Monday, October 20, 2008
Barrington Bayley (1937-2008)
Last week the world said goodbye to Barrington J Bayley, one of the most underrated writers in the history of literature. Not much of the world said goodbye to him (because he was so underrated) but most of it should have sat up and taken some sort of notice. Bayley was a pulp Borges, a space opera Zeno, his concepts the equal of those masters, his polyrhythmic plotting without parallel (without even those parallels that meet at infinity), his grasp and control of paradox rather incredible. Quite simply he was a genius.
Bayley is one of the most poignant examples of the unfairness of the business. We live (and probably always have) in an age where intellectual generosity is misunderstood and treated with suspicion. Popular writers of fantastical fiction give the reading public one or two 'ideas' per book. We are comfortable with such paucity because it doesn't challenge us. We can't really stand what Bayley offered -- dozens of ultra-clever original high level IDEAS per chapter -- though we always claim that's exactly what we want!
Bayley was a high concept writer who worked out his amazing conceits in the guise of hardish science fiction. Apart from the surfeit of ideas, the potential reader of his work will have to cope with his downbeat endings and generally bleak philosophy, both of which undoubtedly worked against his chances of achieving major recognition. But it also has to be pointed out that he didn't seem to want to help himself much. His hunger for fame was minimal or even non-existent. Shame.
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