Mann, Phillip

Mann, Phillip

In Brief

Phillip Mann is a leading science fiction writer, academic and theatre director. He founded the first Drama Studies course in New Zealand at Victoria University of Wellington in 1970. Since the release of his first book The Eye of the Queen in 1982 he has published many novels, including the four-volume series A Land Fit for Heroes, released between 1993 and 1996. He has written extensively for theatre and radio and Mann’s fiction has been widely broadcast. Mann received the Sir Julius Vogel Award for services to Science Fiction in 2010 and his novel The Disestablishment of Paradise was shortlisted for the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2014. In February 2015 Mann was made an Honorary Literary Fellow in the New Zealand Society of Authors’ annual Waitangi Day Honours.

FROM THE OXFORD COMPANION TO NEW ZEALAND LITERATURE

MANN, Phillip (1942 – ), is a leading theatrical director and a science fiction writer. He was born in Yorkshire and graduated in English and drama at Manchester University and in theatre at Humbolt State College, California. He arrived in [New Zealand] in 1969, initially working as director for Downstage Theatre and actor with the New Zealand Opera Company, and was involved in the formation of what became Toi Whakaari o Aotearoa: New Zealand Drama School. In 1970 he was appointed lecturer of drama at Victoria University, the first position of its kind in the country, became professor in 1997 and took retirement in 1998. He has retained his involvement in professional theatre, directing memorable first productions of Alistair Campbell's When the Bough Breaks (1970), Vincent O'Sullivan's Shuriken (1993), Greg McGee’s Tooth and Claw (1983) and Renée’s Pass It On (1986).

He has written extensively for theatre and radio. In 1978–80 he spent two years in Beijing, studying oriental theatre and working at the New China News Agency, and there wrote his first science fiction novel, The Eye of the Queen (1982). Inspired in part, he says, by the experience of living in an alien culture, it documents the traumatic contact between Earth and an advanced alien civilization. The book was well reviewed in the UK (‘rarely have I been made aware so credibly of creatures so utterly unlike us,’ said The Times). The next two books, Master of Paxwax (1986) and The Fall of the Families (1987), form the ‘gardener’ sequence, recounting the saga of Pawl Paxwax and his struggle against the Eleven Families which control the explored universe. The style is more uninhibited than the classically SF eye, and was described as ‘superior space opera’. Pioneers (1988) confirmed that Mann writes in the intellectual and moral tradition of M.K. Joseph, as well as being the first of his novels to have a New Zealand setting. Its story is of a cloned creature and his attempts to understand the limits and demands of human nature. Wulfsyarn (1991) develops concern with individual morality, especially in regard to masculinity and the human capacity for violence and self-delusion. Images of St Francis, Dionysus and Achilles symbolize the choice confronting the distraught hero Wilberfoss as he captains a doomed hospital ship.

Mann then produced the major quartet, A Land Fit for Heroes, set in an alternative universe in which the Roman Empire was never defeated and Christianity did not become a dominant religion. A rationalist, urban but militaristic Roman aristocracy is contrasted (in a city–pastoral antithesis that goes back in science fiction to Wells) with the intuitive native British community who inhabit the forests. The four individual titles are Escape from the Wild Wood (1991), Stand Alone Stan (1993), The Dragon Wakes (1995) and The Burning Forest (1996).

A versatile craftsman in various SF modes, Mann persists in his concerns with complex technologies, alien life forms, and variants on zoological and botanical variety – the giant Hammer in Paxwax, for instance, had its origins in the New Zealand weta. Most characteristically, he explores ethical, political and social themes, always with awareness of the mystical dimension and a distrust of the wholly rational. Published and known in the UK, his work has received little attention in New Zealand, a review article by David Groves in New Zealand Books being the most sustained commentary to date.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Mann edited and contributed to The Out of Time Café, published by Hazard Press NZ in 1996.

Many of his books have been translated into French and German. He has had numerous short stories published in Interzone UK. Mann has also written articles for academic publication and essays on a variety of topics.

Mann received the Sir Julius Vogel Award for services to Science Fiction in 2010.

He edited Robert Lord: Three Plays (Playmarket New Zealand Play Series, 2013).

The Disestablishment of Paradise (Gollancz – Orion) was released in 2013. Antony Jones reviewed the book for SF Book Reviews, ‘Science Fiction in the truest sense of the word, The Disestablishment of Paradise is everything a genre book should be; accessible, entertaining, rewarding and thoughtful – awakening a sense of wonder very much like those authors did in the golden age of science fiction.’

Phillip Mann was shortlisted for the 2014 Arthur C. Clarke Award for The Disestablishment of Paradise. He was also a finalist for the 2014 John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

Maestro and Other Stories (Gollancz – Orion) was published as an ebook in 2014 and features six stories from Mann's varied career. The Paradise Mission was published at the same time as an ebook-only companion novella to The Disestablishment of Paradise.

MEDIA LINKS AND CLIPS

Updated January 2017.