For the 200th issue of Starburst I thought it would be nice to get a brief paragraph of thoughts from as many science fiction, fantasy and horror writers as I could, as to their influences. Here's the ones I managed to source - quite an impressive array of writers to be honest! My own offering is right at the very end.
My influences are clear because they consist of the small library my father left behind when he fled the domestic hearth – Edgar Rice Burroughs, Edwin Lester Arnold, George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Anon (author of Timothy Tatters) – and books I enjoyed as a kid – Richmal Crompton, P. G. Wodehouse, the Sexton Blake Library and Frank Richards’ school stories, Planet Stories, The Tempest and most important of all John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Visionary fiction, rather than science fiction or fantasy, has always appealed to me (I’ve read very little genre sf) and I still find a lot more pleasure in Milton and Melville than in the prosaic predictions of Heinlein & Co.
Alright, I admit it. I have all of the Starburst magazines, going back to Issue No 1. Some of them are even in (gasp) binders. Back then, in 1978, it seemed that high quality magazines dealing with all aspects of ‘fantastic’ cinema and related matters were very few and far between. As an avid fan, I eagerly awaited each issue and its excellent interviews with genre luminaries, together with insightful reviews. Many things ‘fanned the flame’ of my enthusiasm back then. My first novel was published seven years later and when I look back on the various aspects that helped keep the flame alive I’m quite convinced that Starburst magazine was one of them. Thanks to you all.
Science Fiction novelist and genre columnist
Reality is becoming science fiction. And it’s science fiction that’s doing it.
Okay: inter alia. But what started with garish paperbacks under the school desk now looks like the best education for slamming into futurity. Bring on the visionaries, romantics, utopians. Give me daydreams and nightmares, fantasy and fancies, speculation and scaremongering. What if the critlit establishment’s sneers rise in direct proportion to the level of imagination displayed? Who wanted to go to their hard cheese and whine party anyway?
You can keep Virginia Woolf’s Collected Shopping Lists.
Just leave me the key to the FTL drive in my head.
Horror and fantasy artist
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw and I’ve been influenced by so many artists along the way that it seems invidious to choose just one. However, if you tie me down and beat me, I will confess to being much affected by a particular comic strip. It was drawn by Frank Bellamy and it appeared in the centre pages of the Eagle. It chronicled the adventures of a Roman centurion and is perhaps best described as ‘proto-sword and sorcery’. The strip was called Heros the Spartan and I wish someone would reprint it.
My earliest warp in the direction of horror may have been a bedtime reading of Ali Baba and the Seven Thieves by Daisy, my great aunt Emma’s companion, who was babysitting for my brother and I. A toddler at the time, I was so terrified by the story that I cried. I’ve never fully recovered. The story creeped me out badly – especially the beheading scene. (Oddly enough, decapitation rears its ugly head in nearly all of my novels.)
Later, television gave me the old Universal monster movies. Other major early influences were shows such as Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller and Twilight Zone.
The Hardy Boys books introduced me to the thrills of reading. My idol, in my early teens, was Robert Bloch. I liked the simplicity, scares, humour and tricky plots of his stories.
Dark Fantasy novelist and editor
The 1968 Huckleberry Hound Annual contained a Pixie, Dixie and Mr Jinks picture story entitled The Frightful Night. Pixie and Dixie were two mice, Mr Jinks the big cat which used to terrorise them. In this tale, Mr Jinks puts a paper bag on his head, attaches bolts either side and comes on like a monster to the mice. Unmoved, however, they retaliate with a dressmaker’s dummy kitted out with similar bag and a fur-lined coat. Now this was frightening, both for Mr Jinks and for the five-year-old boy sitting reading it next to the central heating vent in the dining room of his parents’ house in Whitley Bay.
If any reader has a copy of the 1968 annual for sale that would make me very happy.
The first influence, as far as horror is concerned, was the mentally generated creature, the Id of Dr Morbius in Forbidden Planet. I was six years old and the sudden appearance on screen of this monster, visible only as pulses of electricity, absolutely terrified me. I had nightmares for weeks. It scared me because I could not comprehend its existence.
I’ve had the same occult unease ever since, the shiver at what cannot easily be explained, the dread of the creature under the bed and its relative who makes the floorboards creak in the dark. I write about them to keep them at bay.
Also, in childhood, I discovered Celtic mythology, full of supernatural and terrifying tales. Most of my stories have a hint of the old weird ways.
Influences? Me? Definitely. Four people figure large: Gerry Anderson – a man who proved spaceships, Martians and dramatic disasters are real; Oliver Postgate – who showed that a small furry animal called Tog, a saggy old cloth cat called Bagpuss and little knitted creatures whistling in outer space are all very real; then there’s Mum and Dad who encouraged me to build Lego Thunderbird 2s, Meccano iron chickens and to search for Pogles in the wood.
Others include: Brian Aldiss, J. R. R. Tolkien, Messrs Asimov, Clarke, Harrison and Bear, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Monty Python and, of course, a certain Mr P…
Horror and fantasy author and editor
When I watched, in terror and wonder, the original Quatermass and the Pit serial on BBC Television (1958/9), little did I know by how much my future life would be influenced. I was eleven years old. After Quatermass’ warning to the world in the final episode, I was left stunned and deeply moved. Looking back, I can see with clarity how Nigel Kneale’s blend of science fiction, ancient mysteries, ghosts, magic and mind control would later merge me perfectly into the interdisciplinary thinking that has shaped my life and interests. I am essentially a Fortean and Kneale’s serial had those elements which suggest it is at our peril that we narrowly pigeonhole life and our thought processes … and since the renegade professor haunted the TV screens those many years ago, I have gone on to work widely within the genre, editing and publishing magazines and books, and writing fiction. But the doing of all that was largely given impetus by that thrilling and wonderful serial.
Horror novelist and screenwriter
Along with my generation’s usual suspects (Famous Monsters, TV screenings of Universal movies, Moorcock’s New Worlds, etc), the real guilty party in the corruption of eight-year old Pete was a Liverpool newsagent. Mr Ford (I still don’t know his first name) was one of a vanished breed of port-city entrepreneurs, relying for his stock on grey marketeering, merchant seamen bearing back Treasures from the New World – comics, monster movie mags, horror paperbacks. I was to be the first of my family to go to University and my father no doubt had his own dreams for me. But it was no use. From the moment I saw Dwight Frye’s painted nightmare face staring out of the cover of FM 18, I was lost to the world of realism and middle-management. Thanks, Mr Ford.
As a boy, I was strongly influenced by Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe, but also by more whimsical writers like Lewis Carroll. The idea of parallel and alternative worlds constantly fascinates me – whether these worlds exist inside mirrors (as in my novel Mirror), or dreams (Night Warriors) or even within solid walls (Walkers). In my latest novel Spirit, much of the action takes place inside storybooks. Horror is a difficult and challenging medium because you are creating a ‘reality’ which can defy all the laws of sanity and logic. Have you looked into your wallpaper lately?
While the influences of Lovecraft and M. R. James are easily found in my stuff, the writer who showed me the route I was to follow was Fritz Leiber. For me he’s still the greatest master of the tale of the urban supernatural, in which the terror doesn’t invade the big city but is part of it. It was an honour for me to know him and once to read alongside him in New York, and his criticisms in Fantastic showed me how to improve. He believed that the best horror fiction involved both wonder and terror, and so it should. Read him and see.
Horror and thriller novelist
I think I’m part of a generation of British writers who, whether they realise it or not, owe a lot to Nigel Kneale. One of my earliest memories is of being at a big family party and seeing everything stop while the TV set – this being the time when most people didn’t have one, but everyone knew someone who did – was trundled out so that the grownups could watch Quatermass and the Pit.
Can’t remember a damn thing about what I saw, but the room’s awed atmosphere is with me still. I’ve a suspicion that I’ve been subconsciously trying to recreate it for others ever since.
Kneale’s great achievement was to stake out a territory that was confident, contemporary, and ours. Suddenly the call of the Weird was coming from somewhere much closer to home.
STEVE BOWKETT (aka BEN LEECH)
One summer Saturday afternoon, as a boy of ten living in a Welsh mining village, I walked to the local coal tip to go fossil hunting. In my dufflebag; sandwiches, hammer, chisel and a copy of the first ever Doctor Who annual. Having dug a haul of fossil ferns and leaves, I sat to eat my tea and read of The Lair of the Zarbi Supremo and The Sons of the Crab until evening.
The twilight deepened. Lights came on in the valley below and the stars appeared above. Horizons of time, space and possibility were opened up for me then. I’ve been exploring ever since.
As a child I was influenced by the myths of ancient cultures – Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece – and wrote lots of rambling stories about gods and pharaohs. Later, I discovered those writers who redefined fantastic literature in the ‘70s – mainly, for me, Mike Moorcock, Tanith Lee and Jane Gaskell. Reading their work inspired me to invent my own strange worlds and cultures. My most recent source of inspiration is the work of animators like the Brothers Quay and Jan Svenkmajer. Watching one of their weirdly, discomfortingly beautiful films ensures the removal of writer’s block! My ambition is to have one of my stories animated by the Brothers Quay, so if they’re reading this …
London at night, Pan Books of Horror, The Exorcist, Evelyn Waugh, Dickens, Joe Orton, Witchfinder General, J. G. Ballard, Barbarella, Ray Bradbury, grotesque Victorian children’s books, my mother, Mervyn Peake, M. R. James, Michael Nyman, Hammer, Greek myths, Peter Cushing, John Barry, Conan Doyle, the Thames, Lucifer, Edmund Crispin, Tony Hancock, Ray Harryhausen, The Beano, Aurora model kits, Greenwich library, E. M. Forster, Gilbert and Sullivan, Stephen Sondheim, Monty Python, Shakespeare, Marvel Comics, Quatermass, Famous Monsters of Filmland, pre-Raphaelites, Woolwich Odeon, Playboy, Boileau and Narcejec, St Trinians, Norman Wisdom, Tobe Hooper, Dario Argento, Carry On films, the Bible, Soho, sex and … death.
Science Fiction and fantasy novelist
Writing is a hereditary disease for which there is no cure. However, one cannot refute the influence of environment. I learned about graphic violence and horror where one should … in the home. Working as a psychiatric nurse completed my education. Experience taught me that truth, even more than beauty, is in the eye of the beholder and the murky depths of subconscious, a much safer place to be than reality. Hence, I set about to create my own verity. Since sadism is the inevitable twin of masochism, I chose to inflict this truth on others while the genre generally reflects my mood. Since I’ve switched from horror to sf and fantasy, I must deduce my mental health is improving.
Holt aged twelve was stunted, sullen and fat; accordingly, much kicked by his peers; tried kicking back – mug’s game, legs too short; adopted pose of intellectual superiority (even wrote poetry; book of same published at age twelve) led to further, now thoroughly-deserved mayhem. By-product; at age twelve, read plays of Aristophanes (earliest surviving intentionally funny Western literature), which are what’s now termed comic fantasy – dazzling leaps of imagination undercut at every turn by awareness of own ludicrousness; late seventies (still stunted, fat; less sullen), recognises Hitch-Hikers’ Guide is basically the same thing and people seem to like it, decides to have a go. The rest is – well, scarcely history; let’s call it bibliography.
Science Fiction novelist
What if Dorian Gray had paused for reflection after picking up the knife? What if he had put it down again, realising that the monstrousness of the painting changed nothing except for its genre? What if he had understood that by virtue of his magnificent excesses Basil Hallward’s exercise in old-fashioned representative realism had metamorphosed into a masterpiece of modern impressionism? What if he had said to himself: “This is not the end, but the beginning”…?
What if Oscar Wilde, inspired by his character’s great leap of the imagination, had challenged the Marquess of Queensberry to a duel instead of a lawsuit, and had shot the foul-mouthed bully dead, thus avoiding crucifixion by the moronic moralists of his day and extending his glittering career…?
The possibilities are endless – but then, they always are. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?
As a child, clambering like a monkey on my father’s floor to ceiling bookshelves, I read whatever appealed to me, which was mostly the weird or fantastic. Omnibus collections of great supernatural and ghost stories, the collected works of Edgar Allen Poe and Ambrose Bierce mingled strangely in my mind with gleanings from the selected works of Sigmund Freud. Also there was a book called Bikey the Skycycle about a bicycle capable of interplanetary journeys. Ray Bradbury was my greatest discovery at the public library; for a long time he and E. Nesbit were my chief literary idols.
Compressing my influences into one hundred words is almost impossible, but Rupert Bear, Doctor Who, the Pan/Fontana Horror/Ghost collections, and punk rock comes pretty close. I still recall the frisson of fear I felt reading the story Rupert and Ragetty, in which a spiny, root-like creature crawls from beneath a felled tree during a storm, my awe and terror as the Autons – living mannequins – jerked to life and crashed through shop windows in Doctor Who. I recall reading horror stories under the bedclothes, then lying awake, convinced that every sound was a horrible something coming to get me. And punk rock? Well, that made a rebel of me, gave me the pig-headedness to stick with what I wanted to do, no matter how discouraging people were.
Science fiction novelist and editor
My biggest influence? Short stories.
The first sf book I ever read was More Penguin Science Fiction, edited by Brian Aldiss. That was what hooked me on science fiction. I read every anthology I could find, then went onto the magazines. New Worlds was always my favourite. When I began writing short stories, that was where I sent them. Michael Moorcock was the editor – and he sent them all back!
That was all a long time ago, and I’m still hooked on short sf. Reading it, writing it. But I still haven’t had a story in New Worlds. Instead, I’m the editor. Which is nearly as good.
GUY N. SMITH
My earliest influence into writing came from my mother (E. M. Weale), a pre-war historical writer who encourage me to write. At the age of twelve I was having short stories published in the children’s page of a local newspaper. Many of these were horror and sf. I read Weird Tales as soon as I was old enough but my greatest influence in the genre was Badger Books (Spencer) and particularly R. Lionel Fanthorpe who wrote most of these novels under a variety of pseudonyms. Much later I was to form a close friendship with Fanthorpe. I have always liked pulp fiction and I think that the best of this was to be found in the New English Library horror list of the early seventies. The covers were superb, the stories basic but very readable. I have always been an advocate of simplicity; I think that today there is too much emphasis on length and complicated psychological plots.
Horror and fantasy editor and columnist
100 words to list my influences? If I had ten times that many, I couldn’t do justice to all those people, publications and pictures that helped meld my malleable young mind: Walt Disney’s The Shaggy Dog, which was the first movie I ever saw in the cinema … Stan Lee’s new age of Marvel Comics … anything illustrated by Murphy Anderson, Carmine Infantino or Neal Adams for DC Comics … Willis O’Brien’s mighty King Kong … the Weird Tales circle of writers such as H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E Howard, Clark Ashton Smith … and of course, Forrest J. Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine … Without any of the above, I would not be having such fun writing and editing today!
Horror novelist and genre critic
In the horror field, fear is overrated. I’m often asked if I’m scared by what I write (sometimes, but not in the way they mean) or what scares me (the usual things). Actually, I’m far more likely to write about what angers me than what frightens me. The central nugget of many of my stories and novels is something momentous or trivial that prompts me to foaming fury: resurgent fascism, the tabloid press, queue-jumpers, colorisation of old movies, the Government. A graphologist once examined my handwriting and told me I had a wild temper. As a child, I was a tantrum freak, but in my personal life it’s been a long time since I screamed and shouted and hit someone with a chair. It doesn’t all go into the work, but a great deal of it does. There you have it: why I write – rage.
Science Fiction novelist
When I was at school I bought a battered American paperback called Sorcerer’s Amulet by Michael Moorcock. The exotic hybrid of sword and sorcery in a dizzyingly decadent far future looked irresistible in a remainder shop in Folkestone. It wasn’t until I got the book home that I realised it was volume two of four. After a mighty quest for the other three mystic tomes, I read the whole story over and over again, mesmerised. The horned horses of the Kamarg! The Silver Bridge at Deau-Vere! The brazen ornithopters!
I see that in April 1988, in some access of nostalgia, I got Mike to autograph Sorcerer’s Amulet for me. ‘To Colin,’ he wrote. ‘How long can this last then?’
25 years so far, Mike.
Back in 1970 when I was 22 and writing a series on computers for Channel 19 TV in Toronto, I went to MIT in Boston and met Marvyn Minsky. During an informal conversation he told me he believed that by the year 2000 man would have successfully replicated human consciousness in a computer – and proved by definition that God does not exist.
This one statement fired my imagination more than any other single remark I have ever heard in my life and it made me realise what I really wanted to do, which was to explore through writing the (sometimes very blurred) boundaries between science, medicine and the supernatural.
What I find enormously exciting as we move towards the end of this century is that we are beginning to see a new openness in scientists prepared to admit that in many cases the more they learn, the more they realise how little they know, together with a growing consensus among scientists that it is highly improbable that we are alone in universe.
Horror and science fiction gives writers a genre in which they can probe the unknown in all its forms, and if we look back in history, it is startling and enormously exciting to see how many immovable tenets of the scientific establishment have been ultimately disproved by writers as visionary as Jules Verne and Arthur C. Clarke. And we are seeing some of our own generation's tenets beginning to look less solid: Darwinism, The Big Bang Theory and the Speed of Light are all under challenge right now, in ways that could eventually lead to us having to rewrite not only the past, but the future. I can't think of a more exciting field for a writer to work in than this genre and I feel very lucky to be a part of it.
In everyone’s life there is a moment, an incident, that sparks a major change. In the case of Jonathan Wylie, this was when ‘he’ fell in love with his other half. Jonathan Wylie is in fact the pseudonym of Mark and Julia Smith, who met while working in publishing.
Having sparked each other into creative life, it seemed natural to work in the fantasy genre – a genre we had both loved since childhood (formative influences being Mervyn Peake, Zenna Henderson and John Wyndham), and had been involved with professionally.
Thirteen books later, we can’t imagine a more fulfilling way of life.
In the sun-filled 1960s when my days were packed with American comic books and bubblegum cards, a little darkness entered my life – a film with the cheesy but irresistible title Night of the Demon. From the eerie opening shots of Jacques Tourneur’s classy little world of shadows and light to the terrifying final scene of demonic retribution, I sat frozen with my first experience of fear. Ancient evil, runes and curses, a heart-pounding chase through night-dark woods and one of the most unnerving scores ever. I was hooked. Call me perverse, but from that first viewing I knew that creepy world was the one I wanted to inhabit.
H. G. Wells and Jules Verne (such a kind man!) were early influences. Film makers plundered their books for subject matter and Saturday morning pictures acted like a magnet to me. I jostled amongst crowds of excited kids, eagerly waiting to see what happened to Flash Gordon in this week’s episode.
A boys’ paper, Modern World, combined a bit of science, some technical future-gazing and short stories – one about a valley of giant insects after a botched experiment.
Science fiction played with ideas and possibilities in a way that allowed the imagination time and space in which to roam.
It seemed to me a way of thinking that set in motion atrophied areas of the brain, long neglected in benighted times.
In the course of a less than happy youth, I discovered an escape in escape literature, which I suspect helped save my sanity. I later fled my less than ideal working environment by writing fiction about familiar things: space travel, weird alien worlds, monsters, and magic. When I managed to sell some, so much the better. I love being paid for having fun! Now I am returning to the real world to explore a subject of some ambition: the entire evolution and geography of humankind, with warnings for the future, presented as historical fiction. What better pursuit can there be?
The blame for my presence in this field falls squarely on the shoulders of two guys named Philip and one named Stephen. The first is Phil Painting, like myself, a left-handed Libran. One day long ago, when everyone had long hair and an interest in mind-expanding substances, Phil comes over to me in a bar, thrusts a book into my hand and demands I read it. The book is called Eye in the Sky and is written by the second Phil: Philip K. Dick. I fall in love. Times passes. I pick up a Stephen King and fall in love again. Time passes. I finally realise that when I grow up I want to be a writer.
Some of the people, books and films which have influenced me: James Ensor, Rupert Bear, Albrecht Dürer, the original Flash Gordon, The Wizard of Oz, Goya, Bosch, Mr Sharp, Moebius, Kubin, Tiger Tiger, The Demolished Man, Blade Runner, Night of the Hunter, The Gormenghast trilogy, Treasure Island, The Green Child, Small Creeps Day, Lord of the Rings, Kandinsky, Bonnard, The Railway Accident & Other Stories, the Eagle & Lion comic, Ralph Bakshi, The Times, cinema and deck chairs and brass bands in St James Park.
F. PAUL WILSON
Somehow I was hardwired for the weird and fantastic. Can't explain how or why. Nothing ever even remotely monsterish in my staid, middle-class, church-going, three-child, two-parent, one-dog, Scotch-Irish, Roman Catholic American household.
Until TV brought The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms into my living room in June of 1953.
Remember the face-hugger in Alien, the way it came out of the egg and into John Hurt's visor? If so, you've got some idea of the sudden intimacy between my face and the family TV when I first saw the Beast trailer.
I think it was love. I was only six, but something in me responded to Harryhausen's monster stomping through Manhattan's financial district with all these screaming, terrified New Yorkers tripping and falling over each other in their panicked flight from it.
Like coming home … and I hadn't even known I'd been away.
If I had to name one major influence on my work it would have to be the Charnwood Forest area of Leicestershire where I was brought up. I love the bracken-covered slopes, gnarled oaks and ancient rocks of Bradgate Park; the sweeping views and mysterious rhododendron groves of Beacon Hill; the cathedral vaults and bluebell carpets of Swithland Woods; the lovely villages of granite and thatch. Their influence on me can be summed up in one word: atmosphere. Charnwood has an other-worldly feel in which anything seems possible; you feel you might have stepped into another world in which characters from fantasy could come to life. It’s this atmosphere, a unique eerie ambience, that also attracts me to my favourite books, and which I try to recreate in my own writing.
I always wanted to write, because I’ve always loved reading. A childhood illness stopped me leading an active life, so I got my adventures from books instead. Having discovered C. S. Lewis, I took off into the realms of the fantastic with Tolkien, Bradbury, Sturgeon, McCaffrey and many others. I then found myself mentally rewriting plots - this started because there were no good female roles in Lord of the Rings - and decided to write Aurian after losing my job. I owe a great debt to Miss Dixon my English teacher, who always encouraged me, and to my erstwhile employers, for obvious reasons!
RICHARD CHRISTIAN MATHESON
Horror novelist, film scriptwriter and television produced/scriptwriter
The facts of backwards; the chill illogic of paradox. In the upside-down terrain of irony, the cruel-hearted find joy and giggling children murder. Significance is empty. The apparent elusive. Words play tricks, faces mislead, things fall upward. As a rudiment of fantasy, irony has few rivals.
The subversion of overt definitions has always appealed to me, in my writing. What could be better? Meanings within meanings; the quiet, vile truth masquerading as mannerly and safe. Or the benign cloaked in cruelty. Yet, however expected, it’s not simply the reverse of something which makes it interesting to me.
There’s a secondary dimension I’m fascinated by: the hidden core so totally undermining the surface that a kind of macabre poetry arises. When it works, nothing remains trustworthy; the reader loses control.
And the fun really begins.
Author and genre columnist
What got me into this field? Discovering that my local newsagent for whom I delivered papers had copies of MonsterMag on the top shelves … watching my first horror film, Taste the Blood of Dracula, on television … being scared witless by the Cybermen and the Ice Warriors on Doctor Who … discovering horror novels through Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining … attending special screenings of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and thinking it was rubbish, and Alfred Soles’ Communion and quite enjoying it … ‘variety bags’ with trading cards from The Outer Limits inside … building Aurora glow-in-the-dark model kits but using the non-glowing parts as they could be painted to look more realistic … seeing penny-arcades for the first time at London Zoo and being fascinated by the mechanics behind the little horror scenarios that were played out in miniature … late night horror double bills on BBC 2 … all these and more affected and shaped the young Howe. And I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.