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19 October 2012

Arthur Sellings was the pseudonym of Robert Arthur Gordon Ley, who was born on 31 May 1911 in Kent in England, the son of Kent and Stella Grace (Sellings) Ley. He lived for most of his life in Tunbridge Wells. In addition to his writing, Ley was a book and art dealer and antiquarian and later he was a scientific researcher for the British government. It is said that his research work inspired some of his science fiction. His work appeared in many well-known SF magazines of the day including Galaxy, Nebula, The Magazine of F and SF,  New Worlds, New Writing in SF, and others. He died of a heart attack in Sussex England on September 24th 1968. Note that Ley also wrote under pseudonyms Ray Luther, and Martin Luther.

In June I was in Auckland at our national SF Convention. While there Alan Robson very kindly loaned me a number of books by Arthur Sellings, four of which I read in the course of the convention. Before he mentioned this author I had neither heard of him nor read any of his books, but I had enjoyed his work sufficiently to purchase Junk Day for myself. In the science fiction post holocaust tradition Junk Day presents us with the end of civilization . . . and what happens next to a few selected individuals. I’ve always been fascinated by this type of story and have a shelf of them ranging from books written in the 1940s, up to more recent epics like One Second After, which was why I chose to buy this one in particular. The questions, how do you cope when thrown back on your own resources, when anyone you meet may try to kill you for a crust of bread? How do you now react to neighbours you’ve known casually for years? To friends who can bring nothing to your survival? To importunate family members whom you’ve never liked? The fight to survive is fascinating alone, but a good post-holocaust book makes you consider if simple survival is sufficient, and what is the real nature of current society since such books tend to reflect the time and society in which they were written – do we need other people about us and what of the institutions on which we have relied?


In Junk Day, an artist and hanger-on of society, a man named Bryan finds himself a survivor after strange events wreck everything about him, slaughter millions, and devastate the planet. He is already a cynic, and little changes when he meets Vee, the last survivor of her convent, and he starts to paint again. Later the two of them meet Barney who has created a fiefdom, with himself as ruler, and an economy based on salvage, explaining the book’s title. (I noted again, survivors existing on canned goods dug from various ruins and I feel that this needs the author to make a point on that. This book was not written as if the events occurred some time into the current future. And I’m uncertain if Sellings was ignorant on this subject or merely assuming that in his own near future canning methods would have improved. However I would say that even now, it is unlikely that canned food would survive for decades in a condition where it remained safe to eat. Should I write a post-holocaust book where characters are still eating canned goods a long time after the post-holocaust event, I think that I’d toss in some casual allusion to the new canning method/materials that permitted the can’s contents to remain wholesome indefinitely.)

Interestingly Sellings never explains what caused the strange events that destroyed his civilization. I found that reasonable, other authors have gone into lengthy explanations for the collapse, but Sellings merely says what happened and leaves his characters more concerned with their survival – a valid alternative which provides an intriguing background allowing the reader to speculate. Like other British writers in this sub-genre, Sellings tends to the pragmatic, he understands that those who have survived will not be angels, but Bryan is not a complete brute although his use of Vee makes it clear he probably would have committed rape had she not agreed to sex, however he also permits her time to consider and allows her to set conditions. This pro forma rape seems to have upset some reviewers, (who have no understanding of how survivors may behave after widespread catastrophic events and if they think Sellings was harsh, they can’t have read The Death of Grass,) as did his failure to mention racial conflict. But when this book was written large areas of Britain remained mono-cultural, and if a writer chooses to set his background there, then of course, his characters too will be mono-cultural. In fact he has substituted class as the conflict instead and does a workmanlike job of that, by contrasting Bryan’s attitude with that of Barney, originally a working man whose belief in fair-play is his version of the law.

I found this a reasonable book, interesting, and well up in quality against others of the sub-genre. It was a little shorter than I would have liked, leaving less space for development of theme and characters, but it has gone to my ‘permanent’ shelves none the less and if I run across others of his novels at reasonable prices I will probably buy those too. My thanks to Alan Robson for drawing my attention to the author.

Following is Sellings’ bibliography.

Novels:

Telepath (19620

The Uncensored Man (1964)

The Quy Effect (1966)

Intermind (as by Ray Luther)(1967)

The Power of X (1968)

Junk Day (1970)

Collections:

Time Transfer and Other Stories (1956)

The Long Eureka: a Collection of Short Stories (1968)

 

Non-Fiction:

“Where Now?” (1961)

There is also a very long list of short stories which may be seen on Wikipedia. It seems to be that this would be a good time for some SF-spirited person to put together a couple more collections of Sellings’ stories.


 

1 Comment »

  1. Excellent article on a sadly neglected writer. I agree; there ought to be more collection by Sellings available. Cheers!

    Comment by Eric Brown — 13 June 2015 @ 06:01

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