George Reginald Turner (15 October 1916 – 8 June 1997) was an Australian writer and critic, best known for the science fiction novels written in the later part of his career. He was notable for being a "late bloomer" in science fiction (by the field's standards). His first SF story and novel appeared in 1978, when he was in his early sixties. By this point, however, he had already achieved considerable success as a mainstream novelist, including a Miles Franklin Award, and as a literary critic.
Turner was born and educated in Melbourne. He served in the Australian Imperial Forces during the Second World War. Subsequently he worked in a variety of fields, including as an employment officer, as a technician in the textile industry, and was a reviewer of science fiction the Melbourne Newspaper The Age. Prior to writing science fiction, he had a well-established reputation as mainstream literary fiction writer, his most productive period being from 1959 to 1967, during which he published five novels. Two of these were award winning, The Cupboard Under the Stairs (1962), being awarded the Miles Franklin Award, Australia's highest literary honour, and The Lame Dog Man (1967) being awarded a Commonwealth Literary Fund fellowship.
During the 1970s, he gained considerable reputation for his meticulous and well-considered reviews and criticism of science fiction, among his first critical publications in the field being in SF fan magazine SF Commentary, edited by Bruce Gillespie. In 1977 he edited The View from the Edge, an anthology of tales produced by participants in a Melbourne writers' workshop, which he ran with science fiction authors Vonda McIntyre and Christopher Priest. Over a decade after his previous publication of a full-length work of fiction, he published 'Beloved Son' (1978), his first science fiction novel. An extract from the novel had previously been published as "The Lindley Mentascripts" in Science Fiction: A Review of Speculative Literature 1 in June 1977. Before his death he published six more science fiction novels.
Turner's science fiction narratives are remarkable for their detailed extrapolation and their invariably earnest approach to moral and social issues. In such novels as Drowning Towers and Genetic Soldier he displayed a gloomy vision of global warming's future ramifications. The former novel won an Arthur C. Clarke Award. Much of his work has a strongly "Australian" feel, and it sometimes incorporates references to the Aboriginal peoples of his country. Despite his late start, at death he was arguably one of the elder statesmen of Australian science fiction.
Turner's first science fiction novel, Beloved Son (1978), was followed by two related works, Vaneglory (1981) and Yesterday's Men (1983), comprising the Ethical Culture series. While they did not form a coherent trilogy, they were set in the same future, plagued by the problems of both a nuclear holocaust and the ravages of ill-advised experimentation with genetic food crops and epidemics caused by mutated viruses. Vaneglory introduced perhaps his most memorable creation, the Children of Time, a secret society of mutant human beings who are virtually immortal and have certain advanced mental skills. Unlike similar fictional creations however they do not control human destiny- although they intermittently dabble in human politics, their cynical and self-absorbed personalities make it difficult for them to care much about humanity or to co-operate in planning its future.
His next published novel The Sea and Summer (1987) (published in the United States as Drowning Towers (1988)), was his most successful, being shortlisted for the Nebula Award and winning the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1988. It was based on a short story "The Fittest" published in 1985 in Urban Fantasies edited by Russell Blackford and David King. A work of science fiction realism, It concerned a future historian, writing a historical novel about a near future Melbourne, beset by the problems of climate change, unemployment caused by excessive automation, the collapse of the monetary system and the division of society into elite communities segregated from impoverished masses. Turner concluded the novel with a personal reflection on the urgency of giving serious consideration to social and environmental issues highlighted by the narrative .
His next two novels were both political thrillers set in the near future. Brainchild (1991) and The Destiny Makers (1993). Brainchild focused on journalist commissioned to investigate a genetic experiment that had led to varieties of humans beings with superior intelligence. Part of the novel was formed from the short story "On the Nursery Floor" (1985).
Genetic Soldier (1994) shared the timeline of The Destiny Makers. Subsequent to the events of that novel, the crew of a starship sent to explore for habitable planets, return to find themselves at odds with the inhabitants of the Earth, who have evolved in a more ecologically harmonious direction in their absence, and ostracise them for their incompatibility with a society determined by rigid genetic specialisation. The novel drew some inspiration from Turner's short story "Shut The Door When You Go Out" which dealt with a similar scenario .
George Turner was named as a Guest of Honor for Aussiecon Three, the 1999 World Science Fiction Convention held in Melbourne, but died before the event. In 2013 his The Sea and Summer became the first Australian novel to be included in Gollancz's SF Masterworks list.
|Miles Franklin Award||The Cupboard Under the Stairs, 1962 (joint winner)|
|Australian Science Fiction Achievement Award||Beloved Son, 1979|
|Arthur C Clarke Award||The Sea and Summer, 1988|
|Commonwealth Writers' Prize South-East Asia and South Pacific Region, Best Book Award||The Sea and Summer, 1988|