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253 : Geoff Ryman bio
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Geoff Ryman
by the HorizonZero editors

Geoff Ryman (b. 1951) was born in Canada and grew up in a small town near Toronto. He lived in Santa Monica during his teens and moved to the U.K., where he now lives, when he was in his twenties.

His earliest work, published in the late 1970s through the 1980s, was marketed as genre fantasy and science fiction, but was much more challenging and unconventional than those labels would at first suggest. It won him considerable acclaim within the field.

Revisionist in intent, this early work both depends upon and transcends the genre tropes it uses to grapple with the trauma experienced by individuals living deeply anguished and irreparably damaged lives.

The Warrior Who Carried Life (1985) is set in a harsh, prehistoric, magic-infused world; the protagonist is a girl who is transformed into a man and seeks vengeance on those who have abused her and her family.

The Unconquered Country (1986) is an expanded version of a World Fantasy Award- and British Science Fiction Award-winning novella; it fabulates the experience of war-ravaged Cambodia in the 1970s through the trials of a young girl called Third Child.

The Child Garden (1989) is baroque science fiction, depicting a complex, fantastical future London where the ruling Consensus shapes society by the use of Viruses which condition behaviour. It was honoured with the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

In each of these novels, the protagonist is a young girl or woman who suffers psychic and/or sexual abuse. Each novel is, on one level, about the protagonist's quest for healing and relief from the intractable harshness of her life.

Four novellas from this early phase of Ryman's career were published together as Unconquered Countries (1994). He also adapted Philip K. Dick's The Transmigration of Timothy Archer and various stories by Alfred Bester for the stage.

Was (1992), Ryman's fourth and perhaps best novel, represented a summation of his work to that date, and can be read as a commentary upon it. It is not a fantasy, but rather a novel about fantasy. The Wizard of Oz is Was's answer to the train in 253. It is the common element in the lives of several individuals from different times and places, all of whom are physically or psychologically wounded: Dorothy Gael, a young girl who briefly meets L. Frank Baum and becomes the model for The Wizard of Oz's Dorothy; Judy Garland; Jonathan, a horror movie actor dying of AIDS; and Bill, Jonathan's therapist and a former worker at the nursing home where Dorothy Gael lived out her old age.

None of Ryman's novels are consolatory, even if they offer moments of transcendence and healing, such as that experienced by Third Child at the close of The Unconquered Country. Yet Was is even darker and less hopeful than Ryman's earlier novels. Fantasy is looked upon as a source of solace, but it fails to provide the hoped-for surcease. Was is, in a sense, a rejection of fantasy -- and of any consolation found in Ryman's previous work.

Was was followed first by 253 (1996 online; 1998 in print) and then by Lust (2001 U.K.), which marked Ryman's return to speculative fiction. The protagonist is a man who finds himself gifted with the ability to bring into being anyone he wants and enact his sexual fantasies with them. Indulging this power leads him to a deeper understanding of himself. A new novel, Air, will be released in the summer of 2002. It is about a communication technology which can connect people without hardware; the implementation of this technology has disastrous consequences, however.

Geoff Ryman currently works for the Central Office of Information. As New Media Manager there, he has been responsible for, among other things, the official Web site of the British monarchy.

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