Eric Frank Russell
by Mark North.
English Science Fiction writer and Forteanist Eric Frank Russell was born on 6th January 1905, Sandhurst, Surrey into a military family. He served with the RAF during World War II and worked briefly as an engineer before taking up writing full-time. Russell wrote numerous science fiction novels and over a hundred short stories from the late 1930's to the mid-1960. Producing some of the best humorous science fiction of his time.
Though most of his writings were first published in American magazines he captured the wisecracking tone of American pulp fiction so well that many people thought he was American. In 1955, Russell, became the first British author to win a Hugo Award (awarded at the world science fiction convention) for the best short story 'Allamagoosa'.
Click play above - to listern to 'Allamagoosa' by Eric Frank Russell
Russell was a long time follower of Charles Fort and was an active member and British representative of the Fortean Society. His non-fiction book 'Great World Mysteries', was a compendium of Forteana, a publication unique at its time.
Below is an extract from 'Great World Mysteries', in which Eric Frank Russell gives his account of the strange footprints he discovered and how the resembled the Devil's Hoofprints which appeared overnight in heavy snowfall in Southern Devon in 1855.
"And it was there that this writer discovered strange prints very similar to but not identical with those already described. A drawing of the phenomenon, complete with measurements, was used as cover illustration for the fifteenth issue of Doubt, the magazine of the Fortean Society. Details published therein enable me to have the peculiar experience of quoting myself. All that is omitted from the following description is the harrowing tale of what I suffered struggling in rubber thigh-boots through that depth of snow.
'(The prints) were spotted on a snow-covered hill behind the Chateau de Morveau, near Everberg, part-way between Brussels and Louvain, Belgium, at 10 a.m on January 10th 1945. The snow varied from two to four feet in depth and I traced the prints for half a mile in a north-westerly direction until they entered a tiny wood or copse, where abruptly they disappeared A thorough search of the copse revealed no hole, lair or tree where anything might have concealed itself with-out leaving some evidence in the snow. I then traced the prints in the opposite direction, south-easterly, for nearly two miles, crossing several fields and a small stream, until they faded out on a hillside thick with windblown snow which had drifted over the prints for an unknown distance. But the sign did not reappear on the crest of the bill, nor was there any indication on the opposite sheltered side.
The prints measured about two and a half inches in length by one and a half wide, were spaced in pairs one behind the other to form a single file. the distance between prints of one pair being about nine inches, and between pairs twelve to fifteen inches. (This means they were not regularly spaced print by print, but alternated in nine and twelve-fifteen inch gaps.) They ran in a dead straight line, one print immediately behind the other without slightest misplacement to left or right. Judging by their depth whatever made them was at least the weight of a good medium-sized creature such as an Airedale.
Due to heavy frost and lack of further snow, the prints remained visible for two days, during which time I drew the attention of several people to them, including one Arthur Davies of Sheffield, and Victor Beha of London, as well as some local Belgians. Unfortunately all were singularly lacking in curiosity, Beha jesting that they must have been made by a gyroscopic rat - probably as good a guess as that of any dogmatic expert.
The Belgians could not think what they might be, never having seen the like before. Three cameras were available, all empty, and not a film to be got for love or money, otherwise I could have recorded this phenomenon for all time.
The tracks looked to me somewhat like those of a large goat, and there were goats aplenty in that part of Belgium, but goats don't step leaving single-line spoor.
Unfortunately, the prints were not as dramatic as the ones seen in Devon - they didn't run for miles and they didn't traverse rooftops.'
At that time the evidence definitely created the impression of small hoof-marks, though at this date I do not know why I thought of a goat rather than a pony or donkey. There was nothing to show that the hoof was cloven. Possibly my thoughts were influenced by the local multiplicity of goats. All I do know is that I witnessed some thing baffling and sufficiently like earlier phenomena to be worth noting and recording."
He was also a founder member of the British Interplanetary Society and was involved in early science fiction fandom in Britain, having attended the first British Science Fiction Convention in Leeds in 1937 and also the London Convention in 1957. Russell died on 28th February 28th 1978.
I didn't discover Russell's work until I was undertaking serious research into my family's history on my mother's side about thirteen years ago. My mother has a letter, which was written to my Grandfather thirty-two years ago by a childhood friend. This friend lived in Weymouth, Dorset, England for a time until moving north to settle in Liverpool with his parents. This friend was Eric Frank Russell.
Apart from the useful childhood reminiscences, that helped built a picture of my grandfather's childhood, I also learnt that Eric Frank Russell was a " well known (in America) writer of Science-Fiction ". I felt that the name should have been familiar to me as I have always been interested in Fortean phenomena and Classic Sci-Fi writers, notably H.G.Wells.
But alas I didn't, until I received the "Illustrated Encyclopedia Science Fiction by John Clute”. As I flicked through the pages, I couldn't believe my eyes. On page 137, Eric Frank Russell was included in the list of authors. I was very excited about having found an entire reference, which I could use as a guide to hunt down his works.
Since the discovery of the letter, my interest in Eric Frank Russell has grown. I am gradually starting to collect his books to build up an archive of his life. I received further information from the University of Liverpool, who were also fascinated by the letter as they hardly had any personal letters from Eric Frank Russell in their possession. A copy now resides in their archives.
Learning from the photocopied material that they sent me, and also brief bibliographies inside some of his books, I learnt that Eric Frank Russell was born at Sandhurst, Surrey. As his father was in the Royal Engineers, Eric and his parents moved many times, Weymouth being just one his temporary homes. His father must have been stationed at either one of the two Royal Engineer's Camps just outside Weymouth. During his childhood in Weymouth, he became friends with my Grandfather Walter Staple, a neighbour in Southview Road, Westham. Both went to the same school at Cromwell Road School around the mid-1910s. Probably sharing the same local folktales my Grandfather would often tell me.
Southview Road as it appeared during Eric Frank Russell's Childhood
I often wonder whether there are old school photographs, taken of pupils showing a young Eric Frank Russell with my grandfather at Cromwell School around 1914-1915, still surviving?
A selection of Eric Frank Russell full-length works include:
Sinister Barrier (1939)
Dreadful Sanctuary (1948)
Sentinels from Space (also published as The Star Watchers, 1951)
And Then There Were None (First published June 1951, Astounding Science Fiction, vol. XLVII, no.4)
Three to Conquer (also published as Call Him Dead, 1955)
Men, Martians and Machines (1955)
Next of Kin (also published as The Space Willies, 1958)
The Great Explosion (1962)
With A Strange Device (1964); alternate title The Mindwarpers (1965)
Somewhere a Voice (1965, 7 stories)
Other useful sources:
Mark North, 28/02/2008