Tuesday, 7 February 2012

John Christopher 1922 - 2012

Due to a number of imminent (not to mention, very important) writing deadlines I’ve not been around lately, either on my blog or on Twitter or Facebook, so I’ve been keeping my head down and cracking on with it all.

But I just wanted to break radio silence to mention the sad passing of writer Samuel Youd – better know to readers as John Christopher – who died last week.

His books had an enormous effect on me as I was growing up, not only on me as a young reader, but on my writing as well. I first stumbled across his Tripods trilogy during a trip with my mum to the mobile library – a converted articulated lorry trailer that would be set up, and left, in the nearby church car park every Tuesday.

Every now and then I’d have to wait for the library to get some new Doctor Who Target novelisations in and be forced to peruse other shelves. Thankfully they'd get new ones in stock regularly, they we very good like that, so I didn’t have to wait long – usually a week or two. I’d read everything they had on the shelf at that time and had chosen a couple of my favourites to read again and needed a book I hadn’t read to accompany that week’s choices.

To me the nearby teenage fiction shelf was uncharted territory. Remember, at this time I was eight or nine, and had very rarely strayed away from Who novelisations, Nicholas Fisk novels (Trillions and Grinny were two of my favourites) and Douglas Hill’s SF books (Galactic Warlord was his most exciting novel), but something caught my eye that day. A set of books with huge, three-legged alien machines terrorising people in an English countryside.

Reading The Tripods trilogy was a landmark as a young reader that truly kick-started my love for Science Fiction outside of Doctor Who, as well as exciting adventure stories that transported me to places and worlds I could never have imagined.

Later in life I became a fan of the BBC TV adaptation of the books (recording them all off UKGold, until I was able to replace them with the shiny DVD box set in 2009), and was delighted to find that Christopher had penned a fourth book in the series, a prequel, called When The Tripods Came, which I promptly bought and read immediately.

As an adult, I would often while away those dreary 9to5 days at work by nipping off to a nearby pub at lunchtime, for a diet coke and a few chapters of whatever Christopher novels I hadn’t read and could find in second hand book shops or charity shops - this was during the 1990s when a lot of his work was out of print. I have fond memories of brightening up an otherwise dull day at work by reading old paperback copies of The Death of Grass, The World In Winter, A Wrinkle In The Skin, The Lotus Caves and Empty World.

I’ve always found it a great shame that Christopher has over the years slipped into relative obscurity, really only known (outside of the writing community) for being the guy who wrote the novels that the cult TV series The Tripods was based on. And yet during the 1950s and 60s, he wrote some of the most exciting novels in the SF genre. Some of which, such as The Death of Grass and The World In Winter, were a true source of inspiration, paving the way for authors like J.G Ballard to write such great Earth-bound SF / apocalyptic fiction as The Drowned World and High Rise.

Sadly, Christopher’s output had all but dried up in the last two decades, only releasing two novels during the 90s and 00s – A Dusk of Demons (1993) and Bad Dream (2003).

His work will always remain a source of great inspiration to me, both as a reader and as a writer. And I only hope that something good will spring from this sad event, namely that his books will finally be reprinted after spending so long out of the shops and out of the public eye. Perhaps then he will get the recognition he richly deserves.

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