Starburst has learned of the death last week of John Christopher, one of the great unsung names in British science-fiction literature who, like John Wyndham, popularised the ‘cosy catastrophe’ genre of British post-apocalypse fiction. Christopher created, in the 1960s, the richly-imaginative ‘Tripods trilogy’, a children’s strand set in a feudal future where Mankind has been dominated by giant three-legged alien war machines and the struggles of a group of young children to join a resistance movement dedicated to overthrowing the planet’s alien oppressors. Turned into a short-lived BBC TV series (1984-5 - a third and final series was cancelled due to disappointing viewing figures for the second series) The Tripods remains Christopher’s most enduring work.
Born Christopher Samuel Youd in Lancashire in 1922, Christopher was always a passionate fan of science fiction, publishing his own amateur magazine called ‘The Fantast’ in his teens. His first novel, ‘The Winter Swan’, was published in 1949 and told the life of an elderly woman in reverse order, from the grave back to childhood. Christopher wrote lurid pulp fiction under a number of pseudonyms until ‘The Death of Grass’, a story of global famine, was published in 1956, later becoming the controversial cult movie No Blade of Grass. Christopher carved out a successful niche with similar apocalyptic fiction in novels such as ‘A Wrinkle In The Skin’ and ‘The World in Winter’ and his striking novel of alien infiltration ‘The Possessors’. In the mid-1960s he changed direction when invited to write for children and thus the ‘Tripods’ trilogy was born and Christopher continued writing for children throughout the rest of his career with titles such as ‘The Guardians’, ‘Wild Jack’ and ‘Empty World’. He returned to ‘The Tripods’ in 1988 with the publication of a prequel novel ‘When the Tripods Came’. Throughout his career Christopher’s work was informed by a number of popular recurring themes - the pastoral aftermath of catastrophe, perilous journeys, social feudalism, the free-spiritedness and sense of adventure in young children.
Christopher (nee Youd), who married and had a number of children and grandchildren, spent his later years quietly in Rye in the Sussex Downs and he had been unwell for some time. Starburst extends its sympathy to his family at this sad time.