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Gregory Albert Benford Biography

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Also writes as Sterling Blake. Nationality: American. Born: Mobile, Alabama, 1941. Education: University of Oklahoma, B.S. 1963; University of California, San Diego, M.S. 1965, Ph.D. 1967. Career: Fellow, Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, Livermore, California, 1967-69, research physicist, 1969-71, consultant; assistant professor, University of California, Irvine, 1971-73, associate professor, 1973-79, professor of physics, 1979—. Awards: Woodrow Wilson fellowship, 1963-64; National Science Foundation grant, 1972-76; Nebula award, Science Fiction Writers of America, 1975, 1981; Office of Naval Research grant, 1975, 1982; Army Research Organization grant, 1977-82; British Science Fiction Association award, 1981; John W. Campbell award, World Science Fiction Convention, 1981; Ditmar award for International Novel, 1981; Air Force Office of Scientific Research grant, 1982; California Space Office grant, 1984-85.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

Deeper Than the Darkness. New York, Ace, 1970; revised as The Stars in Shroud, New York, Putnam, 1979.

Jupiter Project (for children). Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 1975; second edition, 1980.

If the Stars Are Gods (with Gordon Eklund). New York, Putnam, 1977.

In the Ocean of Night. New York, Dial, 1977.

Find the Changeling (with Gordon Eklund). New York, Dial, 1980.

Shiva Descending (with William Rotsler). New York, Avon, 1980.

Timescape. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1980.

Against Infinity. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1983.

Across the Sea of Suns. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1984.

Time's Rub. New Castle, Virginia, Cheap Street, 1984.

Artifact. New York, Tor, 1985.

Of Space-Time and the River. New Castle, Virginia, Cheap Street, 1985.

In Alien Flesh. New York, Tor, 1986.

Heart of the Comet (with David Brin). New York, Bantam, 1986.

Great Sky River. Toronto, Bantam, 1987.

Under the Wheel (with others). Riverside, New York, Baen, 1987.

We Could Do Worse. Abbenford Associates, 1988.

Tides of Light. Toronto, Bantam, 1989.

Beyond the Fall of Night (with Arthur C. Clarke). New York, Putnam, 1990.

Centigrade 233. New Castle, Virginia, Cheap Street, 1990.

Chiller (under pseudonym Sterling Blake). New York, Bantam, 1993.

Furious Gulf. New York, Bantam, 1994.

Sailing Bright Eternity. New York, Bantam, 1995.

Foundation's Fear. New York, HarperPrism, 1997.

Cosm. New York, Avon Eos, 1998.

The Martian Race. New York, Warner Books, 1999.

Eater: A Novel. New York, Avon Eos, 2000.

Short Stories

In Alien Flesh. New York, T. Doherty Associates, 1986.

Matter's End. New Castle, Virginia, Cheap Street, 1991.

Other

Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates Across Millennia (nonfiction). New York, Avon, 1999.

Foreword, Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future byOlaf Stapledon. Los Angeles, J. P. Tarcher, 1988.

Introduction, Look Away by George Alec Effinger. Eugene, Oregon, Axolotl Press, 1990.

Contributor, Again, Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison. New York, Doubleday, 1972.

Contributor, Threads of Time: Three Original Novellas of Science Fiction, edited by Robert Silverberg. Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 1974.

Contributor, Universe 4, edited by Terry Carr. New York, RandomHouse, 1974.

Contributor, New Dimensions 5, edited by Robert Silverberg. NewYork, Harper, 1975.

Contributor, Universe 8, edited by Terry Carr. New York, Doubleday, 1978.

Contributor, Universe 9, edited by Terry Carr. New York, Doubleday, 1979.

Contributor, Synergy: New Science Fiction, edited by GeorgeZebrowski. San Diego, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988.

Contributor, Isaac Asimov's War, edited by Gardner Dozois. NewYork, Ace Books, 1993.

Contributor, Roads Not Taken: Tales of Alternate History, edited byGardner Dozois and Stanley Schmidt. New York, Del Rey/Ballantine Books, 1998.

Contributor, Science Fiction Theatre, edited by Brian Forbes. Scottsdale, Arizona, Quadrillion Media, 1999.

Editor, with Martin H. Greenberg, Hitler Victorious: Eleven Stories of the German Victory in World War II. New York, Berkeley Publishing, 1987.

Editor, The New Hugo Winners: Award-Winning Science Fiction Stories, Volume 4. New York, Wynwood Press, 1989-1997.

Editor, with Martin H. Greenberg, What Might Have Been, Volume 4: Alternate Americas. New York, Bantam, 1992.

Editor, Far Futures. New York, Tor, 1995.

Editor, with George Zebrowski, Skylife: Space Habitats in Story and Science. New York, Harcourt Brace, 2000.

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Critical Studies:

Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction: Interviews by Charles Platt, by Charles Platt, New York, Berkeley Books, 1980; Bridges to Science Fiction, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1981; Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers, edited by Larry McCaffery, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1990.

* * *

Gregory Benford is an important American science fiction writer who is also a physicist of some distinction. The combination of large literary ambition and an ongoing scientific career (he is a professor of physics at the University of California, Irvine) has given Benford's work a depth of scientific speculation that is unsurpassed among writers of his generation. Beginning with his first novel, Deeper Than the Darkness, Benford has explored again and again the nature of intelligence in the universe, the place of Homo sapiens in that universe, and the role of science within the larger human culture. Benford's scientific career informs his work not only with the rigor of scientific knowledge that underlies his fiction, but also with the process of doing science, of science as a living profession. To find a body of fiction that so carefully and consistently explores the scientific impulse one would have to look at the novels of C.P. Snow from the generation preceding Benford, or those of Richard Powers from a generation later.

Benford's southern roots are also central to his literary work. Born in Alabama in 1941, Benford was greatly influenced by the works of William Faulkner. Faulkner's stylistic innovations and experiments continue to echo in Benford's often poetic and occasionally stream-of-consciousness prose; Benford's 1983 novel, Against Infinity was an homage to Faulkner's "The Bear." Benford's familiarity with the main currents and voices of modern literature are reflected throughout his work.

Equally clear is his familiarity with and understanding of the nature of science fiction and its place in the body of literature. Benford's insights into science fiction's tropes and traditions enable him continually to explore and extend those traditions even as he introduces new and fresh themes of his own. His early novel for young readers, Jupiter Project, was a clear homage the works of Robert A. Heinlein, the most influential science fiction writer of the twentieth century. In essays and criticism Benford has presented a clear and sharp understanding of the literary opportunities and limitations of science fiction.

His early work—his first short story appeared in 1965—in fact seems in retrospect to be exploratory, with science fiction itself, and the nature of Benford's own abilities, the territory being explored. He worked frequently with collaborators, and on more than one occasion revisited earlier works, revising, for example, Deeper Than the Darkness as The Stars in Shroud, making it a richer and more textured (if slightly less youthfully exuberant) novel.

Never a prolific short story writer, Benford displayed a comfort at novella-length works, and by the late 1970s was using long stories to create a backdrop for a fictional cycle concerned with human contact with non-human intelligence. These early works were assembled as a novel, In the Ocean of Night, in 1977.

Even as Benford's novellas displayed an increasingly distinctive voice—and while simultaneously pursuing a full-time and intensive scientific and teaching career—he was creating the novel that would elevate him from his promising beginnings to a position of importance within science fiction. Timescape, published in 1980, transcended all of Benford's work to that date, and remains, simply, the finest and most ambitious literary portrait of scientists at work ever to emerge from science fiction, and one of the best in all of literature. The complex story of a polluted, dying earth, and the scientist who slowly becomes aware of messages from the future that hold the key to saving the planet, Timescape was a mature, balanced, provocative, and occasionally sly work. Ultimately moving and in many ways profound, Timescape presented Benford's view of the universe's indifference to our existence and the ways in which our approach to that indifference shapes us as a species. It was a remarkable and award-winning performance, and is one of the cornerstones of his career.

But Benford embarked on an even more ambitious literary voyage, one that began with the novella-sequence of In the Ocean of Night. The story of astronaut Nigel Walmsley's encounter with and alteration by a non-human intelligence in the near future would provide the foundation for a cycle of novels that would take two decades for Benford to complete and would become, along with Timescape, his major contribution to science fiction. This was the "Galactic Center" saga, a sequence of six novels that move from the near future to the farthest, that employ a variety of literary experiments and techniques to present and explore the nature of intelligent life, and an unequalled portrait of cosmology as it is presently understood.

The non-human intelligence encountered by Walmsley turns out to be machine, rather than organic, in nature. The next novel in the sequence, Across the Sea of Suns, deals with Walmsley's voyage in search of the intelligence that altered him, and with the invasion of earth by beings inimical to human existence. The ambiguous ending of the second novel promised further revelations of Walmsley's destiny, but the next novel in the sequence, Great Sky River, jumped into the far future to tell the story of a family's flight through a brilliantly realized cosmology, pursued by machine intelligences. Succeeding as both literary fiction and rousingly adventurous hard science fiction, Great Sky River raised the bar for portrayals of alien intelligence, and broke much ground in the exploration of machine consciousness and the interface between humans and machines.

Two years later Benford pushed the Galactic Center novels even farther with Tides Of Light. Once more Benford's beleaguered humans—the Family—are locked in a death struggle with overwhelmingly powerful machines, against a vast galactic backdrop. It was becoming clear as the work emerged that Benford was drawing on his scientific knowledge to create fiction in which the universe itself, in addition to the novels' humans and non-humans, was a major character. Few works of science fiction have offered so concrete and poetic a "sense of wonder" at the physical universe's sheer size and strangeness: collapsing stars, whorls and eddies of space-time, bleak planetary vistas, and a lush sensuousness all work together to immerse the reader in Benford's vision.

Nor was the Galactic Center series—or his scientific work—enough to occupy Benford's energies. Always interested in suspense fiction, he turned to the field himself with Artifact, a thriller with an archaeological theme. Another suspense novel, Chiller, was published in 1993 under the pseudonym Sterling Blake. Collaborations over two decades included work with Gordon Eklund, William Rotsler, Mark O. Martin, and David Brin. The most notable of Benford's collaborative works was Heart of the Comet, with Brin, the story of an expedition to Halley's Comet. Benford collected his short stories in two volumes—In Alien Flesh and Matter's End.

After a five-year hiatus from the sequence, Benford returned in 1994 to the Galactic Center, and once again he raised the series' stakes. Furious Gulf follows the fleeing Family toward the True Center, toward ever larger revelations and speculations. Nigel Walmsley, ancient beyond words now, returns to the series as Benford tightens the spring of suspense and presents stunning cosmological speculations. With Sailing Bright Eternity Benford completed the Galactic Center cycle. This novel, which would perhaps seem inscrutable to readers unfamiliar with the preceding volumes, offered a level of surprise and surprisingly emotional, even visionary, transcendence for those who had made the entire journey. In long passages of prose that is essentially poetic, making use of a range of typographical and stylistic techniques, Benford achieved a true ending to his saga, one that presents the reader with an all but heartbreaking sense of intelligence's dual fragility and persistence in an un-caring universe. The Galactic Center sequence is one of science fiction's major accomplishments.

After completing the sequence, Benford turned to less ambitious—but no less entertaining or provocative—novels. The Martian Race was a rigorous look at the challenges a human expedition to Mars might face. His thematically related novels, Cosm and Eater used the form and structure of the thriller to explore questions of scientific responsibility and high-level physics. Along with David Brin and Greg Bear (the trio known as science fiction's "Killer Bs"), Benford wrote one of the three novels of the "Second Foundation Trilogy," set in the universe created by Isaac Asimov. Benford has also edited or co-edited several anthologies of science fiction stories. Benford's Beyond The Fall of Night was both a collaboration with Arthur C. Clarke and a sequel to Clarke's own first novel.

Prolific in nonfiction—both scientific and journalistic—Benford has since the mid-1990s contributed a science column to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, as well as a variety of thoughtful and insightful essays on science fiction and science to numerous publications. His 1999 nonfiction book Deep Time explained transmillennial communications strategies to non-scientific audiences. In 1990 he was awarded the United Nations Medal in Literature, and in 1995 he received the Lord Foundation award for his scientific accomplishments. For Japanese broadcaster NHK he wrote and hosted portions of a late-1980s scientific program, A Galactic Odyssey, which, despite a large investment, never aired.

Now in the fourth decade of an extraordinarily prolific career, Benford shows few signs of any diminution of ambition or ability. If his recent novels have operated on a less cosmic scale than his major works, they nonetheless display a still-gathering command of character and psychological insight. Perhaps most interesting about his recent work is Benford's effort to reach out to a larger audience than that of science fiction per se. Should that audience discover him, their attention will be rewarded many times over by this boldest of literary speculators.

—Keith Ferrell

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