Review of "Eric Frank Russell"

published 19/07/2011 | Coloneljohn
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Excellent
Pro A writer of very entertaining stories.
Cons Some will be put off by the science fiction label.
very helpful
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"An important writer."

Eric Frank Russell was born 6th January 1905 at Sandhurst in Berkshire, where his father was an instructor at the Royal Military Academy. He spent much time in East Africa and served with the Royal Air force during WWII. He died February 28, 1978.

Though he is a British writer much of his work was published by the American market, so much so that he was considered by many to be an American author.

The 1930's-1940's was the period of the magazine and the short story for science fiction with many of the magazines earning the title of 'pulp' in a slightly disparaging way. In these early days, writing did not pay a great deal. The best way for an author to make a living was to go for quantity rather than quality. Some of the plots were truly awful. However that situation changed after the war and so it was possible for authors to take up writing full time.

Perhaps Eric Frank Russell is best remembered for his humorous side in his writings. He had a way of poking fun in a satirical manner at pompous bureaucratic organisations. These could be both human and alien. Perhaps his best known short story is "Alamagosa" written and published in 1955. Here the story looks at the chaos than can be caused by a simple misprint. This story won the Hugo award.

Some of his short stories were published during the War years. Jay score was a one suchstory published in 1941. This story is significant because it concerns the crew of a space ship in difficulties. The crew are humans and members of a Martian race, with the ships doctor being black and the ships emergency pilot an android, J20, the jay score of the title. These characters were to be seen again in several other stories collected together under the title, Men, Martians and Machines. This pre dates "Star Trek" by a great many years with a multi specie, multi ethnic starship crew with none of the usual racial stereotypes of the time. These stories were seen from the perspective of the ships master at arms.

Stories that are the most humorous are "Wasp" and "Next of Kin". It has been said of Wasp that it represents the funny terrorists’ handbook. It may be supposed that Mr Russell could have come into contact with agents of SOE as there is much practical applications included. Even Sir Terry Pratchett has been moved to comment on the Ironic Humour of this story.

Mr Russell was an active member of the Fortean society, and some of his stories do seem to be based on Fortean themes. "Sinister Barrier" and "Dreadful Sanctuary" are good examples of this.

There does seem to be some similarity between a short story entitled "Legwork" and the film, 'Terminator 2' in that there is a shape changing alien who imitates men in each though it's good old fashioned police work in the Russell story.

This is not the science fiction of just ray guns and destroying aliens. Yes, in some stories ray guns do get used and sometimes various aliens do get destroyed. There is sometimes some rather fantastic technology being used but on the whole this is a far gentler sort of story. There is a slightly satirical humour poking fun at authority and also some far more spiritual stories about human aspirations. I will be the first to admit that I quite like some of the modern "Military" science fiction, but I can always find time for some quite reflection and contemplation with some of the more spiritual stories he wrote. A fine example of this is "Somewhere a voice", the title short story of the collection of the same name.

Published novels are:-
Sinister Barrier (1943)
Dreadful Sanctuary (1948)
Sentinels from Space (1953)
Three to Conquer (1956)
Wasp (1957)
The Space Willies (1958) aka Next of Kin
The Great Explosion (1962) *
The Mindwarpers (1964) aka With a Strange Device
Design for Great-Day (1995) (with Alan Dean Foster)

Collected short stories are:-
Men, Martians and Machines (1955) #
Six Worlds Yonder (1958)
Far Stars (1961)
Dark Tides (1962)
Somewhere a Voice (1965)
Deep Space (1974) collection
Like Nothing On Earth (1975)
The Best of Eric Frank Russell (1978)
Major Ingredients (1991)

An omnibus edition entitled Entities, published in 2001 contains the novels Wasp, Sinister Barrier, Sentinels from Space, Next of Kin and Call him Dead together with some short stories.

* This is something of an expansion of a previous shorter story "And then there were none"
# This could be considered as a short story and three Novellas.

Many of his stories are also in anthologies, far too many for me to list here.

Like many other writers of this time, Mr Russell was a protégé of John W. Campbell who was a writer himself but probably far more importantly he was The Editor who encouraged so many of the early writers. He (Campbell) demanded that science-fiction writers understand science and understand people, a requirement that many of the already established writers of the times found hard to meet. Campbell got rid of the dreadful plots, characters and much of the stigma of Purple Prose of Pulp fiction. The quality of the stories improved to such an extent that this era is now referred to as a "Golden Age". Many of the now well writers of the time were first published by Campbell

It is rumoured, but not proven that he invented the phrase “May you live in interesting times" which is cited as an ancient Chinese curse. He is also supposed to be the originator of the colloquialism "myob" for "Mind your own business", and the very dangerous saying-"Freedom--I won't". (Just think about that- hard). Somehow I wouldn't be surprised at all.

Should you wish to get your hands on some or all of these books Amazon.co.uk do have used copies for sale from a variety of sources and at a great variety of prices. Some hardcover volumes can be quite pricy indeed. But a careful shopper can still find good bargains.

There may be copies still to be found in specialist science fiction bookshops but I rather doubt that any will be found in mainstream booksellers due to the rather advanced age of some of the books.

The specific criteria do not seem appropriate.

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Comments on this review

  • cornishchic published 14/12/2014
    vh x
  • MrBrightside1987 published 24/07/2011
    Excellent review :)
  • angelboouk123 published 23/07/2011
    superb review John x
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