Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Roberts, Keith

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(1935-2000) UK writer, illustrator and editor; he has also written as Alistair Bevan, John Kingston and David Stringer. Although he is closely associated with Science Fiction, many of his writings utilize settings and images of the fantastic and draw from the wellspring of British myth. He first appeared in Science Fantasy with "Anita" (1964), the start of the Anita series about a young female Witch, collected as Anita (coll of linked stories 1970 US; with 1 extra story 1990 US). Deliberately humorous, the stories are at times rather cutesy. At this period KR appeared regularly in Science Fantasy. He illustrated many of the covers and became Associate Editor when the magazine reconstituted itself as Impulse, being Managing Editor for the final 5 issues. Some of KR's early stories blended science and the supernatural. The Boulter stories feature an inventor who encounters Poltergeists in "Boulter's Canaries" (1965 New Writings in SF) and draws on the power of leys in "The Big Fans" (1977 F&SF). "The Scarlet Lady" (1966 Impulse) as Bevan is about a car haunted by previous victims. Both "Susan" (1965 Science Fantasy) and "The Pace that Kills" (1966 Impulse) feature psychic powers (> Talents), and the first includes an example of the Femme Fatale who is a key feature in many of KR's stories – he regards them as "primitive heroines" and wrote about them in The Natural History of the P.H. (1988 chap): she is KR's female equivalent of Moorcock's Eternal Champion. Some of these early stories were collected as Machines and Men (coll 1973); others were later revived in Winterwood and Other Hauntings (coll 1989), the limited edition also containing the bound-in booklet The Event (1989 chap). The Inner Wheel (1965 New Writings in SF; much exp 1970) has similarities in drawing on the theme of psychic powers to portray a gestalt superman.

KR's first success came with Pavane (coll of linked stories 1968; rev with 1 extra story 1969 US), one of the classic Alternate-World books, set in a technologically backward Britain ruled by the Catholic Church – the Spanish Armada having defeated England. KR portrays a Pastoral land where some of the old powers, in the form of Dryads, still survive; although these are not key to the story, they provide an atmosphere of halted Thinning, and the book bears some comparison with those of Thomas Burnett Swann. KR has repeated the approach in two other volumes: The Chalk Giants (coll of linked stories 1974; cut 1975 US), a post-Holocaust novel in which the UK is torn apart by a barbarism that is likened to the native power of the land; and Kiteworld (fixup 1985), set in another quasi-medieval world where the power of the Church holds sway. The theme of the primitive heroine comes sharply into focus in Gráinne (1987), which draws upon the Celtic legend (> Celtic Fantasy) of the Goddess and explores her power in the modern age through the form of a mysterious young girl. These novels form KR's main corpus of fantastic fiction. They have affinities with the work of Robert Holdstock and Richard Cowper (real name John Middleton Murry; 1926-2002) in the exploration of mythic figures. They find a natural conclusion in The Road to Paradise (1988), a contemporary Timeslip novel where the weight of Britain's past begins to haunt the heroine.

KR's other works are more in the tradition of science fiction. He has also written a historical novel, The Boat of Fate (1971), set toward the end of the Roman Empire. Some less traditional tales are interweaved into The Passing of the Dragons (coll 1977 US), Ladies from Hell (coll 1979) and The Lordly Ones (coll 1986). [MA]

other works: The Furies (1965 Science Fantasy; 1966); The Grain Kings (coll 1976); Molly Zero (1980); the Kaeti sequence, being Kaeti and Company (coll of linked stories 1986), Kaeti's Apocalypse (1986 chap) and Kaeti on Tour (coll 1992); A Heron Caught in Weeds (coll 1988 chap), poetry; Irish Encounters: A Short Travel (dated 1988 but 1989 chap).

Keith John Kingston Roberts


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.