Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Walter Tevis

A nice thing amongst this morning's consignment of books; Walter Tevis's Mockingbird has come out in Gollancz's sf Masterworks series (number 70). I've long thought that Tevis is underrated, as both a mainstream and an sf writer. Of course, he did very well out of The Hustler and The Colour of Money (which was I think published just after his death, but he'd had the film money before he died). I think the latter not all that terrific, but The Hustler, like Cool Hand Luke and The Cincinnati Kid, is one of those books which rattles round in your head. I don't know how much of that is due to the films, but I'd like to think not all of it. I've written about this before.
The Man Who Fell To Earth is a great film (Nicolas Roeg), and a wonderful book. You probably know them, but if not, seek both out. Mockingbird is the other end of the story, in a way. It's about the remnants of humanity, sopored and hashed up to the eyeballs, overseen by a robot with a vague memory of humanity (his brain was mapped on a person's) and a yearning for suicide which he cannot fulfill.
Thomas Newton is equally alienated. He's an alien, failing to manage on Earth, and unable to go back home. TMWFTE is the becoming a drunk book; Mockingbird is the stopping being a drunk book. The human couple stop taking their drugs, learn to read, and don't really find happiness. Spofforth's epiphany is of an ecstatic realisation, coupling the spiritual uplift with literal descent - like Jocelin at the end of The Spire. Except with robots, obviously.
Tevis didn't publish anything much between finishing The Man Who Fell To Earth in 1961 or so and Mockingbird in 1980. He was drinking in Ohio. He stopped in 1975. From 1980 he wrote a book a year, including another sf novel, The Steps of the Sun, which I've never read, and one other, fairly, straight novel, The Queen's Gambit, about chess. It's not The Defence (by Nabokov). Having finished The Colour of Money in 1984, he was planning to go back to sf. He died of lung cancer later that year.