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Brian Stableford Obituary

by Edward James

Brian Stableford (born 1948; died 2024) was perhaps the most prolific writer the British science fiction community has known. Apart from around 80 novels, and numerous short story collections, he wrote and contributed to numerous reference works, including the last print edition of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, wrote books and essays on the history of science fiction, and, this century, published well over 200 translations of novels of early French science fiction and fantasy. I remember spending Christmas Day with him, in the 1990s, and I asked him why he was more than usually gloomy: he said that he was nervous about reaching his goal of one million words of published or publishable prose by the end of the calendar year, as he usually did.

Just look at the bibliography in the online SF-Encyclopedia, and marvel!

I first met him in 1983, when I was organising a set of evening lectures on science fiction at the University of York. It was where he had got his degree in biology (and his DPhil, which was on the sociology of science fiction). I got to know him very much better when we moved ourselves to Reading: he lived only about twenty minutes’ walk from us. We spent a lot of time socialising, though he only once came to our house: a near disaster, since it turned out that he was violently allergic to cats (which he had not discovered earlier because he hated cats and had up till then avoided them.) He was always stimulating, always erudite, and often very witty. We moved from Reading in 2004, and saw him only occasionally after that, sadly: the last time for me was an academic conference on SF in Germany.

As with most people reading SF in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I read and loved his Starpilot Grainger series (which Pan renamed the Hooded Swan series by book 3, after the spectacular space-ship): it was entertaining and intelligent space opera. The Emortality series (1998-2002) was equally impressive. There are dozens of novels not in series, of which The Empire of Fear was perhaps the most memorable. But his greatest achievement in terms of fiction was probably in the form of short stories and novellas. Some of the best of them were published in Sexual Chemistry: Sardonic Tales of the Genetic Revolution and Designer Genes: Tales of the Biotech Revolution. The book of his I have consulted the most, however, is probably his scholarly Scientific Romance in Britain, 1890-1950 (now vastly expanded into four volumes as The New Atlantis.) He has left a huge monument of imagination and scholarship behind him: the best thing members of the BSFA can do to honour his memory is to sample it.

Additional Note from Farah Mendlesohn:

I first read some of Brian’s work when I was 12 years old. He was the second sf author I ever read and I was blown away. I then met him again in 1994 when we competed for the role of Librarian at the Science Fiction Foundation in Liverpool (neither of us got it), and I chatted to this apparently very scary man in the second hand bookshop we all gravitated to after the interviews. Then in 1995, Edward and myself moved to Reading, and we became regular visitors. Brian was unfailingly kind, offered acerbic and valuable criticism of my work, and probably saved my life. This last is not metaphorical. By 1997 I had been unwell for years, and in that year started losing weight very quickly. At a time when the doctors were still insisting it was psychological, it was Brian who suggested that I might have coeliac and told me to go and get tested, evidence of the degree to which this very smart man listened to and respected others. His critical and creative voice is much missed.

A good place to start to discover Brian Stableford's work is with his entry in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia.

His bibliography appears here.


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