BISHOP, Michael

BISHOP, Michael
   US writer, much travelled in childhood, with an MA in English from the University of Georgia, where he did a thesis on the poetry of Dylan Thomas. He began publishing sf with "Pinon Fall" for Gal in 1970, and in a short period established himself as one of the significant new writers of the 1970s. Though his early stories and novels display considerable intellectual complexity, and do not shirk the downbeat implications of their anthropological (ANTHROPOLOGY) treatment of ALIENS and alienating milieux, there remained a sense in which MB could not be treated as one of those writers, like Edward BRYANT, whose primary influences could be seen as the US NEW WAVE of the 1960s combined with the liberating influence of the numerous writing workshops of the succeeding decade. MB's first novel, for instance, A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire (1975; rev vt Eyes of Fire 1980; under original title with revs retained and new introduction 1989 UK), is written ostensibly within the terms of HARD SF, though laced with splashy Gothicisms (most of them removed as part of the extensive revision): on an alien planet, the protagonist must perform wonders or be sent back to a despotic Earth. But, inter alia, MB mounts the first of his complex and sometimes moving analyses of alien cultures. The finest of these anthropology-based interrogatory tales is TRANSFIGURATIONS (1973 Worlds of If as "Death and Designation among the Asadi"; fixup 1979), where the colonizing impact of a "superior" culture upon less technologically advanced natives is complexly contrasted - in a story which owes much to Joseph CONRAD - with the recursive unknowableness of the Other. And Strange at Ecbatan the Trees (1976; vt Beneath the Shattered Moons 1977; vt as coll Beneath the Shattered Moons and The White Otters of Childhood 1978 UK), is a somewhat less convincing FAR-FUTURE tale dealing with a world most of whose people, long ago genetically engineered (GENETIC ENGINEERING) into stoicism, are now apparently incapable of aggression or any other display of emotion. Stolen Faces (1977), again set on an alien planet, darkly offers a culture so diseased that its inhabitants must designate themselves through gross mutilations.However, while publishing these novels and many of the stories collected in Blooded on Arachne (coll 1982) and One Winter in Eden (coll 1984), MB was increasingly focusing his sharp, earnest, exploratory vision upon the eerier provinces of the US South. In A Little Knowledge (1977) and its sequel, Catacomb Years (fixup 1979), a theocratic regime repressively dominates a NEAR FUTURE Atlanta, Georgia, until the conversion of some apparent aliens begins to destabilize society; the vision of Atlanta as a domed city whose various levels and intersections literally map the new social order may be cognitively daring, but it thins out in the mind's eye when described. However, MB's most public success soon followed. NO ENEMY BUT TIME (1982), which won a NEBULA, intensified the movement of his imagination to a local habitat, and for the first time introduced a protagonist of sufficient racial (and mental) complexity to carry a storyline immured in the particular and haunted by the exotic. In this case, dogged by dreams of the Pleistocene, the new MB protagonist - who is not dissimilar to the Habiline who later featured in the less successful and overextended tale of Atlanta and Haiti, Ancient of Days (1985) (APES AND CAVEMEN) - is enlisted into a TIME-TRAVEL project, returns to the Africa of his vision, fathers a child in the dawn of time, and returns with her to the battering world.Through the 1980s, MB continued to strive for an adequate form to engage his humanist sympathies, the sociological (and anthropological) eye which found in the South perhaps all too much material, the lurking humorist within the preacher. Who Made Stevie Crye? (1984) is a strangely unengaged horror novel, with laughs; The Secret Ascension (1987; vt Philip K. Dick is Dead, Alas 1988 UK), set in an ALTERNATE-WORLDS USA, homages and stars DICK (see also RECURSIVE SF); Unicorn Mountain (1988), once again set partly in Atlanta, is a fantasy in which the dying of unicorns from another dimension and the problem of AIDS in this world intersect encouragingly; and Count Geiger's Blues (1992), another fantasy - set in the Atlanta-like Salonika, capital of the imaginary southern state of Oconee - was similarly told in MB's uneasily humorous, highly individual voice. Though full of energy and strongly willed, these novels do not feel entirely comfortably in focus.On the other hand, Brittle Innings (1994) gives a powerful sense of smoothly released energies; retelling the story of the FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER within a GOTHIC SF frame - it is set in the American South, and the Monster is a professional baseball player - it amply confirms a sense that MB, having been in search of a strong world to illuminate, had found one.
   Other works: Windows \& Mirrors: A Chapbook of Poetry to Deep South Con XV (coll 1977 chap); Under Heaven's Bridge (dated 1980 but 1981 UK) with Ian WATSON; Close Encounters with the Deity (coll 1986); To a Chimp Held Captive for Purposes of Research (1986 broadsheet); Within the Walls of Tyre (1978 Weirdbook 13; rev as screenplay 1989 chap UK); Apartheid, Superstrings, and Mordecai Thubana (1989 chap); Emphatically Not Sf, Almost (coll 1991); The Quickening (1981 Universe 11; 1991 chap), which won a Nebula for 1981.As Editor: Changes: Stories of Metamorphosis (anth 1983) with Ian Watson; Light Years and Dark (anth 1984); Nebula Awards 23 (anth 1989); Nebula Awards 24 (anth 1990); Nebula Awards 25 (anth 1991).
   About the author: Michael Bishop: A Working Bibliography (1988 chap) by Gordon BENSON Jr.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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