Michael Lawson Bishop is the author of sixteen novels and a wide range of stories, essays, and poems. Though Bishop writes in a variety of modes, much of his work is science fiction and fantasy writing that interweaves satire, comedy, and political commentary. His honors include two Nebula Awards and four Locus Awards—among the top prizes for science fiction. Bishop, who has lived in Pine Mountain, Georgia, most of his adult life, was named to the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2018.
Bishop was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, on November 12, 1945, the son of Lee Otis Bishop and Maxine Matison Bishop. Because his father was in the U. S. Air Force, his family moved often during his childhood. When his parents divorced, he lived mostly with his mother during the school year but spent summers with his father in various locations around the world. Bishop earned his Bachelor of Arts in English in 1967 and Master of Arts in English in 1968, from the University of Georgia (UGA). After teaching in Colorado for four years, he became an instructor in the UGA English department in 1972. His success in publishing stories led him two years later to leave teaching to devote himself full time to writing. Between 1996 and 2012 Bishop was writer-in-residence at LaGrange College. He and his wife Jeri have a daughter, Stephanie. Their son Christopher James “Jamie” Bishop was an instructor of German and aspiring artist who died in the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007. He created the covers for five of Bishop’s books. Since Jamie’s death, Bishop and his wife have been active proponents of gun control legislation.
Although Bishop is mainly known as a novelist, his short fiction represents a considerable achievement, both in the number of stories he has written and in their quality. They have appeared in numerous prominent magazines and journals and have been collected in nine published volumes. His first story, published in 1970, was “Piñon Fall,” a fully mature and accomplished tale about alien invasion that recalls Rod Sterling, Ray Bradbury, and William Faulkner. Best American Short Stories 1985 included his story “Dogs’ Lives”—about dogs, cyborgs, travel to Sirius, and imagination—an unusual honor for a science fiction writer. “The Pile” won the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Short Story of 2008. More recently, a self-aware birdcage narrates the amusing story “Gale Strang,” published in Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine in 2017, about an eccentric woman in a small Southern town who takes in an intersex teen trying to find her way.
Georgia is a frequent setting for Bishop’s fiction, which explores alien landscapes as well as more familiar terrain. Several stories and novels (A Little Knowledge, 1977, and Catacomb Years, 1979) take place in a futuristic Atlanta. Among his more recent work, Other Arms Reach Out to Me (2017) brings together stories set mostly in Georgia. One of them, “Rattlesnakes and Men,” describes a small town that requires its inhabitants to own rattlesnakes—a deliberately unsubtle satire of American gun culture.
Though much of his work incorporates elements of science fiction and fantasy, Bishop’s novels reflect an array of literary influences and traditions. This is true of No Enemy but Time (1982), which won the Nebula Award and is one of his best known novels. The book presents a remarkably realistic account of a young man who travels 2.5 million years in time back to the African past, where he studies and lives with prehistoric hominids. The novel explores the origins of humanity and questions the differences between ancient and modern humans. Bishop revisits these interests in his novel Ancient of Days (1985), in which a prehistoric hominid appears in south Georgia and struggles to assimilate with modern humanity.
The Secret Ascension: Philip K. Dick Is Dead, Alas (1987) exploits the concept of parallel or alternate universes. In 1968 the Tet Offensive and the election of Richard Nixon cause a tear in the “space-time continuum.” Bishop describes an alternative America in which Nixon, serving his fourth term, has turned the country into a totalitarian police state. The novel is essentially comic, riven with irony as it explores this Nixonian dystopia and invites us to compare that reality with our own.
Brittle Innings (1994) blends a number of Bishop’s interests: fantasy, baseball, south Georgia, classic literature, reminiscence, and humor. About a small-town C-level minor league baseball team, the Highbridge Hellbenders, during the 1940s, it traces the career of Danny Boles, who signs with the team as a shortstop and becomes friends with a tall, gangly first baseman named Henry “Jumbo” Clerval. As it turns out, Clerval is the original Frankenstein creature from Mary Shelley’s novel. This novel won the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel for the year.
Other novels by Bishop include A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire (1975, rewritten in 1980 as Eyes of Fire), And Strange at Ecbatan the Trees (1976), Stolen Faces (1977), Transfigurations (1979), Under Heaven’s Bridge (1981, written with Ian Watson), Who Made Stevie Crye (1984), Unicorn Mountain (1990), Count Geiger’s Blues (1992), Would It Kill You to Smile? (1998, a mystery novel co-written as Philip Lawson with Paul Di Filippo) Muskrat Courage (2000, a mystery novel co-written as Philip Lawson with Paul Di Filippo), and Joel-Brock the Brave and the Valorous Smalls (2016, a novel for young readers). Bishop has also published two volumes of poetry and a collection of essays and reviews (A Reverie for Mister Ray, 2005) and has edited seven anthologies of science fiction and fantasy.