“Gernsback’s Pessimist”

Review: “Gernsback’s Pessimist: The Futuristic Fantasies of David H. Keller”, Brian Stableford, 1995. 

An interesting look at an author I only know through the enjoyable satire “The Revolt of the Pedestrians”. 

Stableford recounts Dr. Keller’s life (including refusing to work under Huey Long’s administration in a Louisiana state hospital after 1929) which made him Hugo Gernsback’s most prolific contributor in 1928 and 1929.  Gernsback loved his first submission, “The Revolt of the Pedestrians”.

Stableford, who himself has done distinguished work in this theme, considers him the first sf writer to deal with the implications of biotechnology albeit in a crude, pulpish way complete with clumsy infodumps. Stableford attributes the “eccentric fabular quality” of much of Keller’s work to his early childhood struggle to verbally communicate. 

Keller wrote nonfiction articles on psychoanalysis (a theme in some of his sf) and mainstream sf. His professional production dropped off after Gernsback got out of publishing, and his publications after 1945 were mostly in amateur outlets. For a few periods in his life, like 1928-1929, he was unemployed and relied on his writing for an income. 

These days he is mostly remembered for his horror stories. Stableford sees his primary sf theme as variations on the idea of “sick civilizations” with the idea that civilization, at its heart, should be about marital and parental love, respect for others, and tolerance (though, as Stableford notes, Keller still advocated racial eugenics but that wouldn’t be unusual for the time). Like “The Revolt of the Pedestrians”, his stories frequently had sick civilizations obliterated by apocalypse and new, better orders established. Stableford sees a bit of protesting too much in Keller ending so many of his stories with sickly sweet, happy conclusions after detailing parental dissatisfaction and marital discord.

One thought on ““Gernsback’s Pessimist”

  1. jameswharris July 13, 2020 / 12:47 pm

    “Revolt of the Pedestrians” is one of the few original stories I read in the early Amazings. Most were reprints. It’s funny how that story coincides with WALL-E.

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