Arthur Burns was an Australian friend of my father’s. I remember him and his wife Netta, and their children, particularly from 1961, when I was a college student in France and I stayed with them in London around Christmas; they were living there for the year.
One evening as we discussed plans for the next morning, Arthur said to me with a twinkle in his eye, “Shall I knock you up around seven?” He knew perfectly well what the American meaning of that term was, and I still remember blushing while he and Netta grinned.
So here are some comments about my father from Arthur Burns. Thanks to the late John Foyster for the right to use quotes from a 1966 interview he did with Burns. This material appeared initially in Australian SF Review.
Let me see if I can say some other things which would give you some sort of insight into his very strange kind of personality. Now before he wrote any SF he wrote a story called Atomsk, which was the first sort of Russian nuclear spy story–and it got a very savage review, I remember, in a Russian journal…
The first impression people here [in Australia] had of him was that he was a real reactionary, a bit tough and a bit bloody minded and that kind of thing. He was here for the whole of 1957 and took on a lot of the academic left wing, and quite a lot of the non-academic left wing, and made lots of speeches about China, wrote a number of articles, and that kind of thing. But you had to get to know him to realize that a great deal of this was simply the uninhibited expressions of aggression that you get from people who’ve been analyzed. In fact, he was an extremely humane man. In his stories one sees this, incidentally, in the sort of allegories he was constantly writing…
He was an Anglo-Catholic, a very high one by American standards, and his religion in a strange way meant a great deal to him–in a funny way, one might even say loosely. Often he was unserious about it. Once when he was very ill in Mexico…he said he thought he was pretty bad and that the only thing to do was to invoke the Virgin Mary, because Mexico was her territory.
His liking for Australia comes out in the Old Norstrilia stories. Once again, it was characteristic of him–it was very much a part of his SF writing–that all of his stories, in some sense or another, were oblique commentaries on contemporary politics and society… He was never one to attempt to draw a terrific moral–I mean, any morals in his stories were all concealed. They were meant to amuse, to be fun; they were something he did because he liked it.
He called himself a Pre-Cervantean. By this he meant that if the European novel–a connected story dealing with a group of persons, having a beginning, a middle, an end, and that kind of thing–was started by Cervantes with “Don Quixote,” then he was a Pre-Cervantean in the sense that his stories were more like medieval stories–more like parts of a legend or cycle, such as Malory collected in “The Death of Arthur.”
[Foyster asks what the reason was for CS’s increased output of stories in recent years.]
Partly, being more and more sick. He was confined to bed a great deal and he’d often write these stories when he couldn’t get up and lecture…He was a man who wrote naturally and very easily. He’d sit at his typewriter and just knock it out. I’ve never seen anyone compose so fast when he had it on him.