- ROBERTS, Keith (John Kingston)
- (1935-)UK writer and illustrator resident in the south of England, where most of his best fiction is set. After working as an illustrator and cartoon animator, he began publishing sf with "Anita" and "Escapism" for Science Fantasy in 1964; several of his early stories were written as byAlistair Bevan. He served as associate editor of SCIENCE FANTASY 1965-6 and edited its successor SF Impulse for the whole of its run (Mar 1966-Feb 1967). His first novel, The Furies (1966), is the most orthodoxlystructured and told of all his work, sf or otherwise, most of his later novels being fixups told from a brooding, slantwise, intensely visual point of view. The Furies is a traditional UK DISASTER tale, in which a nuclear test goes awry, inspiring an onslaught of space-spawned giant wasps which ravage England and come close to eliminating mankind. Beyond a certain sultriness of tone, it could have been written by any of a dozen UK specialists in disaster.With his second book, KR came fully into hisown as a writer. PAVANE (coll of linked stories 1968; with "The White Boat" added, rev 1969 US) superbly depicts an ALTERNATE WORLD in which -Elizabeth I having been assassinated, the Spanish Armada victorious and no Protestant rise of capitalism in the offing - a technologically backward England survives under the sway of the Catholic Church Militant. The individual stories are moody, eloquent, elegiac and thoroughly convincing. The Inner Wheel (coll of linked stories 1970) deals with the kind ofgestalt SUPERMAN theme made familiar by Theodore STURGEON's MORE THAN HUMAN (fixup 1953) and is similarly powerful, though tending to a ratheruneasy sentimentality, perhaps endemic to tales of such relationships but also typical of KR's handling of children and women. Anita (coll of linked stories 1970 US; exp 1990 US) is fantasy; the stories had appeared much earlier in Science Fantasy. The Boat of Fate (1971), an historical novel with a Roman setting, shares a painterly concern for primitive landscapes with The Chalk Giants (coll of linked stories 1974; cut 1975 US), whose separate tales elegantly embody a cyclical vision of the future of the island of Britain. The protagonist of the framing narrative (seen in the UK edition only) drives to the south coast to escape an indistinctdisaster, goes into hiding, and (depending on one's reading) either cycles the rest of the book through his head or can be seen as himself emblematic of the movement the tales portend, from post- HOLOCAUST chaos through God-ridden savagery back to a state premonitory of his own woundedcondition.KR's early short stories were assembled in Machines and Men (coll 1973) and The Grain Kings (coll 1976), both being excerpted in ThePassing of the Dragons (coll 1977 US). The title story of the second volume fascinatingly describes life on giant hotel-like grain harvesters in a world of vast farms; in the same volume, "Weihnachtsabend" (1972), perhaps KR's finest single story, depicts an alternate world in which the Nazis have won WWII (HITLER WINS), and expands upon certain savage mythsimplicit in that victory. Later work was assembled in Ladies from Hell (coll 1979), The Lordly Ones (coll 1986) and Winterwood and OtherHauntings (coll 1989), the limited edition of which also contained, bound-in, The Event (1989 chap). As in his later novels, these stories increasingly display an entangled - though sometimes searching - dis-ease with human nature and sexuality, with the course of history and with the fate of the UK.KR's first novel after a gap of some years was Molly Zero (1980), in which the classic sf tale of the growth of an adolescent is -typically for KR - subverted by a sense that the DYSTOPIAN world into which the young female protagonist enters is dismayingly corrosive; it is a sense which variously governs the shadowy escapades of the eponymous heroine of Kaeti \& Company (coll of linked stories 1986), Kaeti's Apocalypse (1986 chap) and Kaeti on Tour (coll 1992), and the life of thehaunting femme fatale depicted in Grainne (1987). In mood or venue, these books have little of the feel of sf; Kiteworld (fixup 1985), on the other hand, invokes the atmosphere of earlier work in its depiction of a Britain dominated by religious fanatics, and its constrictive rendering of the life of the crews who man giant kites to guard the frontiers against demons.As an illustrator, KR did much to change the appearance of UK sf magazines, notably Science Fantasy, for which he designed all but 7 of the covers from Jan 1965 until its demise (as SF Impulse) in Feb 1967, and also NEW WORLDS for a period in 1966. His boldly Expressionist covers, line-oriented, paralleled the shift in content of these magazines away from GENRE SF and FANTASY towards a more free-form, speculative kind of fiction. He later did covers and interior illustrations for the book editions of New Worlds Quarterly ed Michael MOORCOCK, for some of whose novels he has also designed covers. He has illustrated several of his own 1980s titles.JCOther works: A Heron Caught in Weeds (coll 1987 chap); The Natural History of the P.H. (1988 chap), nonfiction, the initials referring to the "Primitive Heroine" who appears throughout KR's work; The Road to Paradise (dated 1988 but 1989), associational; Irish Encounters(dated 1988 but 1989 chap).
Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. Academic. 2011.