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Lewis, Sinclair

(1885-1951) US author, highly esteemed in the 1920s and 1930s for such novels as Main Street (1920) and Babbitt (1922), and first US winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1930; but his reputation had much diminished before his death, and has not recovered. Lewis's first novel, Hike and the Aeroplane (1912) as by Tom Graham, is a juvenile centred on the Invention of a futuristic 200mph (320kph) aircraft. Arrowsmith (1925) may be less sf than fiction about science, contrasting the idealism of the research Scientist with the avarice and greed of the medical profession in general; but Robert A Heinlein has argued – "Science Fiction: Its Nature, Faults and Virtues" in The Science Fiction Novel: Imagination and Social Criticism (anth 1959) edited by Basil Davenport – that the novel, which describes a newly discovered medicine in terms of scientific method – should be thought of sf.

Lewis's undisputed sf novel, It Can't Happen Here (1935), warns of how a Nazi-like regime could come to power in the USA. Lewis pays little attention to the nature of political institutions in this book, and his tale is less savagely prophetic than Nathanael West's slightly earlier A Cool Million: The Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin (1934), but that is not to say that he is guilty of political naivety (see Politics): his analysis of how fascist regimes can come to power largely through the "little man's" apathy and perceived powerlessness is a potent example of the dreadful-warning tale. His Near-Future scenario contrasts interestingly with Gordon Eklund's very similar portrait of 1930s authoritarianism in All Times Possible (1974), though in the latter case there is an Alternate-History framework, and Lewis's novel is vague about how his society works, in a manner typical of the Mainstream Writer of SF.

It Can't Happen Here was much later filmed as the abortive Television series pilot Shadow on the Land (1968; vt United States: It Can't Happen Here). [JC/DRL]

see also: "V".

Harry Sinclair Lewis

born Sauk Center, Minnesota: 7 February 1885

died Rome, Italy: 10 January 1951



Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-current) edited by John Clute and David Langford.
Accessed 21:19 pm on 26 September 2022.