HOBAN, Russell (Conwell)
(1925-)
   US-born writer and illustrator, in the UK from 1969. After serving in WWII, he worked in advertising and tv until the mid-1960s, becoming a full-time writer in 1967. Most of his many titles are children's books, about 50 of them being illustrated texts for younger children, like the first, What Does It Do and How Does It Work? (1959), and (to mention only one of many stunning fables) La Corona and the Tin Frog (1974 Puffin Annual; 1979 chap). Although not sf, his earlymasterpiece for children cannot go unnoticed: the potent allegorical burden of The Mouse and his Child (1967) may in fact have hampered its acceptance by the younger readers for whom it was ostensibly written, for the epic quest of a clockwork mouse and his son for a secure haven - where they will no longer need to undergo the existential trauma of needing to be rewound - is metaphorically dense and abidingly melancholy, and the Dolls' House they eventually reach does not absolve them from their ownform of mortality. In other words, The Mouse and his Child, like all the greatest children's books, is best read twice: as a child, and again later.It was not until the 1970s that RH began to write the adult novels for which he has become best known, beginning with The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz (1973), a FABULATION in which the raw Being of the long-dead lion of the world is embraced by the eponymous father and son in a moment of unity. Both Kleinzeit (1974) and Turtle Diary (1976) offer worlds displaced by language, though not on analysis literally fantastic. But RH's next novel, RIDDLEY WALKER (1980), for which he received the JOHNW. CAMPBELL MEMORIAL AWARD in 1982, is a genuine-and quite extraordinary - sf novel, set 2000 or so years after the HOLOCAUST in southern England, just as the barbarian societies of the land have rediscovered the use of gunpowder. It is a situation much explored in the sf of the latter half of the 20th century, and RH's penetration of the moral and cultural complexities involved is acute; but what distinguishes the book from other attempts to represent something like a full sense of how it might actually seem to inhabit such a world is its language (LINGUISTICS), a remarkably inventive and internally consistent presentation of an evolved and living tongue. The often-quoted first sentence of the novel gives something of the flavour: "On my naming day when I come 12 I to gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen." In this tongue, legends - like the tale of the "Littl Shynin Man the Addom" - seem told in a timeless present tense, and RiddleyWalker's own groping progress towards an understanding of the dangers of a return to the old ways also seems told for the first time.Subsequent novels have been fabulations of intriguing complexity, while some of the tales assembled in The Moment under the Moment (coll 1992) are of moderate genre interest. Pilgermann (1983) allows its 11th-century protagonist to inhabit various eras in a kind of ghost form. The Medusa Frequency (1987) heavily foregrounds the myths of Orpheus and Medusa in the tale of a 20th-century novelist who, like the twinned parent and son of RH's firstadult novel, strives to find the moment, or the tongue, or the tale, that will join together in Being all that is asunder. But the later novel stops short of finding that Story. Only in RIDDLEY WALKER do the levels seem, at moments, to inhabit one another - do story and the world trick the eye into seeming one.
   JC

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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