COWPER, Richard


COWPER, Richard
   Pseudonym of UK writer John Middleton Murry Jr (1926-), son of the famous critic; RC also published four non-sf novels under the name Colin Murry, beginning with The Golden Valley (1958); and, as Colin Middleton Murry - Colin being a nickname - two autobiographical volumes, One Hand Clapping (1975; vt I at the Keyhole 1975 US), which deals mainly with his relationship with his father, and Shadows on the Grass (1977).After working for some years as a teacher, and finding his non-sf novels to be only moderately successful, he adopted the Cowper pseudonym for Breakthrough (1967). Not conventional GENRE SF, being more richly characterized and romantic than is usual, its story of ESP and a kind of reverse REINCARNATION is sensitively told and given unusual reverberations by its use of a leitmotif from Keats. It remains one of RC's finest works, and its romantic theme - of the power of the mind to sense ALTERNATE WORLDS, and of the flimsiness and limitations of this one's reality, crops up often in his work, sometimes in images of deja vu; as does its venue, a NEAR FUTURE Southern England on the cusp of transformation. These characteristics feature in many of the short stories assembled in The Custodians (coll 1976), The Web of the Magi (coll 1980) and The Tithonian Factor (coll 1984), the title story of the first of these collections being much praised in the USA and nominated for several awards. They also inform what is generally considered his best singleton, The Twilight of Briareus (1974); in this tale England has been transformed, through a disruption in world weather caused by a supernova explosion, into a snowbound Arcadia; from the same apparent source later come psychic influences which lead to complex interaction between humans and ALIENS. The story - like all of RC's best work - is charged with a strange, expectant vibrancy. Its explorations of human PERCEPTION demonstrate an openness not unlike that described in John Keats's remarks about "negative capability" - remarks that RC has quoted in print. Keats's plea was for a kind of waiting expectancy of the mind, which should be kept free of preconceptions. RC does not usually link telepathy with the idea of the SUPERMAN, as is more normally found in US sf uses of the convention; instead, it can be seen in his work as an analogue of "negative capability".Although the air and style of RC's sf is a long way from traditional HARD SF, its content uses traditional themes. Kuldesak (1972) deals with an underground society on a post- HOLOCAUST Earth (POCKET UNIVERSE), and one man who finds the surface against the will of an all-powerful COMPUTER. Clone (1972), which saw RC's first real breakthrough into the US market, is an amusing near-future SATIRE. Time out of Mind (1973), like the earlier Domino (1971), rather mechanically applies psi tropes (PSI POWERS) to thriller-like plots involving TIME TRAVEL and the rescue of a future UK from the totalitarian implications of the 20th century. Worlds Apart (1974) is a not wholly successful comedy, burlesquing several sf CLICHES in a story of an alien world on which an sf novel is being written about Urth, while back on Earth an sf writer writes about the alien world. Profundis (1979) places RC's now-expected mild-mannered telepathic Christ-figure in a huge submarine which has survived nuclear holocaust and is being led around the world by dolphins anxious to keep human violence at bay.RC remains best known for his Corlay trilogy - THE ROAD TO CORLAY (1978; with "Piper at the Gates of Dawn"1976 added, as coll 1979 US), A Dream of Kinship (1981) and A Tapestry of Time (1982) - in which what might be called the pathos of expectancy typical of his best work is finally resolved, for the essential parts of the sequence take place in an England 1000 years after changing sea-levels have inundated much low-lying country, creating an archipelago-like venue which hearkens - perhaps consciously - back to Richard JEFFERIES's After London, or Wild England (1885), and which also clearly resembles the West Country featured in Christopher PRIEST's coeval A Dream of Wessex (1977). In this land, an oppressive theocracy is threatened by the solace offered through a young lad's redemptive visions of a new faith, whose emblem is the White Bird of Kinship. The sequence proceeds through the establishment of a new church, its stiffening into its own repressive rituals, and its rebirth. Throughout, a sweet serenity of image and storytelling instinct - RC has always been a gripping teller of tales - transfigure conventional plot-patterns into testament. The Corlay books so clearly sum up RC's imaginative sense of a redeemed England that it is perhaps unsurprising that he has written relatively little since.
   PN/JC
   Other works: Phoenix (1968); Domino (1971); Out There Where the Big Ships Go (coll 1980 US); The Story of Pepita and Corindo (1982 chap US); The Young Student (1982 chap US); The Unhappy Princess (1982 chap US); The Missing Heart (1982 chap US); Shades of Darkness (1986); The Magic Spectacles, and Other Tales (coll 1986 chap).As Colin Murry: Recollections of a Ghost (1960); A Path to the Sea (1961); Private View (1972), written at the same time as the other non-sf novels.
   About the author: "Backwards Across the Frontier" by RC in FOUNDATION 9, 1975.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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