Michael Bishop
www.michaelbishop-writer.com

 

Michael Bishop
A Literary Geo-Biography

by Michael H. Hutchins

Michael Bishop was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, on November 12, 1945, to Leo O. Bishop and the former Maxine Elaine Matison. Because his father was in the United States Air Force, he spent his younger years as an “air force brat.” His impressions of a year in Japan starting at age four (see Washington Heights, Tokyo) remained vivid enough for him to contribute scenes drawn from memory to Under Heaven's Bridge, his 1981 collaboration with British writer Ian Watson. On returning to the States, his mother and father divorced. During the school year, Mike lived with his mother in Mulvane, Kansas, south of Wichita. (As Van Luna, this small Kansas town became the setting for the 2000 novella Blue Kansas Sky.) However, he spent almost every summer with his father at various bases around the US.

In his early teens, Mike came upon the “Classics Illustrated” version of White Fang by Jack London, and this comic book — and others in the series — influenced, he unashamedly admits, his early heartfelt decision to become a writer.  Add to that his vicarious travels with Lemuel Gulliver though Lilliput, Brobdingnag, and other lands conceived by Jonathan Swift, and Mike’s journey toward becoming a teller of tales was firmly established. He went to public school from the seventh through the eleventh grades in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but during his senior year, 1962-63, lived in Seville, Spain, with his father and step-mother and attended a school for military dependents just to the south of that Andalusian city (see A Year of No Certain Historicity).  For a fictional account of his experiences abroad read On the Street of the Serpents.  (1974).  Further stories drawing on this background include Cold War Orphans (1980), and both his Nebula Award-winning works: The Quickening (novelette, 1981) and No Enemy But Time (novel, 1982).

During his year in Spain, his mother relocated to South Georgia with Mike’s step-father, Charles Willis, and this influenced his decision to attend the University of Georgia. He received his B.A. in 1967 with Phi Beta Kappa honors, and earned a master's degree in English with a thesis on the poetry of Dylan Thomas (Dylan Thomas' Obscurity: The Legitimacy of Explication, University of Georgia, 1968). He taught English at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School in Colorado Springs from 1968 to 1972, and later at the University of Georgia. In 1969 he married Jeri Ellis Whitaker. They had a son, Jamie, and a daughter, Stephanie Bishop Loftin, the mother of their two grandchildren, who is now a student at Columbia Presbyterian Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.  Jamie, a graphic artist who designed the covers of several of his father’s books, was an instructor of German and Information Technology at Virginia Tech and one of the victims of the mass shooting there on April 16, 2007.

Galaxy, Oct/Nov 1970 / Jack Gaughan

Mike’s first fiction sale was Piñon Fall, a story set in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado, where he was teaching at the time.  Mike calls it “the first story I wrote that I was completely happy with.” It appeared in the October/November 1970 issue of Galaxy for the grand sum of $100 (see An Heir to Homer).  Having his name on the cover with Robert A. Heinlein undoubtedly added more to his spirit than this sum added to his pocket, but, within a few years, he had been published in all of the major genre magazines.  These stories, particularly the 1973 novellas The White Otters of Childhood and Death and Designation Among the Asadi,(competitors in that category on the same Hugo ballot), early on established his reputation in the science fiction field and contributed to his decision to leave to his teaching post at the University of Georgia in 1974 and become a full-time writer.  Since then, he and his family have lived in a restored Victorian home, built in 1895, in the small West Georgia town of Pine Mountain.  This region is the setting for many stories (including the Kudzu Valley stories), and the novels Who Made Stevie Crye? (1984), the first part of Ancient of Days (1985), the parallel universe in The Secret Ascension, or Philip K. Dick Is Dead, Alas (1987), and his 1994 novel, Brittle Innings, which Mike calls his “Southern Gothic World War Two Baseball Novel.”

F&SF, February 1976 / Ron Walotsky

During the early to mid 1970s, Mike wrote a series of stories set in a future Atlanta, including The Samurai and the Willows, later assembled in the collection/mosaic novel Catacomb Years (1979).  The novel A Little Knowledge (1977) is also a part of the same series. Some years later he created a parallel, but contemporaneous, Atlanta which he called “Salonika” for the novel Count Geiger's Blues (1988).  Modern-day Atlanta is featured in the acclaimed stories Within the Walls of Tyre (1978) and Life Regarded as a Jigsaw Puzzle of Highly Lustrous Cats (1991), in the second part of Ancient of Days (1985), and in Unicorn Mountain (1992), which also draws upon his years in Colorado.

A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire / Gene Szafran

In 1975 A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire was published — his first novel, and the first of his several anthropological novels; it was favorably compared to the works of Ursula K. Le Guin, Chad Oliver, and James Tiptree, Jr.   This group of novels also includes Stolen Faces (1977), Transfigurations (1979), and Eyes of Fire (1980), a complete rewrite of his first novel. Even though Mike would examine anthropological issues in later novels, their Earthly settings — prehistoric in No Enemy But Time and modern in Ancient of Days — would set them apart from these earlier “space operas.”

Indeed, if the entire output of Michael Bishop's writing career were to be plotted, a definite arc would disclose itself, one presenting a gradual closing-in from the darkest, remotest regions of the universe to the sunniest streets of his own home town. This multi-dimensional representation would not only be geographical, but, literarily, would move from a focus on invented alien minds to a stronger scrutiny of the depths and complexities of the human heart.