February 10, 1953 |
Houston, Texas, USA
John Shirley (born 10 February 1953) is an American fantasist, author of noir fiction, and science-fiction writer. Shirley is a prolific writer of novels and short stories, TV scripts and screenplays who has published over 30 books and 10 collections. His novels include Everything is Broken, The Other End, Bleak History, Crawlers, Demons, In Darkness Waiting, and seminal cyberpunk works City Come A-Walkin, and the A Song Called Youth trilogy of Eclipse, Eclipse Penumbra, and Eclipse Corona. His collections include the Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild award-winning Black Butterflies, Living Shadows: Stories: New & Pre-Owned and In Extremis: The Most Extreme Stories of John Shirley. He also writes for screen (The Crow) and television. As a musician Shirley has fronted his own bands and written lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult and others.
John Shirley was born in Houston, Texas and grew up largely in the vicinity of Portland, Oregon. His earliest novels were Transmaniacon and Dracula In Love for Zebra Books, and City Come A-Walkin, a proto-cyberpunk novel, for Delacorte. He also wrote the A Song Called Youth cyberpunk trilogy for Warner Books, re-released as an omnibus in 2012 by Prime Books. Besides having written numerous books he was lead singer of the punk band Sado-Nation, in 1978, and the post-punk funk-rock band Obsession, on Celluloid Records, while living in New York City and Paris, France, in the 1980s, and was later in the band the Panther Moderns. Shirly has also written 18 song lyrics recorded by Blue Öyster Cult. His one nonfiction book is Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas (Penguin/Tarcher). He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife. John Shirley has three sons, twins Byron and Perry, now 27 and Julian, a Bay Area-based underground rapper and recording artist, sometimes called "the jooj", 25 years old. He is married to Michelina Shirley.
John Shirley is known for his cyberpunk science fiction novels, such as the A Song Called Youth trilogy, City Come A-Walkin' and Black Glass, as well as his suspense (as in his novels Spider Moon and The Brigade), horror novels and stories (e.g., Demons and Crawlers) and horror film work. His best known script work is the film The Crow, for which he was the initial writer, before David Schow reworked the script. He also wrote scripts for Deep Space Nine and Poltergeist: The Legacy. Authors David Agranoff and Nancy Collins and editor/critic Paula Guran cite his intense, expressionistic early horror novels, such as Dracula In Love and Cellars as an influence on the splatterpunk movement in horror, and the subsequent "bizarro" movement. Appreciation of John Shirley as an author of dark fiction was amplified by a January 2008 The New York Times review, by critic Terrence Rafferty, of Shirley's story-collection Living Shadows which said in part:
It’s a greatest-hits album spanning a few decades of astonishingly consistent and rigorously horrifying work. . . Shirley’s great subject is the terrible ease with which we modern Americans have learned to look away from pain and suffering. The opening line of his novel “Demons” states the theme succinctly: “It’s amazing what you can get used to.” . . .Maybe the best story in this superb collection is a rapt little piece called “Skeeter Junkie,” in which a young heroin addict first begins to enjoy the feeling of the mosquito feeding on his arm, then starts to identify with it and then, as the drugs ooze through his veins, somehow becomes it and finally uses the “exquisite” flying bloodsucker to transport him to the apartment of his comely but standoffish downstairs neighbor. It’s a horror story, I guess, but it’s also funny, weirdly erotic and, in a way that horror almost never is, tragic.
Shirley's cyberpunk novels are City Come A-Walkin and the A Song Called Youth trilogy. Avant-slipstream critic Larry McCaffery called him "a postmodern Edgar Allen Poe." Bruce Sterling has cited Shirley's early story collection Heatseeker as being a seminal cyberpunk work in itself. Several stories in Heatseeker were particularly seminal, including Sleepwalkers, which, in just one example, probably provided the inspiration for William Gibson's "meat puppets" in Neuromancer. Gibson acknowledged Shirley's influence in an introduction to Shirley's City Come A-Walkin. Shirley's story collection, made up of increasingly bizarre stories, the whimsically titled Really, Really, Really, Really Weird Stories has developed a cult status.
William Gibson, the author of Neuromancer, collaborated with Shirley on short stories—as did fellow cyberpunks Bruce Sterling and Rudy Rucker. Shirley's lyricism, wealth of ideas and imagination, crossover pioneering, and street-level honesty have been praised by other writers including Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Roger Zelazny, Marc Laidlaw, and A. A. Attanasio. His more surreal work, as in A Splendid Chaos showed how it was possible to describe the indescribable with a paradoxical believability and impeccable internal logic no matter how bizarre the subject matter. Shirley's personal experiences as a recovering drug addict and punk rocker brought real verisimilitude to his darker, urban-tinctured writing.
In recent years Shirley has written "tie-in novels" and novelizations, such as Constantine, based on the Keanu Reaves movie, and the best-seller Bioshock: Rapture,(Tor, 2011), a novel providing a prequel to the Bioshock videogame story. He also wrote the apocalyptic, politically charged novel, The Other End which, according to the author's website, takes the apocalypse away from the Christian Right and gives Judgment Day to Liberals to do with as they please. This reflects his tendency to create fantasy entertainment which is also political satire, or spiritual allegory. E.g., Demons, in which it is discovered that industry has deliberately caused deaths by cancer as part of a vast secret program of human sacrifice. 2007 saw the release of a new story collection, Living Shadows, from Prime Books. His novel of dark urban fantasy set in a slightly futuristic New York, Bleak History, was published by Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books in 2009. In August 2011 Underland Press will publish In Extremis: The Most Extreme Stories of John Shirley and in January 2012 Prime Books published his near future apocalyptic political allegory, the novel Everything Is Broken.
Shirley's work ranges in tone from the surreal to the grittily naturalistic to the nightmarish. He is also a songwriter and singer, having fronted numerous punk bands, including the New York band Obsession, who were recorded by Celluloid Records. He has written lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult, such as several songs on the album Heaven Forbid.
Shirley's short story collection Black Butterflies won the following awards:
- The Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association
- International Horror Guild Award
- Selected as one of the best books of 1998 by Publishers Weekly
Selected works 
- Transmaniacon (1979)
- Dracula in Love (1979)
- City Come A-Walkin' (1980)
- Three-Ring Psychus (1980)
- The Brigade (1981)
- Cellars (1982)
- Several books in the Traveler series of post-apocalyptic men's adventure novels (as D. B. Drumm)
- Several books in the Specialist series of mercenary/adventure men's adventure novels (as John Cutter)
- A Song Called Youth Series (also known as Eclipse Trilogy):
- Eclipse (1985)
- Eclipse Penumbra (1988)
- Eclipse Corona (1990)
- In Darkness Waiting (1988)
- Kamus of Kadizar: The Black Hole of Carcosa (1988)
- A Splendid Chaos (1988)
- Wetbones (1991)
- Silicon Embrace (1996)
- "Demons" (2000, novella)
- "...And the Angel with Television Eyes" (2001, novella)
- "The View From Hell" (2001, novella)
- "Her Hunger" (2001, novella)
- Spider Moon (2002)
- Demons, a new version with sequel novel Undercurrents (2002)
- Crawlers (2003)
- Doom (2005, novelization of the film version of the Id Software computer game)
- Constantine (2005, novelisation of the film featuring the DC/Vertigo comicbook character)
- John Constantine, Hellblazer: War Lord (2006, based on the comic book character, not the movie version)
- Predator: Forever Midnight (2006, Predator series tie-in)
- Batman: Dead White (2006, tie-in with Batman Begins)
- John Constantine, Hellblazer: Subterranean (2006)
- The Other End (2007)
- Alien: Steel Egg (2007)
- Black Glass (2008)
- Bleak History (2009)
- BioShock Rapture (2011)
- Borderlands: The Fallen (2011)
- Everything Is Broken (2011)
- Borderlands: Unconquered (2012)
Short story collections 
- Heatseeker (1989)
- New Noir (1993)
- The Exploded Heart (1996)
- Black Butterflies (1998)
- Really, Really, Really, Really Weird Stories (1999)
- Darkness Divided (2001)
- Living Shadows (2007)
- In Extremis: The Most Extreme Short Stories of John Shirley (2011)
- Gurdjieff - An Introduction to his Life and Ideas (2004) ISBN 1-58542-287-8
Shirley wrote most of the lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult albums Heaven Forbid and Curse of the Hidden Mirror as well as the songs "Demon's Kiss" and "The Horsemen Arrive" from their soundtrack Bad Channels. Their 1972 song "Transmaniacon MC" was the inspiration for the book Transmaniacon.
A two-cd compilation of select recordings by John Shirley and his collaborators will be brought out by the European label BLACK OCTOBER RECORDS in December 2012. The album is called BROKEN MIRROR GLASS. Recordings will run through several musical eras, from 1979 - through 2012.
See also 
Further reading 
- Bioshock: Rapture, by John Shirley (2011) ISBN ISBN 0-7653-2484-9
- John Shirley's official website
- John Shirley myspace music site, 5 songs
- MP3s of his rock music
- AvPGalaxy Interview with John Shirley
- AvPGalaxy Interview #2 with John Shirley
- "Is the Internet Good for Writers?"