(1932- ) US author best-known for his Kent Family Chronicles or American Bicentennial series of historical novels (1974-1980), tracing the fortunes of a US family from the Revolution to 1976. These and his Civil War novel North and South (1982) established him as an author of bestselling historical dynastic sagas, but he began his career as a writer for the sf, fantasy and crime pulp and digest Magazines, starting with "The Dreaming Trees" (1950 Fantastic Adventures). He contributed some 200 stories under his own name and the pseudonyms Alan Henry, Jacob Johns, Alan Payne, Jay Scotland and Alan Wilder, with further stories appearing under the house names Alexander Blade and S M Tenneshaw. Most were Science Fiction and heavily action-oriented. The Best of John Jakes (coll 1977) ed Martin H Greenberg and Joseph D Olander (1939- ) is not representative of most of JWJ's work. A few supernatural fantasy and horror stories appeared in the magazines, but his main contributions emerged with the character Brak the Barbarian, who featured in a Sword-and-Sorcery series heavily derivative from Robert E Howard's Conan, wherein we follow Brak's adventures as he strives to return to his homeland in Khurdisan. The stories first appeared in Fantastic, starting with "The Devils in the Walls" (1963), and were revised and expanded with new material in several volumes: Brak the Barbarian (coll of linked stories 1968), Brak the Barbarian versus The Sorceress (1963 Fantastic as "Witch of the Four Winds"; exp 1969; vt The Sorceress 1970 UK), Brak the Barbarian versus the Mark of the Demons (1969; vt The Mark of the Demons 1970 UK), Brak: When the Idols Walked (1964 Fantastic; exp 1978) and The Fortunes of Brak (coll 1980). JWJ is a serious writer, and was certainly aware of the nature of this hackwork, which was written for fun and as a debt of gratitude to Howard. He produced a more thoughtful Heroic Fantasy in The Last Magicians (1969) and lampooned the field in Mention My Name in Atlantis (1972), which successfully utilized all of the devices and Plot Coupons in a clever pastiche.
Some of JWJ's sf can be classified as Planetary Romance, especially the Gavin Black sequence: Master of the Dark Gate (1970) and Witch of the Dark Gate (1972). Although JWJ more or less left the field in 1973 to concentrate on his historical sagas, he did collaborate with Gil Kane (1926-2000) on Excalibur! * (1980), the novelization of Excalibur (1981). [MA]
John William Jakes