- LONDON, Jack
- Working name of US writer John Griffith London (1876-1916), known primarily for his work outside the sf field. After leaving school at the age of 14, JL spent 7 years of adventure and hardship as an oyster pirate, sailor, hobo, prisoner and Klondike gold-seeker. During this period, he gave himself an education steeped in the most influential scientific and philosophic theories of the late 19th century - Darwinism (EVOLUTION; SOCIAL DARWINISM), Nietzscheism and Marxism (ECONOMICS; POLITICS) - whichhe was to amalgamate in his voluminous writings. These writings consist of adventure tales, socialist essays and fiction, autobiographical narratives, and about 20 works of sf, including 4 novels.His first sf story, "A Thousand Deaths" (1899), combines some key themes of 19th-century sf: a cold-hearted lone SCIENTIST uses his own son inrevivification experiments and is then dematerialized by a superweapon invented by the son. "The Rejuvenation of Major Rathbone" (1899) displays a "rejuvenator" extracted from a "lymph compound". "The Shadow and the Flash" (1903) has two competing scientific geniuses attainingINVISIBILITY, one by perfecting a pigment that absorbs all light, the other by achieving pure transparency. In "The Enemy of All the World" (1908) a lone genius invents a superweapon and terrorizes the world.Racism runs through much of JL's sf, most shockingly in "The Unparalleled Invasion" (1910): after the White nations have wiped out the Chinese with an aerial germ-warfare assault, a joyous epoch can begin of "splendid mechanical, intellectual, and art output". One major area of JL's sf is the prehistoric world (ANTHROPOLOGY; ORIGIN OF MAN), which is explored in Before Adam (1906), his first sf novel - which uses a favourite theme,atavism, as a device to project a consciousness into the past - as well as in "The Strength of the Strong" (1911). Atavism appears also in "When the World was Young" (1910), in which a "magnificent" and "yellow-haired"savage shares the body of a successful California businessman, and in The Star Rover (1915; vt The Jacket 1915 UK), a novel based partly on thereported revelations of one Ed Morrell, who had experienced a dissociation of mind from body under torture in San Quentin. In The Scarlet Plague (1912 London Magazine; 1914) human history is viewed as cyclical; thepost- HOLOCAUST world of the NEAR FUTURE has reverted to primitive tribal existence. The novella "The Red One" (1918) describes a contemporary stone-age society that has turned a mysterious sphere from outer space into the centrepiece of a death cult.Several of JL's sf works deal with the struggle between the capitalist class, trying to establish a fascist oligarchy, and the proletariat, striving for socialism. "A Curious Fragment" (1908), set in the 28th century, shows one of the rulingoligarchs encountering a severed arm bearing a petition from his industrial slaves, though a more optimistic view appears in "Goliah" (1908), in which a "scientific superman" masters the ultimate energysource, Energon, becomes master of the world's fate, and inaugurates a millennium of international socialism; both stories are assembled in Curious Fragments: Jack London's Tales of Fantasy Fiction ed Dale L.Walker (coll 1975). In "The Dream of Debs" (1909) a near-future general strike brings the capitalist class to its knees. JL's finest achievement in sf, and perhaps his masterpiece, is the DYSTOPIAN The Iron Heel (1907), which predicts a 20th-century fascist oligarchy in the USA and recounts, through documents discovered by scholars in the socialist 27th century, the epic revolutionary struggle of the enslaved proletariat.Many of JL's shorter works can be found reprinted in The Science Fiction of Jack London ed Richard Gid Powers (coll 1975), which also has a good introduction.HBFAbout the author: Jack London: A Bibliography (last rev 1973) by H.C. Woodbridge; Jack London (1984 chap) by Gorman Beauchamp.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. Academic. 2011.