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16 September 2011

Sterling Edmund Lanier was born on the 18th of December 1927 and died on June 28th 2007. However, like many of the other authors in this series, his writing output was small, and he has often been overlooked by readers who started reading after Lanier’s heyday of the 1970s and 1980s. Lanier was a man of many talents, which may have contributed to his low writing output. He was a Harvard graduate, served in the army in WWII, was an anthropological/archaeological researcher in the Winterthur Museum for several years, and then worked as an editor – his great claim to fame in that being that while he worked as Editor at Chiltern Books in Philadelphia he strongly backed the publication of DUNE, a work that had been continually rejected by many other publishers. Lanier began selling his SF in 1961, with six books and a number of short stories appearing before he stopped writing in 1986. Lanier was something of a Renaissance Man, who took up sculpting after he ceased to write, and some of his sculptures are exhibited in major venues like the Smithsonian.
His first novel is regarded by some as his most important work (although personally I prefer Menace Under Marswood) but Heiro’s Journey is a reader-seizing book set on a 5000 years post-holocaust Earth, it was followed eight years later by the sequel, The Unforsaken Heiro. Both works were forerunners of common themes today, being a battle between ecologists (The Eleveners) and those who want to bring back the earth-polluting practices of the distant past (the Unclean) with other groups caught in the middle, some intelligent bears, and what seems to be a society of dryads. This duo of books is a well-thought-out pair, with Lanier clearly utilizing his background in anthropology and archaeology to build credible long-term outcomes after the destruction of our original civilization and what might then spring from the ruins after long-tern radiation and bacterial warfare have ravaged the world.
Two further books, actually short story collections, are excellent, they follow very much the same format as Tales of the Black Widowers, Tales from the White Hart etc. in that they are a series of stories being told by a club member to other members, and they are pithy, amusing, and often very clever. His final two books were standalones and also compelling reading. I feel that it was a huge pity Lanier stopped writing and took up sculpture – although art-lovers may disagree. But he had the ability to take a previously superficially used theme and turn it inside out, producing something new and fascinating.
At least one of his short stories – Join Our Gang? – is free from the Gutenburg Press and other works may be in free download elsewhere since as was common with writers working in the 60s/70s, at least some – if not most or all – of their work was often not re-copyrighted after the initial 28 year period and ultimately fell into the public domain. My recommendations are the Brigadier Ffellowes stories, and Menace Under Marswood. The latter book is a gorgeous hotchpotch of Kipling undertones, with perhaps Leinster’s The Forgotten Planet (Ace 1953) as overtones. This book called out for a sequel if not two, but never received one. A great pity as I’d have loved to hear more of Mohammad Slater and his pet, Grabbit. Lanier produced 13 uncollected short stories, two collections, and four books in his twenty-five year writing career and almost all he did was quality. I can only wonder, if he had continued to write, what other outstanding SF books and stories we would have had.
Eric Flint has, over the past decade, been making a habit of re-collecting work by earlier writers and reintroducing them to the Sf/F reading public via Baen. I believe that Sterling Lanier would be an excellent writer for him to consider. The six books fall naturally into pairs, and the 19 short stories that were published could probably been assigned to similar categories. So three volumes would neatly cover Lanier’s output if they are either all in the public domain by now or if Lanier’s heirs would agree.

Bibliography
Books:
Hiero’s Journey (1975)
The Unforsaken Hiero (1983)
The Peculiar Exploits of Brigadier Ffellowes (1971)
The Curious Quests of Brigadier Ffellowes (1986)
The War for the Lot (1969)
Menace Under Marswood (1983)

Short stories:

4 Comments »

  1. Struck up a friendship with Sterling in the 60s at Ivan Sanderson’s house. Sterling never let on about his connections with Herbert and Dune. He and Ivan just swapped stories. He was kind enough to give my wife a small collection of bronze figures he had made. I was working for Bell Labs and then got drafted, lost track of Sterling after Ivan died. A genuinely person and a very fertile mind. It seems all the good people are dying, or are those just the musings of a 74 year old?
    Gerard Bentryn

    Comment by Gerard Bentryn — 17 September 2013 @ 12:32

  2. Nope, I’m 67 and I too have seen too many friends die in the past few years. It really annoys me too when good writers die, I want them to stay alive and keep writing.

    Comment by lyn — 22 September 2013 @ 11:54

  3. just re-reading Heiro .on my Kindle . Did S E L leave any note on the last book , more to the point , has anyone tried to write it ? I , like many , would love to know what happens to Heiro and Luchare etc .

    Comment by Bil Hardman — 7 March 2014 @ 04:08

  4. not to my knowledge, (but it may be that one or more of his other uncollected short stories used the characters) otherwise so far as I know, that was it.

    Comment by lyn — 7 March 2014 @ 09:51

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