John Sladek - science fiction author, writer, debunker of pseudoscience. 1937 - 2000
"People have laughed at all great inventors and discoverers. They laughed at Galileo, at Edison's light bulb and even at nitrous oxide."
An extraordinary writer, John Sladek was born in Iowa in 1937. Having studied mechanical engineering and English Literature at the University of Minnesota, he pursued a "series of jobs which usually characterize writers and other malcontents - short-order cook, technical writer, railroad switchman, cowboy...", travelling in Spain, Morocco and Austria before moving to London in 1966. Here he began his writing career with The Poets of Millgrove, Iowa, published in (New Worlds) in 1966.
His writing owes little to the then "trad" sci-fi of Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein. Influenced by such as Joseph Heller, Tom Disch and Philip K. Dick, his style and ideas were radical, and his writing involved much wordplay, including anagrams, palindromes and cyphers. He parodied, rather than wrote science fiction, his black humour serving to poke fun at what he viewed as an over-serious field.
Very English Satire
Living in England gave him a different perspective on his native America, too. His writing frequently satirised the American culture, his dark humour serving to highlight what he saw as the American pre-occupation with machines. Many of his characters are either robots (Tik-Tok, Roderick, or are negatively affected or influenced by technology or cybernetics (The Müller-Fokker Effect and Reproductive System).
1974 saw the publication of The New Apocrypha, in which he sought to expose quacks, "beliefs, crank philosophies and occult practices", as well as what he saw as the pseudoscience of Erik von Daniken and "Nazi science". This is his best-known work of non-fiction, and is 'must' reading for anyone seeking to explore away from traditional science.
In 1989 he returned to the States to work as a technical writer in Minnesota, and wrote Bugs, which again highlighted his dismay with a world gone mad, and obsessed with sudden and unnecessary change. He married Sandra Gunter in 1995, but died all too soon afterward from pulmonary fibrosis, on 10 March 2000 in Minneapolis.
Remembered for science writing, science fiction, detective fiction, but above all for his wonderful wordplay and humour, his departure at age 62 was indeed a sad loss.