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Wilson, Colin

Entry updated 13 October 2022. Tagged: Author, Critic.

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(1931-2013) UK author of speculative works, who remains best known for his first book, The Outsider (1956), in which he gave graphic expression to the brilliant autodidactism, the erratic system-building mentality, the tendency to treat himself (and a previous few others) as a natural elite, and the voracity for new mental sensations that would mark the very numerous titles he would produce over the next several decades, many of them of some indirect interest to sf and fantasy writers and readers. He was later known in particular for his numerous books on crime, notably A Criminal History of Mankind (1984) and Written in Blood: A History of Forensic Detection (1989); and for his investigations of the paranormal, of which the most important are The Occult (1971), Mysteries: An Investigation into the Occult, the Paranormal, and the Supernatural (1978), Poltergeist! (1981), Beyond the Occult (1988) and From Atlantis to the Sphinx: Recovering the Lost Wisdom of the Ancient World (1996), which locates its titular "lost wisdom" in cultures like Atlantis, before the advent of civilizations built around the control of fertility (see Feminism). Sf and scientific critics did not generally respond with much warmth to Wilson's later nonfiction, perhaps because his eagerness to penetrate the barriers of "orthodox" science led him into assumptions about and formulations of the nature of consciousness that seemed to lurch dangerously far into the realms of Pseudoscience; that is, the science he used as underpinning for his sf is often not generally accepted as such. A further difficulty is that, as his total oeuvre grew, it became harder to work out which texts were deeply considered, which were blarney, and which were potboilers. Nevertheless, his sf is of considerable interest.

Some of his fiction contains relatively minor fantastic elements. The Gerard Sorme series – Ritual in the Dark (1960), Man Without a Shadow: The Diary of an Existentialist (1963; vt The Sex Diary of Gerard Sorme 1963 US and 1968) and The God of the Labyrinth (1970; vt The Hedonists 1971) – opens realistically, but the second volume is borderline fantasy and the third fantasy proper, featuring friendly possession by the spirit of a bygone libertine. The Black Room (1971) is a Technothriller whose central gimmick is the Sensory-Deprivation chamber. The titular character of the Inspector Gregory Saltfleet detective thrillers acts on information received from psi/occult sources in The Schoolgirl Murder Case (1974). The author's only sf short story was "Timeslip" (in Aries 1, anth 1979, ed John Grant).

Wilson's first outright sf novel, The Mind Parasites (1967), combines the long temporal perspectives of H P Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos with the transcendental solipsism of A E van Vogt and the metabiological pathos of George Bernard Shaw in a tale which suggests that humanity has for aeons been deliberately hampered by quasi-Alien entities, and that these shackles of Arrested Development could be cast off; doing so leads to the acquisition of Psi Powers (notably Telepathy and Telekinesis). The novel features August Derleth as a minor character (see Recursive SF). The Philosopher's Stone (1969), perhaps the most intellectually stimulating of his novels, with an appealingly ramshackle construction, begins with a philosophical quest for Immortality and again invokes the Cthulhu Mythos to suggest that the Lovecraftian Old Ones who seem to be keeping humanity in thrall have in fact long been asleep and indifferent, though certain psychic mechanisms and alarm systems remain functional; it is our responsibility to equal and surpass their immense Psi Powers before they wake again. Wilson's third Mythos tale, The Return of the Lloigor (in Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, anth 1969, ed August Derleth; rev 1974 chap), is dark fantasy. The Space Vampires (1976; vt Lifeforce 1985), very loosely adapted to film as Lifeforce (1985), promulgates the same message as the previous sf novels, in the form of a partly Space-Opera horror tale featuring, again, parasitic aliens – psychic Vampires, intentionally homaging A E van Vogt's "Asylum" (May 1942 Astounding) – and a human race of thwarted (but infinite) potential.

A similar dynamic of oppression and release serves as the philosophical base underlying the boys'-fiction dramaturgy of the later Spider World sequence – Spider World: The Tower (1987; vt in 3 vols as Spider World 1: The Desert 1988, Spider World 2: The Tower 1989 and Spider World 3: The Fortress 1989), Spider World: The Delta (1987) and Spider World: The Magician (1992) – set in a Far-Future Earth whose human remnants live in thralldom to giant arachnids. An equivalent of Shaw's "Life Force" is invoked as an underlying harmonizing principle. The series seemed complete after its third volume but was later extended with Spider World 4: Shadowland (2003). [JC/JGr/DRL]

see also: Great and Small; Invisibility; Monsters; Parasitism and Symbiosis; Shakespeare; Suspended Animation; Time Travel.

Colin Henry Wilson

born Leicester, Leicestershire: 26 June 1931

died St Austell, Cornwall: 5 December 2013

works (selected)


Gerard Sorme

Inspector Gregory Saltfleet

Spider World

individual titles

nonfiction (highly selected)

works as editor

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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