Shirley, John 1953–
Shirley, John 1953–
PERSONAL: Born February 10, 1953, in Houston, TX; son of John Edward (an automotive parts manager) and Ruth (a teacher of the blind and deaf) Shirley; married Alexandra Allinne (divorced, 1985); married Kathy Woods, April 18, 1986 (marriage ended); married third wife, Michelina; children: (first marriage) Byron and Perry (twins); (second marriage) Julian. Education: "Self-educated." Politics: Democrat. Religion: "Methodist (agnostic)."
CAREER: Musician and author. Performer with rock bands; albums include Red Star with the Panther Moderns. Has worked other jobs, including fruit picker, dancer, and office worker.
AWARDS, HONORS: International Horror Guild Award for Best Short Story, 1997, for "Crams;" Bram Stoker Award for Best Collection, Horror Writers Association, 1999, for Black Butterflies.
Transmaniacon, Zebra (New York, NY), 1979.
Three-Ring Psychus, Zebra (New York, NY), 1980.
City Come A-Walkin' (fantasy novel), Dell (New York, NY), 1980.
The Brigade (suspense thriller), Avon (New York, NY), 1981.
Cellars (horror novel), Avon (New York, NY), 1982.
Dracula in Love, Zebra (New York, NY), 1983.
A Splendid Chaos: An Interplanetary Fantasy (science fiction), F. Watts (New York, NY), 1988.
Heat Seeker (short stories), Scream Press (Santa Cruz, CA), 1988.
In Darkness Waiting, Signet (New York, NY), 1988.
Kamus of Kadizhar: The Black Hole of Carcosa: A Tale of the Darkworld Detective, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1988.
Wetbones (novel), Mark V. Ziesing (Shingletown, CA), 1991.
New Noir, Fiction Collective Two (Boulder, CO), 1993.
The Exploded Heart, Eyeball Books (Asheville, NC), 1996.
Silicon Embrace, Mark V. Ziesing (Shingletown, CA), 1996.
Black Butterflies: A Flock on the Dark Side (short stories), Mark V. Ziesing (Shingletown, CA), 1998.
Really Really Really Really Weird Stories, Night Shade (Portland, OR), 1999.
The View from Hell (novella), Subterranean Press (Burton MI), 2001.
… And the Angel with Television Eyes, Night Shade (Portland, OR), 2001.
Darkness Divided (short stories), Stealth Press (Lancaster, PA), 2001.
Demons, Ballantine (New York, NY), 2002.
Spider Moon, Cemetery Dance (Forest Hill, MD), 2002.
Crawlers, Del Rey (New York, NY), 2003.
Doom (screenplay novelization), Pocket (New York, NY), 2005.
In Darkness Waiting, Infrapress (Akron, OH), 2005.
Constantine (screenplay novelization), Pocket Star (New York, NY), 2005.
Cellars, Infrapress (Akron, OH), 2005.
Forever Midnight, DH Press (Milwaukie, OR), 2006.
War Lord, Pocket (New York, NY), 2006.
Batman: Dead White, Pocket Star (New York, NY), 2006.
"A SONG CALLED YOUTH" SERIES; SCIENCE FICTION NOVELS
Eclipse, Bluejay (New York, NY), 1985.
Eclipse Penumbra, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1988.
Eclipse Shattered, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1989.
Eclipse Corona, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1990.
"TRAVELER" SERIES; UNDER PSEUDONYM D.B. DRUMM
Kingdom Come, Dell (New York, NY), 1984.
The Stalkers, Dell (New York, NY), 1984.
To Kill a Shadow, Dell (New York, NY), 1984.
Road War, Dell (New York, NY), 1985.
Border War, Dell (New York, NY), 1985.
Terminal Road, Dell (New York, NY), 1986.
Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas (biography), J.P. Tarcher/Penguin (New York, NY), 2004.
Also author of screenplays, including The Specialist, Primal Scream/Twists of Terror (television), Showtime, Mysterium (television), Fox Channel, Cross the Line, Hunter Prime, Stinger, and The Crow, 1994. Contributor to anthologies, including the novella Her Hunger for Night Visions, 10th edition, edited by R. Chizmar, Subterranean Press, 2001. Lyric writer for Blue Oyster Cult albums Heaven Forbid and Curse of the Hidden Mirror.
SIDELIGHTS: A founding author of the cyberpunk genre and a popular craftsman whose dark works combine elements of horror and science fiction, John Shirley "has produced important and influential work … distinctly his own," according to a St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost and Gothic Writers contributor. The author's nihilistic visions have been honed by his own hard-life experiences as a street person in San Francisco, an exotic dancer, and the front man for several punk rock bands. "Growing out of his punk-music inspired youth—which has carried over into his adulthood—Shirley has continuously translated his love of anarchic music into a love of words. Music permeates most of his work, both horror and science fiction."
After attending the Clarion Writers Workshop in the early 1980s, Shirley began to publish stories that melded his punk sensibility with futuristic science fiction and horror scenarios. His work quickly attracted a cult following—and many imitators—as well as the attention of other science fiction writers. Shirley's City Come A-Walkin', widely considered by critics to be the first major cyberpunk novel, presents a chilling vision of a city subverted by a collective overmind. The St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost and Gothic Writers essayist maintained that the book is "generally classified as sf but easily read as horror," explaining that "even though sf elements set up the story, it is clearly a tale of spiritual existence, control and emanation."
With the publication of City Come A-Walkin' and subsequent novels and stories, Shirley established a reputation "as one of the darkest, edgiest, boldest writers around," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor who reviewed Black Butterflies: A Flock on the Dark Side. The St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost and Gothic Writers contributor noted that, in the author's short works especially, "the horror lies in the reality of the future, a bleak, dangerous fascism or anarchy that makes death the preferred escape."
In addition to his fiction, Shirley developed and wrote the screenplay for the 1994 cult film The Crow. In Cyber-Psychos AOD, Shirley commented: "I think the movie is a fine piece of work, is great pop art and is more than pop art." Shirley added: "The film made itself somehow—it was as if it existed on the nominal plane and simply downloaded itself through the shunts of subjective reality however it had to do it."
Shirley presents a collection of his shorter works in Darkness Divided, including four tales never before published. The stories include tales about a person being trained as a corporate assassin, a housewife who gets to momentarily live out her fantasy of being a famous artist, and a heartless real estate developer who experiences life in the slums he has created and developing compassion as a result. In a review for Publishers Weekly a contributor wrote: "His characters … are genuine specimens, developed with sincerity and sympathy." Booklist critic Roland Green felt that the collection provides more evidence that Shirley is "a noir master."
In The View from Hell beings who exist between dimensions are studying the relationship between humans and their suffering before leading some rich Los Angeles men and women to commit terrible acts of violence and murder. In between rampages, the beings send the humans to a strange Pavlovian purgatory, which spurs on their violence so they can once again obtain their meager reward. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the novel "one of his most bizarre bits of writing to date," adding: "It's an expertly crafted, ferocious tale that offers a stinging commentary."
Spider Moon is narrated by Slim Purdoux, an editor who is informed one day that he is being transferred to New York City from San Francisco when his publishing house is bought out. Purdoux's day goes from bad to worse when his son dies from a drug overdose and Purdoux then witnesses an ex-colleague shooting his coworkers. Mistaken for the killer, Purdoux goes on the run to seek revenge, all the while hiding a secret. In the process he encounters whores, pimps, and assorted criminals. "The novel vibrates with energy," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who also commented on the author's "ability to present without condemnation the wild hopes and shattered dreams" of his characters.
An apocalyptic world in which demons roam freely and scientists try to destroy them is the basis for the story in Demons. The tale begins with widespread demonic possession of humans that is fought off by a group known as the Circle. Eventually, people come to believe that the entire episode was a type of mass hallucination, which leads to an unfettered effort by some to bring the demons back. In a review for Booklist, Regina Schroeder commented: "Shirley plays well with the old themes of universal consciousness and spiritual enlightenment." A Publishers Weekly contributor believed that the author "succeeds in fashioning an over-the-top occult thriller solidly anchored in a bedrock of social consciousness."
In Crawlers Shirley tells the story of a strange capsule that crashes near a small Californian town. Residents think it is of alien origin, but the capsule is really part of a secret military experiment incorporating nanotechnology. The experiment involves nanoparticles entering human and animal hosts and then turning them into part biological beings and part machines. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the story is an "excellent metaphor for Shirley's take here on the human condition, which posits that some of us are already machinelike and others more 'awake.'" Schroeder, writing again for Booklist, noted that the author's "prose is often quite wonderful, even when he is describing something stomach-turningly icky."
Shirley gives his insect-like monsters a psychological twist in his novel In Darkness Waiting. Referred to as Gray Pilots, the beings are actually physical manifestations of human thought whose appearance and sting turns people in lunatics and murderers. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the novel "an effective vehicle for his [Shirley's] dark sociological speculations."
In his novel … And the Angel with Television Eyes Shirley presents a television soap opera actor named Max Whitman, who begins having visions and hearing voices. A strange fan appears to tell Max that he is part of a special race of beings called "plasmagnomes," who can live on without their bodies and who are waging a type of war in which they manipulate people and world events. Of this novel, a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that the story "shows one of the most energetic imaginations in modern fantastic fiction rising to the challenge of the material."
In addition to his science fiction and horror novels, Shirley is also the author of Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas. The biography focuses on the spiritualist and his search throughout the Middle East and Asia for mystics and teachers. Shirley includes an in-depth discussion of Gurdjieff's philosophy and his belief that most people live their lives "asleep." Mimi Davis, writing in the Library Journal, noted that Shirley "provides a literary introduction for lay readers" interested in Gurdjieff and his works. A Publishers Weekly contributor felt that the author "offers a fresh, contemporary take on what may be a great man and a great teaching, a take that serves as a useful introduction."
Shirley once told CA: "I have published in the science fiction and horror fields because they have provided a way to get unconventional notions on the nature of social and objective reality into print. This has also given me a way to publish surrealism—meaningful surrealism—in a marketable guise. Meaningful surrealism is allegorical and explores the crises of the collective unconscious through the medium of individual unconscious.
"Any given reality is subjective or consensual, never absolute. It is shaded, edged, distortionally defined by cultural icons, advertising logos, and shared assumptions; all of these exert a kind of neurological gravitational pull on the perceptions (in a metaphorical sense). I explore alternative pre-structural identities in A Splendid Chaos, an entertaining (I trust) interplanetary fantasy novel. In the book the other planet is a convenient stage for critiquing the hideous, piquant, nightmarish, glorious, exquisite, erotic, elemental dynamics of 'Being' itself.
"In Darkness Waiting is about the human capacity for the suppression of empathy; it is my protest of the sociological applications of dehumanization. In The Brigade I strive for an Elmore Leonard quality in texture and characterization (but that's hard to achieve)."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost and Gothic Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998, pp. 531-533.
Booklist, May 1, 2001, Roland Green, review of Darkness Divided, p. 1672; February 1, 2002, Regina Schroeder, review of Demons, p. 931; October 1, 2003, Regina Schroeder, review of Crawlers, p. 308.
Cyber-Psychos AOD, November 7, 1997, Joey Zone, interview with John Shirley, pp. 17-19.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1991, review of Wet-bones, p. 1429; October 1, 1996, review of Silicon Embrace, p. 1433.
Library Journal, March 15, 2002, Jackie Cassada, review of Demons, p. 111; October 15, 2003, Jackie Cassada, review of Crawlers, p. 102; April 15, 2004, Mimi Davis, review of Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas, p. 91.
Publishers Weekly, June 29, 1998, review of Black Butterflies: A Flock on the Dark Side, p. 40; January 8, 2001, review of The View from Hell, p. 52; April 23, 2001, review of Darkness Divided, p. 54; November 26, 2001, review of … And the Angel with Television Eyes, p. 45; February 18, 2002, review of Demons, p. 80; July 15, 2002, review of Spider Moon, p. 55; November 3, 2003, review of Crawlers, p. 59; March 22, 2004, Tracy Cochran, "Remarkable Gurdjieff," interview with John Shirley, p. 74; March 22, 2004, review of Gurdjieff, p. 75; January 24, 2005, review of In Darkness Waiting, p. 226.
Dark Echo, http://www.darkecho.com/ JohnShirley (October 13, 2006), brief biography of John Shirley and overview of his work.