Eric Frank Russell (January 6, 1905 - February 28, 1978) was a British author best known for his science fiction novels and short stories. Much of his work was first published in the United States, in John W. Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction and other pulp magazines. Russell also wrote horror fiction for Weird Tales, and non-fiction articles on Fortean topics. A few of his stories were published under pseudonyms, of which Duncan H. Munro was used most often.Russell was born in 1905 in Sandhurst in Berkshire, where his father was an instructor at the Royal Military Academy. Russell became a fan of science fiction, and in 1934 while living near Liverpool he saw a letter in Amazing Stories written by Leslie J. Johnson, another reader from the same area. Russell met up with Johnson, who encouraged him to embark on a writing career. Together, the two men wrote the novella "Seeker of Tomorrow" which was published in Astounding in July 1937. Both Russell and Johnson became members of the British Interplanetary Society. Russell's first novel was Sinister Barrier, published in the first issue of Astounding's short-lived sister magazine Unknown (March 1939). This is an explicitly Fortean tale based (as Russell explains in the novel's foreword) on Charles Fort's famous speculation "I think we're property". His second novel, Dreadful Sanctuary (serialized in Astounding during 1948) is an early example of conspiracy fiction, in which a paranoid delusion of global proportions is perpetuated by a small but powerful secret society. After serving with the Royal Air Force during World War II and working briefly as an engineer, Russell took up writing full-time in the late 1940s. He became an active member of British science fiction fandom and the British representative of the Fortean Society. He won the first Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1955 for his humorous short story "Allamagoosa".Russell was awarded a posthumous Prometheus Hall of Fame award in 1985 for "The Great Explosion", and in 2000 he was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. Russell also wrote a large number of shorter works, many of which have been reprinted in collections such as Deep Space (1954), Six Worlds Yonder (1958), Far Stars (1961), Dark Tides (1962) and Somewhere a Voice (1965). His non-fiction includes a compendium of Forteana entitled Great World Mysteries (1957) as well as The Rabble Rousers (1963), a sardonic look at human folly including the Dreyfus affair and the Florida land boom. Two omnibus collections of Russell's science fiction are available from NESFA Press: Major Ingredients (2000), containing 30 of his short stories, and Entities (2001) containing five novels. The 1995 novel Design for Great-Day, published as by Alan Dean Foster and Eric Frank Russell, is an expansion by Foster of a 1953 short story of the same name by Russell.
Writing style and themes
Russell had an easy-going, colloquial writing style that was influenced in part by American "hard-boiled" detective fiction of the kind popularized by Black Mask magazine. Although British, Russell wrote predominantly for an American audience, and was often assumed to be American by readers.
Much of Russell's science fiction is based on what might be described as "Fortean" themes, with Sinister Barrier and Dreadful Sanctuary being the most notable examples. Another common theme is that of the single resourceful human pitted against a ponderous alien bureaucracy -- this is the basis for the novels Wasp and Next of Kin, as well as several shorter works.
Russell is sometimes categorized as a humorous writer, and Brian Aldiss describes him as John W. Campbell's "licensed jester".However, Russell's humour generally has a satirical edge, often aimed at authority and bureaucracy in its various forms. On other occasions, for example in the short stories "Somewhere a Voice" and "The Army Comes to Venus", his work has a deeper and more serious tone, in which the spiritual aspects of humanity's endeavours and aspirations shine through.
Russell's short story "Jay Score" (1941) is unusual amongst the pulp fiction of its time in presenting a black character, the ship's doctor, without any racial stereotyping. Indeed, this story and its sequels (collected in Men, Martians and Machines) may be considered an early example of the science fiction sub-genre in which a spaceship is crewed by a multi-ethnic, mixed human/non-human, complement (cf. the much later Star Trek).
It has not been proven, but Russell may be the originator of the phrase "May you live in interesting times," which is frequently attributed as an ancient Chinese curse. The phrase is quoted with this attribution in Russell's short story "U-Turn", published in the April 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction under the pseudonym of Duncan H. Munro. It is unclear whether Russell invented the phrase for the story, or whether it existed prior to that.
Russell also appears to have originated the colloquialism "myob" for "Mind your own business", which appears frequently in the novella "...And Then There Were None" (Astounding, June 1951) and in the novel The Great Explosion based upon it.