987; vt Drowning Towers 1988), closely related to the earlier story "The Fittest" (in Urban Fantasies, anth 1985, ed David King & Russell Blackford), marked his breakthrough into the US market, with a genuinely distinguished and deeply imagined story of life in the desperately overpopulated City of Melbourne in 2041, when Australia and the world's littorals are being drowned by the slowly rising ocean, a result of greenhouse-effect global warming (see Climate Change; Overpopulation); it won the Arthur C Clarke Award in 1988. Brain Child (in Strange Attractors, anth 1985, ed Damien Broderick, as "On the Nursery Floor"; much exp 1991) is a thriller whose narrator slowly uncovers the story of a scientific experiment in genetic manipulation designed to enhance Intelligence (of which he is in part a product) and learns of the superhumans that may have resulted (see also Eugenics). This study in the ethics of superiority (see Superman) incorporates the story "On the Nursery Floor" (in Strange Attractors, anth 1985, ed Damien Broderick). The Destiny Makers (1993), another Ditmar Award winner, depicts a Dystopian Near Future world beset by an Overpopulation crisis and dwindling resources (see Ecology), and resorting in the end to ethnic cleansing. In Genetic Soldier (1994) an interstellar expedition, having found no inhabitable nearby star systems, returns to Earth after hundreds of years have passed, due to time dilation (see Relativity), and find that the Pastoral survivors of the collapse of Technological society are not inclined to allow them back. In Down There in Darkness – Turner's final novel, connected very loosely to The Destiny Makers – depicts in cruel detail a violent twenty-first century collapse into Post-Holocaust barbarism. In the autobiographical In the Heart or In the Head: An Essay in Time Travel (1984), Turner describes his relationship with sf, and displays a certain waspishness. He was perhaps the most distinguished Australian sf writer of his generation, and was honoured with the Chandler Award in 1994. [PN]

see also: Australia; Children in SF; Economics.

George Reginald Turner

born Melbourne, Victoria: 8 October 1916

died Ballarat, Victoria: 8 June 1997



Ethical Culture

  • Beloved Son (London: Faber and Faber, 1978) [Ethical Culture: hb/Dave Griffiths]
  • Vaneglory (London: Faber and Faber, 1981) [Ethical Culture: hb/AerofilmsLtd]
  • Yesterday's Men (London: Faber and Faber, 1978) [Ethical Culture: hb/Bush Hollyhead]

individual titles


works as editor


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