WRIGHT, S(ydney) Fowler
(1874-1965)
   UK writer. SFW worked until middle-age as an accountant, was twice married and had 10 children. In 1917 he was a founder of the Empire Poetry League and edited the League's journal Poetry, which serialized histranslations of DANTE ALIGHIERI's Inferno and Purgatorio; he also edited many anthologies for the League's Merton Press, publishing some early work by Olaf STAPLEDON. SFW's first book was Scenes from the Morte d'Arthur (coll of poetry 1919) as by Alan Seymour. His first-published novel, TheAmphibians: A Romance of 500,000 Years Hence (1924; vt The World Below 1953 UK), was issued by the Merton Press. He later founded Fowler Wright Books Ltd to issue his translation of the Inferno (1928) and a novel which he had written in 1920, Deluge (1928).The Amphibians describes a FAR-FUTURE Earth where mankind is extinct and new intelligent species areengaged in their own struggle for existence; its imagery was strongly influenced by Wright's work on Inferno and its structure recapitulates HOMER's Odyssey. It was meant to be the part 1 of a trilogy, but part 3was never written and the concluding chapters of part 2 - added to part 1 in The World Below (1929; vt in 2 vols as The Amphibians 1951 US and The World Below 1951 US; vt in 2 vols as The World Below 1953 UK and TheDwellers 1953 UK) - are rather synoptic. Deluge, a DISASTER story in which most of England sinks beneath the sea - so that the Cotswolds are converted into an archipelago - enjoyed considerable critical success and was filmed in 1933 as DELUGE (with New York as the setting); SFW promptly retired from accountancy and began a second career as a writer.The Island of Captain Sparrow (1928) deliberately recalls H.G. WELLS's The Island of Dr Moreau (1896) in its image of an ISLAND inhabited by satyr-likebeast-men who are prey to the corrupt descendants of castaway pirates. It also features a feral girl, the first of several similar figures used by SFW to celebrate the state of Nature in opposition to the brutality of"civilized" men. Dawn (1929), a sequel to Deluge - with which it was assembled as Deluge, and Dawn (omni 1975 US) - also contains much bitter commentary on the corruptions of comfort and civilization and carries forward a Rousseau-esque glorification of Nature and insistence on the fundamentality of the Social Contract. The Margaret Cranleigh trilogy began with Dream, or The Simian Maid (1931), which carries these philosophical arguments to further extremes in telling the story of a woman transported back to a lost prehistory to witness a battle for survival between a humanoid species and ratlike predators. The 2nd volume was ultimately published - shorn of connecting material - under the pseudonym Anthony Wingrave as The Vengeance of Gwa (1935; reprinted as by SFW); and the 3rd did not appear until much later, as Spiders' War (1954US). Beyond the Rim (1932) is a determinedly eccentric lost-race (LOST WORLDS) story set in the Antarctic; it is much more interesting than SFW's lacklustre later works in a similar vein, The Screaming Lake (1937) and The Hidden Tribe (1938), although its sf content is only marginal.SFW'svivid short fiction of this period was assembled in The New Gods Lead (coll 1932; exp vt The Throne of Saturn 1949 US), which groups 7 vitriolicDYSTOPIAN stories under the heading "Where the New Gods Lead" (the new gods in question being Comfort and Cowardice). These include a notable fantasy of IMMORTALITY, "The Rat" (1929), a trilogy of parables about the taking over of human prerogatives by MACHINES, "Automata" (1929), and 2 polemics against SFW'S pet hates, birth control and the motor car, "P.N.40" (1929 as "P.N.40 - and Love") and "Justice".Power (1933) belongsto that subgenre of SCIENTIFIC ROMANCES in which a lone man in possession of some awesomely destructive WEAPON attempts to blackmail the world. SFW's protagonist is among the more altruistic and ambitious, but thestory ultimately fades into a mere thriller. SFW visited Nazi Germany in 1934 in order to write a series of newspaper articles, and this inspired atrio of highly melodramatic future- WAR stories: Prelude in Prague: The War of 1938 (1935 Daily Mail as "1938"; 1935; vt The War of 1938 1936 US),Four Days War (1936) and Megiddo's Ridge (1937). By this time he was falling prey to old age, but he produced a final vivid image of the future in The Adventure of Wyndham Smith (1938), partly based on a short story, "Original Sin" (which ultimately saw publication in The Witchfinder [coll1946] and in The Throne of Saturn). In the novel the inhabitants of a stagnant and sterile quasi- UTOPIAN state decide to commit mass suicide, and unleash mechanical Killers to hunt down a handful of rebels. Apart from Spiders' War and the brief parables "The Better Choice" (1955) and "First Move" (1963), none of his later work was published; all themanuscripts have been lost except for the still unpublished fantasy novel Inquisitive Angel.He also wrote numerous detective stories, all as bySydney Fowler in the UK although some appeared as by SFW in the USA. The Bell Street Murders (1931), as Sydney Fowler, features an invention which records moving images on a screen; its first sequel, The Secret of the Screen (1933), as Fowler, has negligible sf content. The weak futuristicthriller The Adventure of the Blue Room (1945) also appeared under the Fowler byline.Despite the considerable number of his published works,SFW's literary career was a chronicle of frustrations. The 2 projects dearest to his heart - the long Arthurian epic of which Scenes from the Morte d'Arthur is but a small part, and a long historical novel aboutCortez, For God and Spain - were never published. Although self-publication led him to brief fame and fortune, he failed in his ambition to become a social commentator of Wellsian status and ended up trying to resuscitate his career by reprinting his early works under the Books of Today imprint while he was editing a trade journal of that titlein the late 1940s. Even The World Below, despite its classic status as a vividly exotic novel of the far future, is only half the work it was originally intended to be. Nevertheless, he was a strikingly original writer and one of the key figures in the tradition of UK scientific romance. BS
   About the author: "Against the New Gods: The Speculative Fiction of S. Fowler Wright" by Brian M. STABLEFORD, Foundation \#29 (Nov1983); Sermons in Science Fiction: The Novels of S. Fowler Wright (1994) by Mary S. Weinkauf.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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