Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Erickson, Steve

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Working name of Stephen Michael Erickson (1950-    ), US journalist and novelist. He won the Samuel Goldwyn award for fiction while a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1972. His fiction makes use of typical Postmodernist tropes and techniques, which often acquire a Fantastic allure. Barriers between worlds are broken down, Twins and Haunting devices proliferate, the very shape of the world is corrupted, and the distinction between fiction and reality becomes hazy. Most of his fiction takes the form of a moral quest to discover the soul of either the USA or the 20th century.

In Days Between Stations (1985), which takes the entire 20th century as its stage, a dysfunctional couple pursue an affair in a distorted landscape in which Los Angeles is flooded by sand and the canals dry up in Venice. Embedded within this is the story of a leading moviemaker of the early years of the century. The two stories are linked by a pair of blue eyes in a bottle. There is a similar topographical distortion in SE's next novel, Rubicon Beach (1986), in which three stories seem to be set in different Realities but are nevertheless linked: a released prisoner in a changed Los Angeles plays out his sense of guilt with visions of a girl cutting off the head of a man he only belatedly comes to recognize as himself; a girl with near-magical powers travels from the remote Amazon to contemporary Hollywood, where she embroils a failed scriptwriter in an insoluble moral quandary; the prisoner and the girl come together in the final tale of a man who has discovered a new whole number between 9 and 10.

SE's themes find their best statement in Tours of the Black Clock (1989), in which his characters Quest for the blueprint of the 20th century, on which is revealed a secret room where the soul of the century is hidden. At the centre of the story is Jainlight, an American who becomes Hitler's private pornographer and in the sexual fantasies he spins creates an Alternate World: Hitler did not embark on his disastrous invasion of Russia, so that by the 1960s World War II is still being fought. Jainlight sets out to smuggle Hitler into the USA and in so doing discovers the girl from a different branch of the timestream who inspired his pornography.

This notion – that there are separate realities whose boundaries can be pierced in the course of a moral quest – also informs SE's one book-length work of nonfiction and the novel that sprang from it. In 1988, SE followed the course of the US presidential election from the primaries onwards. Leap Year: A Political Journey (1989) was, however, far from a traditional work of journalism. His journey is haunted by the Ghost of Sally Hemings, the slave who was also the lover of Thomas Jefferson; in SE's version of events, her decision to remain with Jefferson when he returned from Paris, accepting slavery over freedom, was the moral turning point which defines the US soul, for Jefferson did not then abolish slavery as he might have done.

This theme is sustained in Arc d'X (1993), which again takes Sally Hemings as a central character, here in a variety of guises across different realities which reflect the moral taint that slavery has spread across US history. The fault lines spreading from this central moral failure have created a number of Alternate Realities, most notably a severe theocracy where liberties are, literally, hidden away Underground and one main character has the significant, Orwellian task of rewriting history (see History in Fantasy). [PK]

Stephen Michael Erickson


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.