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Newman, Bernard

(1897-1968) UK civil servant and author who served in the trenches during World War One; most of his output consisted of espionage thrillers (some as by Don Betteridge) and detective mysteries, the two genres being perhaps most successfully combined in Maginot Line Murder (1939). The entertainment value of his sf is somewhat limited, as he used the form primarily to provide platforms for extended right-wing arguments about Future War, Weapons and the easily compromised nature of peace, mostly set in the Near Future, as in Armoured Doves: A Peace Book (1931), where Scientists combine to end war through the establishment of an enforced Pax Aeronautica. The main interbellum exception is his first novel, The Cavalry Went Through (1930), an Alternate History tale set in World War One, the Jonbar Point of the tale being the pinching shut in 1915 of the Mihiel salient by the British army, thus winning the battle of Verdun. The charismatic genius at strategy responsible for this move, the Napoleonic Henry Berrington Duncan, is soon raised to the rank of "Generalissimo" of the Allied armies in Europe, and defeats Germany before the Americans can send troops and influence the future. Though the previous commander, Sir John Douglas (ie Douglas Haig) is treated kindly, trench warfare is strongly deprecated; and though the strategic blunder of Gallipoli is pointed out, the ex-politician and now soldier Worton Spender (ie Winston Spencer Churchill), becomes Duncan's most influential follower. In a Slingshot Ending, the Generalissimo, having won the war, proclaims that "Now the fun begins." The tale is told in a subaltern voice by an admiring officer named Newman, an angle of narrative typical of the Scientific Romance, though in 1931 the book's publisher clearly found the idea of Alternate History hard to put into words [see Picture Gallery under links below].

Secret Weapon (1941) returns to the scientific war against tyranny. Here the scientist hero Drummond's Invention of a kind of atomic bomb ends World War Two in short order, with Germany bombed into ruins, Hitler mad, Mussolini a Suicide, and Japan awaiting its doom; the French detective Papa Pontivy, a continuing character from Newman's several nonfantastic crime thrillers, plays a role. Though there is no narrative connection between this tale and the earlier The Cavalry Went Through, Winston Churchill, once again as Worton Spender, reappears, now as prime minister. Secret Weapon, which is given a retrospective frame as a thought experiment, does not predict the real world after 1941. Later, in The Flying Saucer (1948), which is not sf, Drummond continues his peace campaign by creating an imaginary Martian threat against the world (see Mars; Scientific Hoax). Newman, who again appears as himself, acknowledged that his source for The Flying Saucer was André Maurois's Le Chapitre Suivant (1927 chap; trans as The Next Chapter: The War Against the Moon 1928 chap). Further novels combining politics and Future War themes include Shoot! (1949), in which a Russian Invasion of Europe sets off a nuclear World War Three; The Blue Ants: The First Authentic Account of the Russian-Chinese War of 1970 (1962), told with minimal fictional content as a Future History climaxing in World War Three, and Draw the Dragon's Teeth (1967), in which pacifists are shown to be dangerously foolish as war breaks out between Egypt and Israel.

Of Newman's few novels of sf interest not to focus on contemporary wars, Hosanna!: The Remarkable Novel (1933) is again an Alternate History in which Jesus Christ escapes crucifixion and arms his people to withstand Rome and found the Kingdom of Israel; and The Wishful Think (1954) is a borderline-sf story about politicized ESP. [JC]

Bernard Charles Newman

born Ibstock, Leicestershire: 8 May 1897

died London: 19 February 1968


works as editor


Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-current) edited by John Clute and David Langford.
Accessed 04:56 am on 27 May 2024.