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Wright, Ronald

Entry updated 21 August 2021. Tagged: Author.

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(1948-    ) UK-born historian, travel-writer and author, in Canada from 1970. His sf novel, A Scientific Romance (1997), explicitly acknowledges a close connection to H G Wells, whose first Scientific Romance The Time Machine (1895) (see Time Machine; Time Travel) provides a model for the later book, as do the vivid earlier portions of The Shape of Things to Come (1933) that describe a balkanized depopulated land in the distant Near Future; he also acknowledges Richard Jefferies, whose After London; Or, Wild England (1885) gives its title to the main section of the tale, and whose intense vision of the land of England in Pastoral terms is here scrupulously amplified. Other works clearly visible as models include Mary Shelley's The Last Man (1826) and M P Shiel's The Purple Cloud (1901), along with – less conspicuous but unmistakable – various early twentieth-century tales like P Anderson Graham's The Collapse of Homo Sapiens (1923). Along with other passages that reflect a supple use of Scientific Romance topoi, a New Zealander perspective is also clearly referenced at the point when the protagonist first sees the ruins of London; later in the tale, his encounter with a much evolved English language (see Linguistics) evokes Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker (1980). Much Poetry is cited slantingly or at length, including John Davidson's The Testament of John Davidson (1908).

This flood of allusions to previous models shapes but does not stifle the tale itself, which is mostly told in the form of a journal written on a solar-powered laptop addressed to at least one character 500 years in the past. A Scientific Romance begins in a very Near Future, with the world already showing premonitory signs of savage planetary Pollution, global warming (see Climate Change) and Pandemics lurking in the wings. David Lambert, an industrial archaeologist with a strong interest in Anthropology, has been directed to an address in southern England where, after a century, something like the Time Machine associated with Wells's novel is due to reappear after its trip futurewards, though the actual machine, constructed on lines suggested by Nikola Tesla, is in fact a Steampunkish sphere whose operative principles also evoke J W Dunne. Seeking a cure for the disease which has killed his lover and is killing him, Lambert travels 500 years forward, discovering a totally deserted London threatened by rising waters (see Last Man). His uncovering of this new world is narrated in terms evocative of earlier Ruins and Futurity examinations of the mysterious past through its artefacts, though in this case enriched by the fact that Lambert traverses sites that had been significant to him in 1999; and by his learnedly detailed tracing – in passages again evocative of Jefferies but perhaps more thorough – of the slow transformative recapture of the world by its evolving flora. In the end, after being imprisoned by a tiny surviving settlement of Homo sapiens in Scotland, he escapes back to the machine: but his fate is left undetermined, as is that of the manuscript which is the book we are ostensibly reading. The End of the World, as far as humans are concerned, does seem very much in the cards.

Wright's later novels, Henderson's Spear (2001) and The Gold Eaters (2015), are nonfantastic. As an author of nonfiction, he is best-known for Stolen Continents: The "New World" Through Indian Eyes Since 1492 (1992), whose title deftly ironizes European (and white North American) imperial delusions about the Western Hemisphere (see Imperialism); and A Short History of Progress (2004), which carries his analysis of a blinded species up the centuries. [JC]

Ronald Wright

born Weybridge, Surrey: 1948

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nonfiction

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