Irving Kingsley 1949-2020

It is with great sadness that I read of the death of Irving Kinglsey, probably one of the greatest science fiction writers I have ever encountered, and a huge personal influence.

Although no longer a household name, Kinglsey will be most remembered in genre circles for a spate of blistering space opera novels in the late 1960s and early 1970s, starting with his debut Jones’s Robot Eye (written when he was only 19 years old) to The Apocrypha of the Apocalypse, which was published shortly after his thirtieth birthday.

Following the death of his parents in 1971, Kingsley invested the money from Apocrypha in an old RV and left his native Brooklyn with the intention to drive cross-country to San Francisco–a journey that took him four years. During that time, he worked as a ranch hand in Wyoming, a cab driver in Chicago, and a NASA advisor in Houston. When he finally arrived in San Francisco in June 1975, he was married and working on the book that would be his masterpiece.

Seven Hands, Eight Feet (published in 1982) tells the story of the mystical revelations Kingsley experienced during his travels, during which time he believed he repeatedly made psychic contact with a craft from another world, and that the occupants of the craft were here on Earth to warn us of a dreadful catastrophe. However, the true nature of the catastrophe remained unclear. At the time, Kingsley assumed it had something to do with nuclear war or overpopulation, but in his final interviews in the late 1990s, he hinted it might be a crisis of a spiritual rather than physical nature.

After Seven Hands, Kingsley dropped off the radar for a while. He divorced in 1987 and spent some time in Mexico and Peru. And then, eleven years after the publication of his last book, a new novel appeared. Foliage tells the story of a group of surveyors who venture into a rainforest with the intention of marking which areas are to be turned into farmland, but are picked-off by the plants and animals. Largely ignored on its appearance, Foliage can now been seen as a spiritual ancestor of films such as Avatar and Annihilation. Writing in the Liverpool Evening Press, Grant Henderson said the book, “Does for the Amazon what Jaws did for sharks.”

Dispirited by his lack of commercial success, Kingsley turned to writing thrillers in an attempt to make money. The results were interesting but so far from the typical airport potboiler that they tended to perplex and alienate their intended audience. Which is a shame, because looking back now we can see Deadly Breakfast, Steve’s Fissure, and Day of the Octopus as masterpieces of surrealism, more akin to André Breton’s Nadja (1928) or Boris Vian’s Froth on the Daydream (1947).

Although nothing had been heard of Irving Kingsley in almost two decades, I am still very sad to hear of his passing. A lifelong smoker, he died when his attempts at lighting his pipe caused him to lose control of his jet ski. He is survived by his second wife, Gwendolyn, and his beloved dogs, Wells and Verne.

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Author: Gareth L Powell

Writer

2 thoughts on “Irving Kingsley 1949-2020”

  1. Two great lines in this obit:
    ‘ The results were interesting but so far from the typical airport potboiler that they tended to perplex and alienate their intended audience.’
    and the almost parodic,
    ‘he died when his attempts at lighting his pipe caused him to lose control of his jet ski.’

  2. oh no, I think I’ve skipped over to another timeline again. Hate it when that happens

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