From Publishers Weekly
Ben Hecht saw iconoclastic author Fort (1874–1932) as an inspired clown who thumbed his nose at science as well as religion, and Fort's imaginative books exerted a strong influence on science fiction, notably novelist Eric Frank Russell. Stage magic historian Steinmeyer (Hiding the Elephant
) captures Fort's wry humor, skepticism and wildest notions. Surviving fragments of Fort's unpublished autobiography illuminate his strict Albany, N.Y., childhood. In 1892, Fort became a New York City reporter and editor before his world travels and 1896 marriage. He was befriended by Theodore Dreiser, who shepherded Fort's short stories and first novel into print. Fort also pored through diverse journals to document the paranormal and anomalies rejected by the scientific establishment. Shoe boxes packed with 40,000 slips of paper served as a basis for The Book of the Damned
(1919), which saw print because Dreiser threatened to leave his publisher unless the company also published Fort. As more compilations of oddities appeared, Fort developed a cult following, and the so-called Forteans issued journals long after their leader's death. Steinmeyer has emerged from the archives with a wonderful, prismatic portrait of the man who once wrote, To this day, it has not been decided if I am a humorist or a scientist. 8 pages of b&w photos. (May)
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Fort is generally remembered, when he is, as a crank’s crank and a skeptical satirist, but Steinmeyer seems to argue for a more nuanced view; after all, Fort greatly influenced conspiracy maven Robert Anton Wilson, among other notables. Relying heavily on Fort’s correspondence, Steinmeyer details Fort’s relationship with Theodore Dreiser, who served as Fort’s champion and protector, a post necessitated by Fort’s far-reaching criticism and contrarian reactions to the thoughts and writings of other luminaries of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. In his career, Fort wrote about victims of spontaneous combustion, introduced the concept of teleportation, and indulged in conspiracy theories and UFO yarns. Crank or delineator of modern concepts of the supernatural, he is a figure worthy of rediscovery. Esteemed not only by Dreiser, Fort was also dismissed by the New York Times and called a damnable bore by H. G. Wells, thus achieving a certain balance of critical appraisal in his own time. Steinmeyer’s comprehensive work may allow readers to draw their own conclusions and certainly will afford them much entertainment. --Mike Tribby