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Wright, S Fowler

Entry updated 16 January 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1874-1965) UK author, employed as an accountant until middle-age. In 1917 he was a founder of the Empire Poetry League and edited until 1932 the League's journal Poetry, which serialized his translations of Dante Alighieri's Inferno and Purgatorio; he also edited many anthologies for the League's Merton Press, publishing some early work by Olaf Stapledon. Wright's first book was Scenes from the Morte d'Arthur (coll 1919) as by Alan Seymour, which was poetry. Brian Stableford has argued strongly that Wright's sf makes him one of the central twentieth-century contributors to the Scientific Romance; the first demonstration of this is his first full-length tale, The Amphibians: A Romance of 500,000 Years Hence (1924; exp vt The World Below 1929) [for full vt information throughout this entry see Checklist below], which was issued by the Merton Press; Wright also founded Fowler Wright Books Ltd, through which he also initially self-published some early work.

The Amphibians describes a Far-Future Earth where mankind is extinct and new intelligent species, like the eponymous Amphibians and the troglodytic Dwellers Underground, are engaged in their own struggle for existence (see Evolution); as he acknowledged in a preface to the second edition, the book was much influenced by H G Wells, though its imagery was strongly influenced by Wright's work on Inferno, and its structure recapitulates Homer's Odyssey. It was meant to be the first part of the Amphibians trilogy, which continued with but part three was never written and the continuation [again see Checklist below] was rather synoptic. Wright's second series, the Deluge sequence comprising Deluge (1927) and Dawn (1929), begins with a Disaster in which most of England sinks beneath the sea, so that the Cotswolds are converted into an Archipelago; it enjoyed considerable critical success and was filmed as Deluge (1933) with New York as the setting. The second volume contains much bitter commentary on the corruptions of comfort and civilization and carries forward a Rousseau-esque glorification of Nature and insistence on the fundamentality of the Social Contract. Arguably it constitutes what might in later hands be deemed an example of Libertarian SF, though Wright is far more realistic about the dangerousness of human beings on the loose.

A third series, the Margaret Cranleigh trilogy begins with Dream, or The Simian Maid (1931), which carries Wright's overriding philosophical arguments to further extremes in telling the story of a woman whose consciousness is transported back to a lost prehistory (see Prehistoric SF), where incarnated as an evolved primate (see Apes as Human) she participates in a battle for survival against ratlike predators. The second volume, The Vengeance of Gwa (1935) as by Anthony Wingrave, was ultimately published shorn of any connecting material; and Spiders' War (1954), which carries the conflict between the primitive and the civilized into the Far Future, did not appear until much later. A fourth series was inspired by a visit to Nazi Germany in 1934 in order to write a series of newspaper articles, and this inspired the highly melodramatic World War Two Future-War sequence anticipating World War Two: Prelude in Prague: The War of 1938 (March-? 1935 Sunday Dispatch as "The War of 1938"; 1935; rev vt The War of 1938 1936) tellingly predicts something like the Austrian Anschluss of 1938, and an Nazi Invasion of Czechoslovakia; Four Days War (1936) and Megiddo's Ridge (1937) are less prophetic. The series has been reissued as the Alternate World War II sequence, but is not so designated here; as argued in Hitler Wins, we do not consider tales set in their authors' future to be alternate history tales. They are, normally, here described as tales of the Near Future.

Wright's singletons tend to reiterate with less intensity the themes of his larger efforts. They include four Lost Race tales: The Island of Captain Sparrow (1928) deliberately recalls H G Wells's The Island of Dr Moreau (1896) in its image of an Island inhabited by satyr-like beast-men who are prey to the corrupt descendants of castaway pirates (see Lost Race), and features as well a feral girl, the first of several similar figures used by Wright to celebrate the state of Nature in opposition to the brutality of "civilized" men; Beyond the Rim (1932) is a determinedly eccentric tale set in a clement Antarctic; The Screaming Lake (1937) and The Hidden Tribe (1938) are similar sidebars. Power (1933) belongs to that subgenre of Scientific Romances in which a lone man in possession of some awesomely destructive Weapon attempts to blackmail the world. Wright's protagonist is among the more altruistic and ambitious, but the story ultimately fades into a mere thriller. By the late 1930s he was falling prey to old age, but Wright produced a final vivid image of the Far Future in The Adventure of Wyndham Smith (1938), partly based on an unpublished short story, "Original Sin", which was ultimately included in The Witchfinder (see below). In the novel the inhabitants of a stagnant and sterile quasi- Utopian state decide to commit mass Suicide, and unleash mechanical Killers to hunt down a handful of rebels. Apart from Spiders' War and the brief parables "The Better Choice" (in Science Fiction Adventures in Mutation, anth 1955, ed Groff Conklin) and "First Move" (June 1963 Inside), none of his later work was published; all the manuscripts were reported to have been lost except for Inquisitive Angel (2010) [for more data see links below].

He also wrote numerous detective stories, all as by Sydney Fowler in the UK although some appeared as by Wright in America. Two of the Inspector Combridge and Mr. Jellipot books are of mild interest: The Bell Street Murders (1931), as Sydney Fowler, features an Invention which records moving images on a screen; its first sequel, The Secret of the Screen (1933) as Fowler, has negligible sf content. A weak futuristic thriller, The Adventure of the Blue Room (1945), also appeared under the Fowler byline.

Wright's vivid early short fiction was assembled in The New Gods Lead (coll 1932; exp vt The Throne of Saturn 1949; exp vt S Fowler Wright's Short Stories 1996), which groups seven vitriolic Dystopian stories under the heading "Where the New Gods Lead" (the new gods in question being Comfort and Cowardice). These include a notable fantasy of Immortality, "The Rat" (March 1929 Weird Tales; vt "Whom the Rat Bites" 1939 Fantasy), a trilogy of parables about the taking over of human prerogatives by Machines, "Automata" (September 1929 Weird Tales), and two polemics against Wright's pet hates, birth control and the motor car, "P.N. 40" (June 1929 Red Book Magazine as "Love in the Year 93 E.E."; vt here) and "Justice" (first published here).

Despite the considerable number of his published works, Wright's literary career was a chronicle of frustrations. The two projects dearest to his heart – the long Arthurian epic, of which Scenes from the Morte d'Arthur is but a small part, and a long historical novel about Cortez, «For God and Spain» – were never published during his lifetime [but see links below]. Although self-publication led him to brief fame and fortune, he failed in his ambition to become a social commentator of Wellsian status and ended up trying to resuscitate his career by reprinting his early works under the Books of Today imprint while he was editing a trade journal of that title in the late 1940s. Even The World Below, despite its classic status as a vividly exotic novel of the far future, is only half the work it was originally intended to be. Nevertheless, he was a strikingly original writer and one of the key figures in the tradition of UK scientific romance. [BS/JC]

see also: Biology; Cities; Crime and Punishment; Fantastic Voyages; History of SF; Holocaust; Medicine; Origin of Man; Post-Holocaust; Robert Hale Limited; Social Darwinism; Sociology; Technology.

Sydney Fowler Wright

born Smethwick, West Midlands: 6 January 1874

died Midhurst, Sussex: 25 February 1965




  • The Amphibians: A Romance of 500,000 Years Hence (London: Merton Press, 1925) [Amphibians: hb/]
    • The Amphibians: A Romance of 50,000 Years Hence (London: Merton Press, 1925) [rev of the above, with preface instancing the influence of H G Wells: Amphibians: hb/]
      • The World Below (London: W Collins Sons, 1929) [exp vt of the above: part one comprising The Amphibians: Amphibians: hb/M Crichton]
        • The World Below (New York: Longmans, Green and Company, 1930) [exp of the above: with new preface dated 1930: part one comprising The Amphibians: Amphibians: hb/Hermann Post]
      • The Amphibians (New York: World Editions, 1951) [cut vt of the above: containing the original text of The Amphibians only: Amphibians: pb/Paul Callé]
        • The World Below (London: Hamilton and Company, 1953) [vt of the above: Amphibians: hb/]
      • The World Below (New York: World Editions, 1951) [cut vt of the above: title identical to 1929 edition above but entirely different contents: containing part two of the above only: Amphibians: pb/Paul Callé]
        • The Dwellers (London: Panther Books, 1953) [vt of the above: Amphibians: pb/John Richards]


Margaret Cranleigh

Inspector Combridge and Mr. Jellipot (selected)

World War Two

individual titles

collections and stories

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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