Author, Editor, Critic, Artist, Cartoonist, Science Fiction Fan
Born September 19, 1922, Baker, Oregon
Died April 15, 2002, Eugene, Oregon
Damon Knight was the youngest by far of my current batch of authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. He may have been the most precocious among them as well, becoming as he did a science fiction fan at age eleven and publishing his own two-issue fanzine as a teenager. Born in 1922, Knight was only seventeen when his first cartoon was published in Amazing Stories in May 1940. That same year, Knight also had his first fiction ("The Itching Hour," Futuria Fantasia, Summer 1940) and his first non-fiction (one or more pieces in 1939 Yearbook of Science, Weird and Fantasy Fiction) published. The record of his career, which started off so auspiciously, is extraordinary.
Knight wrote reviews, essays, memoirs, editorial content, and of course fiction in his six decades in science fiction. I won't go into his accomplishments when you can read them in other sources. Being an artist myself, I would like to mention that Damon Knight drew illustrations for several science fiction and fantasy magazines. There aren't many writers of science fiction and fantasy who are also artists. Weird Tales may have had more than its share with C.L. Moore, Hannes Bok, Virgil Finlay, and Damon Knight. Also, I would like to point out that Knight was married to another science fiction writer, Kate Wilhelm (b. 1928).
According to Wikipedia, Damon Knight attributed the term "idiot plot" to James Blish but helped to popularize it in his own critical essays. We have all seen and suffered through movies and TV shows with idiot plots, although we may not have known there was a term for such a thing. An idiot plot, simply enough, is a story that depends on the stupidity of its characters: if they weren't so stupid, the story would come to an immediate end. I have complained for years that the people in a movie or TV show can't be and shouldn't be less intelligent than the people watching it. If they are, the show is in real trouble. Some examples of idiot plot devices: "There's a psycho killer on the loose--let's split up." Or, "There's a Tyrannosaurus rex trying to find us and eat us--let's draw attention to ourselves by shining a flashlight in his eyes." Or, "These aliens speak in metaphors instead of words, but we're too stupid to figure that out in the first five minutes of the show the way our viewers have." (That last example is from Star Trek: The Next Generation, an idiot plot champion if there ever was one.) Damon Knight seems to have been a crusader against bad writing. I'm glad he stood against the idiot plot and other sins.
Finally, Damon Knight wrote "To Serve Man" (Galaxy Science Fiction, Nov. 1950), a sort of idiot plot turned inside out. That story became one of the most memorable episodes from The Twilight Zone and a very fine in-joke from Naked Gun 2-1/2. It was also won a Retro-Hugo Award in 2001, a year before the author's death.
For Weird Tales
"Ghouls Feeding" (poem, Mar. 1944)
Illustrations for Weird Tales
"Herbert West: Reanimator: The Scream of the Dead" by H.P. Lovecraft (Nov. 1942)
"The Dead World" by Clarence Edwin Flynn (poem, Nov. 1942)
"Seventh Sister" by Mary Elizabeth Counselman (Jan. 1943)
"Quest Unhallowed" by Page Cooper (poem, Mar. 1945)
"The Haunted Stairs" by Yetza Gillespie (poem, May 1946)
|Damon Knight had just turned twenty when this illustration for "Herbert West: Reanimator" was published in Weird Tales in November 1942. The model for West was Knight's friend, Jean Michel (1917-1969).|
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley