FRED BATT: A Life in Science Fiction

by James K. Linwood

Frederick William Batt was born in Derby, in Derbyshire, which at the time was known as being situated at the gateway to the North, but later as merely a place on the A46. He moved out to live in Lincoln, in Lincolnshire, which was on the A10, and not a gateway to anywhere, except perhaps the Fens, and why should they need a gateway, being a large tract of watery fenlands (ibid). beside it would only leak, unless constructed of finest quality steel and equipped with state-of-the-art rubber seals, possibly designed by NASA, but probably, in the interests of safety, not, and who was going to fund that? He spent two months there when he was twelve or possibly thirteen. Only he was counting. Either way he wouldn't have been allowed a liquor licence. He had one or two eccentric habits.

He loved tapping barometers, for instance, without any real idea of why he was doing so, and always gave the one in his porch a quick tap every time he left to do whatever he had to do, which could include running numbers and picking up money for the mafia, and possibly slaughtering pigs. He never tickled Aborigines. That was just a vile rumour spread by Peter Nicholls, no not the playwright.

Fred (as those who knew him intimately were wont to call him, including his bank manager, and manicurist) loved quince jelly, but since he didn't know how to make it and since no commercially available brands were on the market at the time, it only led to a deep frustration, reflected in later life by a tendency to encamp outside supermarkets with a placard reading: 'Where were you when I wanted Quince Jelly?'. This is British jelly of course, as apposed to American jelly, which is in fact jam.

In the immediate post-war years (though which war was never certain) Fred Batt also wrote several science fiction novels for the American pulp publisher Trollope & Schuster.

There was the controversial 'Jesus on Neptune', and the rite-of-passage trilogy 'Mars the Green. Red and Yellow Planets', in which sundry adolescents, later to be played in the movie version by Hollywood brats Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, Keanu Something, Zack Braff, Keenan Wynne, Lollie Tollhurst, Someone Rider, Diastol Trophy and Edgar Woods, faced up to the demands of their developing sexuality in a small hermetic colony on the planet, where they couldn't even cop off in the back seat of a Cadillac.

In 1964 Fred Batt decamped to the U.S.A, arriving after a two-week cruise on the Queen Mary, and thankfully not the Lusitania, which had left at the same time not only in an alternate universe, but in a different time-stream (which is a good trick) only to be sunk by a German U-Boat. This annoyed Woodrow Wilson no end, who made a speech about babies disappearing open- mouthed beneath the waves (among other things) and was consequential in the U.S.A. joining the war (although which was uncertain). But since this was in an alternate universe, with an alternate time-line we can safely switch back to the main narrative thrust, which is:

His publisher was there to meet him on arrival but was so repulsed by his physical appearance (even though Fred had pre-warned him about his facial disfigurement, sustained when he had fallen face-first into an acid bath whilst under the influence of Stella Artois, a renowned Belgian whore) he threw a bowl of chicken soup (with noodles) in Fred's face. Fred responded by firing several blinis and some matzo balls at his assailant with a sling-shot, or catapult as its known in English. A steward in Third Class who knew too well the animosity with which immigrants to the U.S.A were sometimes received had given this to him.

In was an inauspicious start to his career as a freelance writer in the American market, but a good one as an unmercenary hit-man (believe it or not there are hit men who follow the profession not for the money, but for the job satisfaction and a sense they are contributing to the moral well-being of society).

Batt would later be reconciled with his publisher, although he had to wear a paper bag over his head, and bring a selection of roasted nuts, every time he visited him.

He even managed by skilful bargaining involving venison sausages, to renegotiate his rate of pay up from 1 cent per word to 1.3 cents per word, which probably paid for the nuts. I remind you of the famous publishing adage: 'if you pay writers peanuts they write like monkeys'. Unfortunately in the case of many publishers, and even some readers, especially those of Fay Weldon, this is considered to be Not A Bad Thing.

Batt contributed several novels to the famous T&S Doubles series, a marketing ploy in which two novels were bound back to back and upside down, which confused simple-minded readers enormously because they had to buy one novel they didn't want for every novel they did want, even if it was by the same author, using a pseudonym, which it frequently was, for contractual reasons. Batt later confessed that some of these novels took days to write.

In 1967 Batt entered into correspondence with Philip K. Dick, whom he had long admired and had in fact once met at the office of Trollope & Schuster, but had failed to recognize, because Dick, suffering from a bout of paranoia, wore a goldfish bowl on his head, I mean over his head, not sitting on top of it, which would have required balancing skills Dick was frankly not up to (largely due to his ingestion of vast amounts of abusive substances, like chicory and oatmeal). Later they met frequently in Dick's hometown of Normal, Illinois, to arm-wrestle and exchange tales about conjunctivitis from which they both suffered. They even collaborated on a novel called 'Do Paranoids Dream of Layered Fudge Cake' in which the main protagonist was a secret agent in an alternate reality where androids disguised as celebrity chefs kept the population drugged with their confectional concoctions. This was published as a T&S Double back-to-back with 'Gobble Hounds of Ursa Major' by the up and coming young writer Thomas M. Schid, who would later to go on to find fame as the inventor, but unfortunately not the patentee, of the combined Egg Two Sausage & Bacon cast iron frying skillet, a boon to short order cooks the world over.

In 1984 Batt's novel 'Crabs' broke the all-time record for all book sales ever, although no one was really sure what it was about or what genre it belonged to.

Steven Spielberg bought the rights and attempted to film it but even he was baffled and could only produce 8 minutes of total footage, and those were mostly gratuitous scenes of Kate Winslett posing nude for the Impressionist painter Monet (which he would later use in his feature-length cartoon 'Monet') before having a nervous breakdown. Spielberg, that is, not Kate Winslett.

Later the artist Manet would sue all parties involved because he believed a a vowel had been inadvertently transcribed from the original script treatment, thus denying him millions in royalties. (NB. Manet's pen-name was John Brosnan.)

The Japanese anime director Yukkio Kurasawa later managed to commission a script (written by John Brosnan) and produce a full length feature, (featuring a sound-track by Curtis Stigers) but committed hari-kiri after first destroying the master reel as an abomination. I think we all probably owe him a debt of gratitude.

Batt's advances were sufficient for him to move to Malibu where he lived for several years in a beach-front villa next to that owned by Woody Allen, with whom he later became good friends, but not that good, I don't want any misunderstanding here, since Woody is notoriously litigious. Another near neighbour was Norman Teflon who had made his fortune by inventing a fabulous material which would prevent objects sticking to cooking surfaces, and which he called 'grease-proof paper'. He was second-only in the New York Times list of 100 Wealthiest Inventors and Weirdos and Social Misfits, to Job Quigly who had invented an inert chemical solution which could dissolve wheel-claps.

In later life he was often taken to Task, in Wyoming, by his grand-children, to see the Clint Eastwood Museum of Organ-Utans. There was no real reason for this, and his grand-children are the first to admit they didn't know why they did it. Possibly they'd smoked too much dope, possibly they'd saved up too many coupons from the Graham Crackers that had a special 'Visit Clint Eastwood's Museum of Orung-Utans' promotion, which ran from January 1994 to February 1994. Who knows?

Anyway he didn't much care for Wyoming ('too dry' he remarked in his diaries 'and 'smells of monkeys.'). He died in Penury, which I believe is somewhere in Iowa. Once a year upon the anniversary of his death someone comes to lay daffodils on his grave, but that person is a local madman called Maurice Coombs who does the same for every single inhabitant of that graveyard.

It keeps him occupied.