Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Bisson, Terry

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(1942-    ) US writer increasingly perceived as a significant fabulator of sf, though much of his work has in fact been fantasy. His first novel, Wyrldmaker: A Heroic Romance (1981), combines genres: for most of its length it works as a vivid, telegraphically told Sword and Sorcery tale set in a complex of pocket-universe like Lands, each being a wyrld. The eponymous Sword – like many of its kind – loves to kill, and sings while doing so; and at one point, after its owner Kemen has followed his lover into an Underworld, serves as Orpheus – again like many of its kind. Then, at the climax of Kemen's Quest for the goddess Noese, it is revealed that the wyrlds are in fact a kind of generation starship, and that Noese is the human-shaped projection of a consciousness responsible for guiding the wyrlds to a new star, and seeding it. At twice the length Wyrldmaker might have had sufficient gravity to sustain the very numerous twists of its plotting.

TB's second novel, Talking Man (1986), rather more successfully uses a Contemporary-Fantasy setting for an epic Tall-Tale trip across a USA that undergoes compressions and Transformations not entirely dissimilar to those experienced by Kemen in the first novel. The eponymous Wizard or Shaman – who operates a junkyard in rural Kentucky, does not talk, increasingly takes on Trickster characteristics, and is in effect (along with his dark Shadow sister), a Secret Master and guardian of the cosmic Balance – leads his kinfolk to an Arctic Threshold, beyond which a new USA unfolds. This new land is identical to the Utopia, located in an Alternate World, that is described in sf terms in TB's next novel, Fire on the Mountain (1988); but within the terms of Talking Man itself this transformation gives an initially modest fable some of the contours of Instauration Fantasy.

Most of the tales assembled in Bears Discover Fire (coll 1993) are also typical of TB in that they tend to offer multiple readings, and never settle into comfortable genre locations. The main device – it appears in the title story and in, for instance, "England Underway" – is the introduction of a logically absurd premise, which is then accepted into a narrative that treats it as a given, thus generating fantasy tales out of material that would more normally lead into Absurdist Fantasy or Wonderland games. TB is an exploratory writer, a tester of boundaries; the value of his work is considerable. [JC]

Terry Ballantine Bisson


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.