HAVE YOU OVERLOOKED – KEITH ROBERTS?

Keith(John Kingston)Roberts was born 20th September 1935 and died October 5th 2000. His first work appeared as short stories in Science Fantasy magazine in 1964. He is known mainly for two novels, The Furies, (1966) and Pavane (1968), although he continued to write into the late 1980s. Roberts also worked as an illustrator and his work includes covers and inside illustrations for New Worlds and Science Fantasy (a.k.a. Impulse.)
Keith Roberts was a talented and able writer but he was also a difficult personality and his disputes with just about everyone in the field were well known during the period of his work. He died of complications from the multiple sclerosis that he’d been battling for the last ten years of his life and I am happy to note that his earlier work is being republished by Wildside Press and others.
Roberts liked the ‘disaster’ field of novels, his first book, The Furies, deals with strange beings like giant wasps that invade England. But in a very minor key it also showed Robert’s disinclination to produce work on a specific theme without deviation. At the time a number of authors were writing fairly straight ‘post-holocaust’ books. The Furies was a post-holocaust’ of a sort, certainly there was a self-caused holocaust involved, but it was compounded by the Furies appearance, and it’s clear from the book’s opening and closing paragraphs that they were originally a form of non-material extraterrestrial although he also seems to be suggesting that they coalesced from a combination of ‘the keepers’ wishes, and our own fears.
His second novel, Pavane, the one for which he is most praised, is actually a series of interlinked stories which a number of reviewers do not appear to have quite understood. In fact an almost throwaway paragraph in the book makes it clear that this is actually a history of our world tens of thousands of years after our current civilization collapsed. It could, I suppose, be described as an alternate history, in that this civilization has castles, similar names, and the Catholic Church. But, to my mind, Robert’s reference to the previous civilization that is clearly intended to be ours in the current era, negates this. But the work is brilliant, and if you only read one of Robert’s works, read this one.
Many of his books are available at reasonable prices as secondhand copies on Amazon and other secondhand book sites.

Partial bibliography
Novels
The Furies (1966)
Pavane (1968)
Anita (1970) – linked short fiction
The Inner Wheel (1970)
The Boat of Fate (1971) – a historical novel set in Britain at the end of the Roman Empire’s power.
The Chalk Giants (1974) – arguably also a collection of linked
short stories
Molly Zero (1980)
Kiteworld (1985) – originally published as linked short stories
Kaeti & Company (1986) – linked short fiction
Gráinne (1987) – BSFA award winner, 1987
The Road to Paradise (1988) – a thriller, without fantastic elements
Kaeti On Tour (1992) – linked short fiction

Collections
Machines and Men (1973)
The Grain Kings (1976)
The Passing of the Dragons (1977)
Ladies from Hell (1979)
The Lordly Ones (1986)
A Heron Caught in Weeds (1987)
Winterwood and Other Hauntings (1989)

1 comment

  1. I’m enjoying this series of “have you overlooked” a lot. I agree with all your comments and I’m particularly pleased to see you promoting the cause of Keith Roberts. As you rightly say, he was his own worst enemy — even the people who wrote eulogies for him when he died found it hard to say anything nice about him. But boy could that man write! I’ve read most of his novels and, one and all, I’ve enjoyed them. My very favourite is probably “Anita”. In a review of this, I wrote:

    Anita and her fearsome granny live in the wilds of Northamptonshire (and much of the dialogue is a phonetic representation of the dialect, but don’t let that put you off; it is never intrusive and the meaning is always clear). Roberts has enormous fun with the paraphernalia of witchcraft and the praise and worship they witches give to “’im down below”. The scenes involving Anita taking various of her familiars to the village vet are hilarious. (She fancies him something rotten and uses this as an excuse to get acquainted. The familiars aren’t too happy about it, but they don’t have a lot of choice.)

    The stories range from the trivial (Anita’s sex life) to the profound (problems of pollution and eco-catastrophe) but all are enlivened by the commentaries of Anita’s cynical old grandmother (Granny Thompson), a witch of indeterminate years, uncertain temper and indiscriminate spells. Re-reading the stories now, in these post-Discworld years, it seems to me that there is much of Granny Thompson in Terry Pratchett’s more famous Granny Weatherwax. I would not be at all surprised to find that Pratchett read and enjoyed these stories when they first appeared in the 1960s. (And no – I am most definitely not saying anything more than that. There is a huge difference between stealing and borrowing. Granny Weatherwax is an utterly original and brilliant creation, but I am starting to suspect that she is not without antecedents).

    I look forward to seeing who else you intend to rescue from obscurity.

    cheers


    -Alan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.