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Auster, Paul

(1947-    ) US author and translator who came to sudden attention – after years of unrecognized work, culminating in an undemanding Baseball mystery, Squeeze Play (1984) as by Paul Benjamin – with a series of Fabulations playing on detective genres and the French nouveau roman. City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986) and The Locked Room (1986), assembled as The New York Trilogy (omni 1987), though not sf, interrogate the narrative abysses between self and reality in a manner evocative of the Fantastika of an author like Franz Kafka; Moon Palace (1989) more overtly achieves an Equipoise between "realistic" narration and a literal reading of its lunar metaphorical structure, en passant invoking Nikola Tesla; two later novels – Leviathan (1992), which features systematic destruction of models of the Statue of Liberty, and Oracle Night (2003), in which a blank notebook inflicts devastating premonitions upon its owner– gain a similar goal, that of achieving a fantastic effect through adherence to what might be called an Equipoise of sequence: a storyline whose mirrorings and prolepses and exquisitely narrated culmination inherently violate mimesis.

In the Country of Last Things (1987), on the other hand, is sufficiently firm about its Near Future New York setting – and the nightmarishly Entropic landscape its protagonist must traverse, the entire city being imprisoned by a vast Sea Wall Project (see Keep) – for it to be understood as latter-day sf, the sort of sf in which recognizing the world is tantamount to perceiving it as a Novum. Mr. Vertigo (1994) is a Magic Realist vision of early twentieth-century America as remembered by an old man who, in his elated childhood, was literally able to fly. The narrator of the fantasy, Timbuktu (1999), is a dog, and the protagonist of the illustrated "essay", The Story of My Typewriter (graph 2002) illustrated by Sam Messer, may be the typewriter. Travels in the Scriptorium (2006) is a study of Amnesia that edges into the fantastic; Man in the Dark (2008), set partly in an Alternate World America where the Twin Towers did not fall, sees little joy in this, as the land falls into civil war. 4 3 2 1 (2017) begins with the birth of its protagonist (exactly one month after the birth of Auster himself) whose life fissures into four separate versions set in four Parallel Worlds, any Jonbar Points involved being skidded over; the tale clearly echoes Kate Atkinson's Life After Life (2013) and even more clearly Jo Walton's Her Real Children (2014). Though it lacks the political cruces of the first, or the Feminist bite of the latter, the intensity of Auster's depiction of his four lives, which subtly echo each other, distinguishes it. [JC]

Paul Benjamin Auster

born Newark, New Jersey: 3 February 1947



New York Trilogy

individual titles


Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-current) edited by John Clute and David Langford.
Accessed 12:32 pm on 20 May 2022.