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.
The Furies (1966)
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
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
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)