Damon Knight

Damon Francis Knight (September 19, 1922 – April 15, 2002) was an American science fiction author, editor and critic. He is the author of “To Serve Man“, a 1950 short story adapted for The Twilight Zone.[2] He was married to fellow writer Kate Wilhelm.

Knight was born in Baker, Oregon in 1922, and grew up in Hood River, Oregon. He entered science-fiction fandom at the age of eleven and published two issues of a fanzine entitled Snide.[3]

Knight’s first professional sale was a cartoon drawing to a science-fiction magazine, Amazing Stories.[4] His first story, “The Itching Hour”, appeared in the Summer 1940 number of Futuria Fantasia, edited and published by Ray Bradbury.[1] “Resilience” followed in the February 1941 number of Stirring Science Stories, edited by Donald Wollheim.[1] An editorial error made the latter story’s ending incomprehensible;[5] it was reprinted in a 1978 magazine in four pages with a two-page introduction by Knight.[1]

At the time of his first story sale, he was living in New York, and was a member of the Futurians.[6] One of his short stories describes paranormal disruption of a science fiction fan group, and contains cameo appearances of various Futurians and others under thinly-disguised names: for instance, non-Futurian SF writer H. Beam Piper is identified as “H. Dreyne Fifer”.

Knight’s forte was the short story; he is widely acknowledged as having been a master of the genre.[7] To the general public, he is best known as the author of “To Serve Man“, a 1950 short story adapted for The Twilight Zone.[2] It won a 50-year Retro-Hugo in 2001 as the best short story of 1950.[8] Knight also became well known as a science fiction critic, a career which began when he wrote in 1945 that A. E. van Vogt “is not a giant as often maintained. He’s only a pygmy who has learned to operate an overgrown typewriter.”[3] He ceased reviewing when Fantasy & Science Fiction refused to publish a review.[9] These reviews were later collected in In Search of Wonder.[6]

Algis Budrys wrote that Knight and William Atheling Jr. (James Blish) had “transformed the reviewer’s trade in the field”,[10] in Knight’s case “without the guidance of his own prior example”.[9] The term “idiot plot“, a story that only functions because almost everyone in it is an idiot, became well-known through Knight’s frequent use of it in his reviews, though he believed the term was probably invented by Blish.[11] Knight’s only non-Retro-Hugo Award was for “Best Reviewer” in 1956.[8]

Knight was the founder of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA),[12] cofounder of the National Fantasy Fan Federation,[13] cofounder of the Milford Writer’s Workshop,[14] and cofounder of the Clarion Writers Workshop.[15] The SFWA officers and past presidents named Knight its 13th Grand Master in 1994 (presented 1995). After his death, the associated award was renamed the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award in his honor.[8][6][16] The Science Fiction Hall of Fame inducted him in 2003.[17]

Until his death, Knight lived in Eugene, Oregon, with his second wife, author Kate Wilhelm.[18] His papers are held in the University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archive.

Books in order of publication:


Short stories and other writings

Literary criticism and analysis

  • In Search of Wonder (1956) (collected reviews and critical pieces)
  • Creating Short Fiction (1981) (advice on writing short stories)
  • Turning Points (editor/contributor: critical anthology)
  • Orbit (editor)
  • The Futurians (1977, memoir/history)

Short story collections

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