Barrett, Neal, Jr. 1929–
BARRETT, Neal, Jr. 1929–
(Victor Appleton, Chad Calhoun, Clay Dawson, Franklin W. Dixon, Rebecca Drury, Wesley Ellis, J. D. Hardin)
PERSONAL: Born 1929, in San Antonio, TX. Education: University of Oklahoma, B.A.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Golden Gryphon Press, 3002 Perkins Rd., Urbana, IL 61802.
CAREER: Writer. Formerly worked in corporate public relations.
MEMBER: Texas Institute of Letters.
AWARDS, HONORS: Nebula award, 1990, for Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus; Texas Institute of Letters Award, 2000, for Interstate Dreams; Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, for "Stairs."
Kelwin, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1970.
The Gates of Time (published with The Dwellers of the Deep, by K. M. O'Donnell), Ace Books (New York, NY), 1970.
The Leaves of Time, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1971.
Highwood & Annihilation Factor, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1972.
Stress Pattern, DAW Books (New York, NY), 1974.
Aldair in Albion, DAW Books (New York, NY), 1976.
Aldair: Master of Ships, DAW Books (New York, NY), 1977.
Aldair: Across the Misty Sea, DAW Books (New York, NY), 1980.
Long Days and Short Nights: A Century of Texas Ranching on the YO, 1880–1980, Y-O Press (Mountain View, TX), 1980.
(Under pseudonym J. D. Hardin) Hard Chains, Soft Women, Playboy Paperback (New York, NY), 1981.
Aldair: The Legion of Beasts, DAW Books (New York, NY), 1982.
(Under pseudonym Chad Calhoun) The River Beauty, Banbury Books (Wayne, PA), 1982.
(Under pseudonym Victor Appleton) Tom Swift: The Invisible Force, Wanderer Books (New York, NY), 1983.
(Under pseudonym Wesley Ellis) Lone Star and the Texas Gambler, Jove Books (New York, NY), 1984.
The Karma Corps, DAW Books (New York, NY), 1984.
(Under pseudonym Rebecca Drury) Valiant Wings, Banbury Books (Wayne, PA), 1985.
(Under house pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon) The Hardy Boys: The Skyfire Puzzle, Wanderer Books (New York, NY), 1985.
Through Darkest America, Congdon & Weed (New York, NY), 1986.
The Hereafter Gang, M. V. Ziesing (Shingletown, CA), 1991.
(Under pseudonym Clay Dawson) Long Rider: Snaketown, 1991, Diamond Book, 1991.
Dawn's Uncertain Light, New American Library (New York, NY), 1992.
Batman in the Black Egg of Atlantis (juvenile), illustrated by Sal Amendola, Little, Brown (Boston, MA) 1992.
Pink Vodka Blues, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1992.
Dead Dog Blues, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1994.
Skinny Annie Blues, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 1996.
The Touch of Your Shadow, the Whisper of Your Name, Bantam (New York, NY), 1996.
Bad Eye Blues, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Warriors' Revenge: Spider Man Super Thriller, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Lizard's Rage: Spider Man Super Thriller, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.
Interstate Dreams, Mojo Press, 1999.
The Prophecy Machine, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Dungeons & Dragons (novelization of film of the same title), Wizards of the Coast, 2000.
The Day the Decorators Came, Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2000.
Piggs, Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2001.
The Treachery of Kings, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Prince of Cristler-Coke, Golden Gryphon Press (Urbana, IL), 2004.
SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS
Slightly Off Center: Eleven Extraordinarily Exhilarating Tales, Swan Press (Austin, TX), 1992.
Perpetuity Blues and Other Stories, Golden Gryphon Press (Urbana, IL), 2000.
A Different Vintage, Subterranean Press, (Burton, MI) 2001.
Also author of novelizations of Judge Dredd, 1995, and Barb Wire, 1996. Contributor to anthologies, including The Year's Best Science-Fiction Annual Collection, volumes four, five, seven, ten, and eleven; Invaders!, 1993; Isaac Asimov's SF-Lite, 1993; Omni: Best Science Fiction; The Best from Fantasy & Science Fiction; Asimov's Robots; Dark at Heart; Nebula Awards 24, 1994; The King Is Dead: Tales of Elvis Post-Mortem, 1994; and George Alec Effinger Live! From Planet Earth, Golden Gryphon Press (Urbana, IL), 2005. Contributor of numerous short stories to magazines, including Omni, Galaxy, and Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction magazine.
ADAPTATIONS: Pink Vodka Blues was optioned by producer David Brown and purchased by Paramount Pictures, 1993.
SIDELIGHTS: Since 1960 Neal Barrett, Jr. has been writing short stories, novellas, and novels in a style uniquely his own. Barrett's work rarely falls into distinct categories or genres. Instead, fantastic elements blend with the mundane, or futuristic environments serve as homes for recognizable, fallible people. To call Barrett a science-fiction writer is to ignore his contributions to crime writing. To pin him to either category overlooks his literary novels that reflect, albeit in a quirky way, his home state of Texas. His widely anthologized short stories offer "encapsulations of the bleak implications of life in late Twentieth Century America," to quote Nick Gevers on the Infinity Plus Web site. Ironically, Barrett's work is so individualized, and so unpredictable, that—while well known in the writing community—he is not as famous as some of his peers who adhere to the formulaic conventions of their genres.
Barrett studied writing at the University of Oklahoma and began publishing stories in science-fiction magazines while still in his twenties. He spent many years working at various corporations in public relations before earning enough income from his fiction to devote his entire life to it. In the late 1970s he began to attract attention in the science fiction community for a series of ambitious novels, including Stress Pattern and the "Aldair" series, a quartet of novels featuring an earth populated by many species of sentient animals. Aldair himself is a pig, and he sets out on a quest to find out what has happened to the species that created so many thinking animals—human beings. Not until Aldair and his companions reach a distant planet do they discover the remnants of the human race, living in diminished circumstances. Nick Gevers felt that Aldair is a "remarkable protagonist" upon whom to hang a narrative. A contributor to the St. James Guide to Science-Fiction Writers called the "Aldair" series "one of the most entertaining and innovative of its kind."
Through Darkest America and Dawn's Uncertain Light offer a grim glimpse of a post-apocalyptic America in which the strong literally feed on the weak. The hero of the two novels must reconcile himself to the use of human flesh for food—or fight for the rights of those who are lobotomized as fodder for the powerful. Nick Gevers found the two novels "bleakly savage and compelling," and the St. James Guide to Science-Fiction Writers contributor likewise noted that the books "portray a bleak future."
Barrett has also written a series of offbeat mystery novels, each having "blues" in the title. Pink Vodka Blues, Dead Dog Blues, Skinny Annie Blues, and Bad Eye Blues all reflect their author's tongue-in-cheek affection for crime narrative, humorous characters and situations, and outrageous plot twists. "Imagine Robert Ludlum on laughing gas," a Publishers Weekly critic commented. In Dead Dog Blues, a rich Texan finds his beloved Laborador retriever dead in the backyard, wired in place so that it appears to be barking. A few days later, the man himself is murdered in a similar fashion and finding the fiendish killer falls to the task of Jack Track, a man with a past who has only recently returned to Texas. Wes Lukowsky, writing in Booklist, called Dead Dog Blues "a roller-coaster ride to hell, and the guy in the next seat is crackin' wise." A Publishers Weekly reviewer maintained that Barrett's humor, "plays at—but doesn't quite go over—the edge."
The same irreverence marks Bad Eye Blues. Mild-mannered Wiley Moss, an insect illustrator for the Smithsonian Institute, is kidnapped and dragged to the wilds of Idaho, where he is "encouraged" to paint portraits of a dozen prostitutes hired to entertain a secretive mob boss. "Those who like outdoor mysteries set in the West should read this book," suggested John Rowan in Booklist. A Publishers Weekly contributor praised Barrett as the "alpha male" of comic crime writers and characterized Bad Eye Blues as "a tantalizing little mystery with a double shot of big laughs."
Piggs plays itself out in a seedy strip joint in fictitious Mexican Wells, Texas. A reformed con named Jack McCooly, though capable of higher employment, works there as a waiter and dishwasher, nursing a hopeless love for one of the strippers. With dreams of a comfortable, middle-class existence with his lady love as his motivation, Jack embarks on a scheme to make some quick money, but his plans go awry with cosmic implications. In Booklist, Wes Lukowsky concluded that the novel "will worm its way into readers' consciousness and refuse to leave. It's very, very good." A Publishers Weekly correspondent also felt that Barrett's "array of dismal characters is fascinating to watch, [and] his novel fun to read."
Barrett returns to the realm of speculative fiction with works such as The Prophecy Machine and Prince of Cristler-Coke. In The Prophecy Machine a crafter of mechanical lizards finds himself stranded on an island and forced to repair a machine that can predict the future. The prince in the futuristic Prince of Cristler-Coke loses his title to rule America East as teh result of a power coup by the heirs of other dynastic corporations. Forced into "rehabilitation" in Oklahomer, the prince escapes to learn the true makeup of his "haves" and"have-nots" world.
Some critics have noted that Barrett expresses himself best in the short-story form. He has published three full collections of stories and has contributed to numerous anthologies. The tales in Perpetuity Blues and Other Stories, styled the "Best of Barrett" by Nick Gevers, makes America's inhabitants the poorest, most exploited, and most ruthlessly dominated people on the planet. In Fantasy and Science Fiction, James Sallis wrote of the collection: "Barrett's voice is not only unmistakable; you realize after a sentence or two that it's been there all along at the back of your head." The critic commended Barrett's work as "stories for adults, sent out from a rigorously individual, uncompromising vision."
Barrett's bibliography includes highly literate work such as The Hereafter Gang and Interstate Dreams, as well as pseudonymous series work and novelizations of movies. In an interview on CrescentBlues.com, Barrett explained: "I've written close to fifty novels in a number of different fields. This is the sort of thing a great many professional writers have to do, while they're writing great works of art. I have tried to write by a single rule: even if you're writing something when you'd rather be writing something else, write as a professional, and do the best you can. If you don't, the reader will most certainly know." He added: "I have seldom been what you'd call commercial. I'm not especially proud of the fact, but there you are. I expect I'll keep doing what I do, and writing things I love to write, and some that I don't."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Science-Fiction Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, April, 2001, Tom Easton, review of The Prophecy Machine, p. 133.
Booklist, June 1, 1994, Wes Lukowsky, review of Dead Dog Blues, p. 1775; April 15, 1997, John Rowen, review of Bad Eye Blues, p. 1389; July, 2001, Paula Luedtke, review of The Treachery of Kings, p. 1991; October 15, 2001, Wes Lukowsky, review of Piggs, p. 384.
Fantasy and Science Fiction, December, 2000, James Sallis, review of Perpetuity Blues and Other Stories, p. 32.
Publishers Weekly, May 18, 1992, review of Pink Vodka Blues, p. 61; April 18, 1994, review of Dead Dog Blues, p. 49; June 17, 1996, review of Skinny Annie Blues, p. 50; March 31, 1997, review of Bad Eye Blues, p. 65; April 2, 2001, review of A Different Vintage, p. 45; August 27, 2001, review of Piggs, p. 57; August 9, 2004, review of Prince of Cristler-Coke, p. 235.
CrescentBlues.com, http://www.crescentblues.com/ (April 4, 2005), "Neal Barrett, Jr.: Genre Cocktail, Anyone?"
Infinity Plus, http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/ (April 4, 2005), Nick Gevers, "In a Genre of His Own" (interview).
Neal Barrett Home Page, http://www.nealbarrett.com (April 4, 2005).