You might be forgiven for thinking that David Wingrove’s 1980 book, ‘The Immortals Of Science Fiction’ was about authors than their creations. To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure what to expect neither as I was investigating the art which has the vague ‘Young Artists’ to signify who they are that airbrushed the mostly double-page spreads. Quite why they don’t get a proper credit, even when looking up on google is a mystery. The blandness of the skin tone does tend to suggest that it’s all air-brush. Very popular in its days before digital could do most of the same tricks.
What Wingrove has done is select ten characters from various books and posing as a time and inter-dimensional/reality traveller visit each of them to give a brief account of their lives and interview them. Well, all but one. Winston Smith in ‘1984’ wasn’t exactly available.
At the back of the book is a list of which books and authors they came from, so let’s use that as the introduction of who to expect:-
Character Stories Author
Susan Calvin Robot stories Isaac Asimov
The Illustrated Man The Illustrated Man Ray Bradbury
Slippery Jim Digriz The Stainless Steel Rat Harry Harrison
Oscar Gordon Glory Road Robert Heinlein
Lewis Orne The Godmakers Frank Herbert
Esau Cairn Almuric Robert E. Howard
Beowulf Shaeffer Known Space stories Larry Niven
Winston Smith 1984 George Orwell
Winston Rumfoord The Sirens Of Titan Kurt Vonnegut
Howard Lester The Philosopher’s Stone Colin Wilson
Of them, I only recognised five of them without looking at the back of the book and only four in particular that I’ve read. It does raise an interesting question on how these characters were selected. Was it by permission or availability or both? Thinking back to that time, I would have thought there might have been better choices for some, even from these samr authors. Paul Atreides from Frank Herbert or Lazarius Long from Heinlein for instance. Certainly, Poul Anderson’s Nicholas van Rijn character should have been in the running up to that point.
We can play mind games like this for a pastime. The art is interesting but not exactly inspirational although that depends on your personal taste and interpretation of what you think these characters look like back in the 1980s. If anything, the book is more of a curio these days. The real test will be whether or not if you buy this book will it inspire you to look at the source material.
(pub: Mayflower Books, 1980. 113 page large square softcover. Original Price: $11.95 (US) but can be bought a lot cheaper now. ISBN: 0-8317-48880-X)