Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Kotzwinkle, William

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(1938-    ) US writer who has worked in several genres since starting with tales for children, first being The Fireman (1969). By 1990 he had published another 18 or so titles, some of direct fantasy interest, like Elephant Boy: A Story of the Stone Age (1970), which is a Prehistoric Fantasy, The Ants Who Took Away Time (1978), in which the Solar System must be searched for scattered parts of the Great Gold Watch that has been taken apart by ants, and Trouble in Bugland: A Collection of Inspector Mantis Mysteries (coll 1983), a set of Sherlock Holmes parodies for a YA audience, told as Beast Fables. WK's first adult books gave a sense that mundane material had been transformed into Fabulation, though on examination novels like Hermes 3000 (1972), The Fan Man (1974) and Queen of Swords (1984) were secretly rather sober, beneath an air of pixillation. His sf has been more or less restricted to the movie ties he produced in the early 1980s, including a set of ties to Stephen Spielberg's E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) as well as Superman III * (1983) (see Superman Movies).

WK's works that can be defined as fantasy, like his work in other categories, tend to make play with the boundaries of genre. Doctor Rat (1976) – which won the 1977 World Fantasy Award – can probably best be understood as a beast fable set in a Technofantasy venue. Doctor Rat speaks as apologist for the experiments being inflicted upon his fellows in a huge laboratory which – when he himself escapes – turns into a Labyrinth of rooms and passages (see Edifice) where he has some Picaresque adventures. But counterpointing this narrative are shorter narratives told by members of various species, during a vast emigration of all the animals to central meeting-places where they expect the gestalt thus formed to convert humanity from its murderous ways. At last, though, all the animals are butchered.

Fata Morgana (1977), set initially in Paris around 1860, begins as a vaguely Steampunk evocation of La Belle Époque through the eyes of a large, dour, sexually irresistible police inspector named Picard; soon his investigations into the doings of an apparent charlatan turns into Arabian Nightmare, because the charlatan is in fact a Magus who sends Picard into an obsessive search through Eastern Europe, each new venue constituting a further descent from Reality. In the end Picard is snapped back into our present, but has no way of knowing whether or not his journeys downwards have been a trick of Perception or a warning from the magus that there are illimitable darknesses beyond the Threshold. Similar in feel is Herr Nightingale and the Satin Woman (1978), with many illustrations by Joe Servello, which follows a detective through Europe, in the aftermath of World War I, as he pursues a German officer and his companion; as the book progresses, the cast increasingly enters a surreal world (see Surrealism). Seduction in Berlin (1985), a book-length poem, occupies the same kind of territory. Later tales tracing the perils of detection tend – like The Midnight Examiner (1989) – only to flirt with the supernatural; but The Game of Thirty (1994), though technically not fantasy, involves a game enacted on the streets of New York that dates from the time of the Pharaohs (see Egypt; Fantasies of History).

WK's third tale of central interest, The Exile (1987), is a Dark Fantasy of Identity Exchange, carrying a contemporary Hollywood star by Timeslip into helpless residence in the body of a German World War II gangster who – trying to help a Jewish girl escape the Final Solution – is captured by the Gestapo and tortured. The experience drives the gangster out of his body and into the star's, leaving the latter trapped in the torture chamber.

Collections are: Jewel of the Moon (coll 1985); Hearts of Wood and Other Timeless Tales (coll 1985), which – like The Oldest Man and Other Timeless Stories (coll 1971) for children – includes Twice-Told tales; and The Hot Jazz Trio (coll 1989), which contains "Boxcar Blues", a long tale in which hoboes evade Death by riding Trains into Alternate Realities. WK, because he floats away from committing himself to any one genre, receives far less attention than he should. [JC]

other works (for children): The Ship that Came Down the Gutter (1970); The Day the Gang Got Rich (1970); Return of Crazy Horse (1971); The Supreme, Superb, Exalted, and Delightful, One and Only Magic Building (1973); Up the Alley with Jack and Joe (1974); The Leopard's Tooth (1976 chap), a lycanthropy tale set in Africa; Dream of Dark Harbor (1979); The Nap Master (1979); Trouble in Bugland: A Collection of Inspector Mantis Mysteries (coll 1983), a classic example (and parody) of the Gaslight Romance; The World Is Big and I'm So Small (1986); Hearts of Wood and Other Timeless Tales (coll 1986 chap), a collection of original Fairytales; The Empty Notebook (1990). Most of these are illus Joe Servello.

William E Kotzwinkle


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.