Arthur Bertram Chandler (28 March 1912 in Aldershot, Hampshire, England – 6 June 1984 in Sydney, Australia) was an Anglo-Australian merchant marine officer, sailing the world in everything from tramp steamers to troop ships, but who later turned his hand to a second career as a prolific author of pulp science fiction. He also wrote under the pseudonyms of George Whitley, Andrew Dunstan and S.H.M. Many of his short stories draw on his extensive sailing background. In 1956, he emigrated to Australia and became an Australian citizen. By 1958 he was an officer on the Sydney-Hobart route. Chandler commanded various ships in the Australian and New Zealand merchant navies, including his service as the last master of the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne; by law, the ship was required to have an officer on board while awaiting its towing to China to be broken up. Chandler wrote over 40 novels and 200 works of short fiction, winning the Australian Ditmar Awards for the short story "The Bitter Pill" (in 1971) and for three novels: False Fatherland (in 1969), The Bitter Pill (in 1975), and The Big Black Mark (in 1976). One of Chandler's daughters, Jenny Chandler, married British horror fiction writer Ramsey Campbell. His other children were Penelope Anne Chandler and Christopher John Chandler.
A. Bertram Chandler
|Born||Arthur Bertram Chandler|
28 March 1912
|Died||6 June 1984 (aged 72)|
|Pen name||George Whitley, George Whitely, Andrew Dunstan, S.H.M.|
Chandler's descriptions of life aboard spaceships and the relationships between members of the crew en route derive from his experience aboard seagoing ships, imparting a distinct sense of realism. He was most well known for his Rim World series and John Grimes novels, both of which have a distinctly naval flavour. In the latter, Chandler's principal hero, John Grimes, is an enthusiastic sailor who has occasional adventures on the oceans of various planets. The books make repeated reference to an obsolete type of magnetically powered spaceship known as the "Gaussjammer", remembered nostalgically by "old timers" – clearly modelled on the windjammer. The heyday of the Gaussjammer, some centuries earlier than the Rim Worlds books, is the setting of the less well-known The Deep Reaches of Space (1964) which has undisguised autobiographical elements: its protagonist is a sailor turned science-fiction writer who travels to the future and uses his nautical experience to save a party of humans stranded on an alien planet.
Chandler arrived at the John Grimes series in a rather roundabout way. His original Rim Worlds protagonist was merchant spaceman Derek Calver, who drifted from the galactic centre to the Rim (as Chandler himself had migrated from the U.K. to Australia). In The Rim of Space and The Ship from Outside, Calver's adventures around the Rim included becoming a ship's captain and meeting and marrying Jane "Calamity" Arlen – like him, a refugee from the galactic centre.
Then appeared Sonia Verril, a femme fatale who tempted Calver, nearly ruining his marriage. With this incipient love triangle moving towards a confrontation in deep space, the grumpy John Grimes was introduced as a secondary character very much in the background. Eventually, however, Calver and his wife, Arlen, board the Outsiders' ship and depart from the galaxy and out of all human ken, leaving the stage empty for Verril and Grimes to join in an adventure Into the Alternate Universe, culminating in their marriage, with Grimes thenceforth becoming Chandler's primary character. Chandler provided Grimes with numerous new adventures, as well as charting his career backwards to its humble beginnings, much in the same way as C. S. Forester's fictional naval hero Horatio Hornblower, who in some ways served as a model for the John Grimes character, was first introduced as a captain before his career was sketched backwards to his time as a midshipman.
Chandler's Australian background is evident in his depiction of a future wherein Australia becomes a major world power and Australians take the lead in space exploration and in colonising other planets. Drongo Kane, a pirate captain who is the villain in several books, comes from the planet Austral, and other books mention the planet Australis in another part of the galaxy. His story "The Mountain Movers," part of Grimes's early career, includes a song for future Australian space adventurers, sung to the tune of "Waltzing Matilda", with the first stanza running:
The colonists who sing the song end up re-enacting the darker part of Australian history, even dispossessing the natives of the planet Olgana – humanoids who resemble the Indigenous Australians. As revealed at the climax of the story, the resemblance is not accidental. In his novel Kelly Country (1984) Chandler explored an alternate history in which the bushranger Ned Kelly was not captured and hanged, but led a rebellion, ultimately becoming the president of an Australian republic which degenerated into a hereditary dictatorship.
Chandler made heavy use of the parallel universe plot device throughout his career, with many Grimes stories involving characters briefly crossing over into other realities. In "The Dark Dimensions", which is set at a point in space where various realities meet, Grimes (the Rim World commodore), meets a second John Grimes who is still in the Federation Survey Service, as well as characters from the Empress Irene books and Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry.
In his ironic short story "The Cage", a band of shipwrecked humans wandering naked in the jungles of a faraway planet are captured by aliens and placed in a zoo, where, failing in all their efforts to convince their captors that they are intelligent, some are dissected. Eventually they become resigned to captivity and adopt a small local rodent as a pet, placing him in a wicker cage. Seeing this, their captors apologise for the mistake and repatriate them to Earth, remarking that "only intelligent creatures put other creatures in cages".
Sex is frequent in Chandler's books, often in free fall. Women on board are usually stereotyped in roles of pursers or passengers; seldom are they regular officers in the chain of command. Chandler's protagonists are quite prone to affairs and promiscuous behaviour, but are also shown falling in love and undertaking long-lasting, harmonious marriages; e.g., Sonia Verril served as an officer before marrying Grimes. Relationships are invariably described from the male point of view; whilst women characters might be sympathetic, they are always seen from the outside. In the early Bring Back Yesterday (1961), the dashing Johnnie Petersen is involved with four women in the course of a single book, whose plot lasts no more than a few weeks. Of them, one is inconsiderate and hurts him deeply; one is kindly and motherly, but Petersen is not physically attracted to her; one is a short chance encounter which soon ends with no lasting positive or negative trace; and the last is the one and only great love of his life. Petersen changes time itself in order to save her from a gruesome death and lives happily ever after with her.
The main story is set in an earlier period of the same future timeline as Grimes, a period in which ships are the magnetic "Gaussjammers", recalled with some nostalgia in Grimes' time.
The John Grimes story is divided here into three parts – Early, Middle and Late.
No Room in the Stable by A. Bertram Chandler, reprinted by permission of Scott Meredith Literary Agency, Inc