BISSON, Terry (Ballantine)
(1942-)
   US author who has also worked as a New York publishing copy-writer. His first novel, Wyrldmaker (1981), is a too-rapidly told but intermittently dazzling GENERATION STARSHIP tale told in the guise of an heroic fantasy. With his second, Talking Man (1986), he comes into his full powers as a novelist whose narrative voice is urgently and lucidly that of a teller of tales. The figure at the heart of Talking Man - who does not talk - seems at the story's beginning to be nothing more than a bemusedly eccentric rural Kentuckian with a knack for repairing motors; as the novel develops into a quest west and then north across a USA more and more radically transformed the further the search proceeds, the talking man takes on qualities of Trickster and Redeemer, and eventually seems to contain the world's reality in his hands. The tale closes back home, but home is now an American South changed magically into a clement UTOPIA. In FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN (1988), which is in no ostensible sense a sequel, this same utopia proves to be an ALTERNATE WORLD born from a different course of US history. The enslaved Blacks of the Southern states had successfully revolted during the course of the Civil War, founded an independent Southern country, and by the late 20th century have established an unracist, beneficent, courteous, livable comity. Those parts of the tale set during this period are perhaps less convincing - and certainly less moving - than the central passages of the book, which represent the reminiscences of one of the Black revolutionaries; his descriptions of the successful campaign to free his people intensely invokes the haunted heartlands of the Civil War upriver from Washington, though subtly and upliftingly transformed.TB's fourth novel, Voyage to the Red Planet (1990), complicatedly combines spoof and elegy. In the 21st century the USA has declined severely, and the Mary Poppins, an umbrella-shaped spaceship once destined to take humanity to Mars, is in a mothball orbit. But an entrepreneur decides that a good film could be made of an actual trip to Mars, using the original ageing crew; and this is done. The portrait of a spineless, privatized USA is scathing; but the ship and the voyage - both described with considerable versimilitude - evoke a powerful sense of genuine but wasted opportunity, while generating at the same time a sense that humanity's dream of travelling outwards was not yet, perhaps, over. TB wrote no stories during the 1980s, but beginning in 1990 became a significant author of short fiction, with work like "Bears Discover Fire" (1990), which won a NEBULA, a HUGO and a THEODORE STURGEON MEMORIAL AWARD. The tale once again elegizes the land, the loss of the dream of America; it is also very funny. TB's short work is assembled as Bears Discover Fire (coll 1993). Fluent and moral and wry, TB has become one of the writers whose sf speaks to the world.
   JC

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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