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Christopher Priest Obituary

by Allen Stroud

Christopher Priest has passed away.

I didn't know Christopher Priest. I had the privilege of being in one conversation with him at Eastercon in Manchester a few years ago. I didn't contribute much. This was at a time when conventions and socialising among published writers was quite new to me.

A year or two later, I had the privilege of reviewing The Gradual (2016) for, a story set in his Dream Archipelago. I found the novel intriguing, a word many people use when discussing his work.

Later still, I exchanged one or two emails with Christopher relating to Fantasycon. His replies to my queries were polite and direct.

Where I learned more about Christopher and his activities were through the pages of Rob Hansen's Then (2016). This encyclopedic narrative of British fandom from the 1950s to the 1980s has provided me with significant insight into the legacy I am fortunate enough to be part of. As Chair of the British Science Fiction Association and as an organiser of UK Fantasycon, it is humbling to see the names of those down the years who have given up their time for the continual renewal of a science fiction and fantasy community around events, meetings, publications, awards, and discussions about all the things that we share an interest in.

Christopher Priest's name first appears in 1962, described by Hansen as an early Beatles fan. A year or two later, he then appears as a member of the Weston and Platt movement among BSFA discussions. This fractious group concerned itself with a reinvigoration and renewal of the National Association. They also wrote articles in printed fanzines, the platform of choice for SF fandom prior to the Internet.

Christopher Priest's first publication was short story called 'The Run' in a magazine called Impulse in 1966. His first novel was Indoctrinaire (1971). However, much like his archipelago, these were surfacings of a much larger mass. His activities in fandom were energetic and forthright. He had an opinion, something which required intelligence and knowledge if it were to remain valid among the highly engaged and well-read science fiction community of the time.

It is this aspect that comes across in everything I have read about Christopher Priest and everything I have learned about him through conversations with others. Throughout his life, he was engaged, he was energetic, and he was articulate. You might agree with him you might disagree with him, but he would bring something to any conversation he participated in. He remained involved in fandom throughout his life, despite living his later years on the Isle of Bute. His commentary and activity litters the pages of convention reports, AGMs, and other events. Even now, as a variety of different obituaries are written, it is plain to see the impact of the man. He touched many lives and remained memorable, a quality that is much sought-after in a world that marches on at an ever increasing pace.

It is this quality that remains evident in his critique of the film adaptation of his novel The Prestige (1997).  The Christopher Nolan film, released in 2006 has a star-studded cast and received excellent reviews from cinema critics. However, Christopher Priest had his own view, which he detailed on his own website, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the final work. Where others might have stayed quiet, hoping that further film adaptations might be forthcoming, I expect this was never something considered.

Science Fiction and fantasy fandom has lost an amazing contributor. Christopher Priest was involved. Without his involvement, we would not be where we are today.

For those who would like to know more about Christopher Priest's contribution to Science Fiction and Fantasy over the decades, I can recommend the excellent biography written by another BSFA luminary, Paul Kincaid. The Unstable Realities of Christopher Priest (2020) is an excellent profile of it's subject.


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