Boris Vian

By: Tosh Berman
March 10, 2011

Novelist, musician, playwright, jazz critic, actor, poet, engineer, songwriter, A&R man at a record label, and the social magnet for the Saint Germain des Pres postwar scene, BORIS VIAN (1920-59) didn’t live for long on this planet, but he had a perfect sense of life. He was: a man who lost his father in his early 20s (like me) and was treated by his family as if he was an ill child (due to heart problems); a boy who grew up in his family’s guest house, because of the worldwide economic depression, and was childhood friends with Yehudi Menuhin, whose family rented most of Vian’s home. (Vian’s 1947 science fiction novel, Foam of the Daze, captures the author’s early experience of one’s rooms shrinking when things turn sour.) At a time when Paris’s jazz fiends were either on the side of the Trads (New Orleans jazz) or the Hard Bop, Vian played Trad yet wrote rave reviews of the Be-Bop scene. He was deeply interested in machinery, which helps explain why he loved firearms despite his passionate hatred for war; one of his greatest fictional inventions (in Foam of the Daze) was le pianococktail, which mixes the perfect drink if you play the proper melody on it. Some of his novels (e.g., the ones he wrote as “Vernon Sullivan”) are the darkest of the dark, while others twist the imagery of lightness with depictions of a tough, scary world. In a black-and-white postwar world, Vian was a perfect technicolor flame torch.

GOLDEN-AGE SCI-FI at HILOBROW: Golden Age Sci-Fi: 75 Best Novels of 1934–1963 | Robert Heinlein | Karel Capek | William Burroughs | E.E. “Doc” Smith | Clifford D. Simak | H.P. Lovecraft | Olaf Stapledon | Philip K. Dick | Jack Williamson | George Orwell | Boris Vian | Bernard Wolfe | J.G. Ballard | Jorge Luis Borges |Poul Anderson | Walter M. Miller, Jr. | Murray Leinster | Kurt Vonnegut | Stanislaw Lem | Alfred Bester | Isaac Asimov | Ray Bradbury | Madeleine L’Engle | Arthur C. Clarke | PLUS: Jack Kirby’s Golden Age and New Wave science fiction comics.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Rick Rubin.

READ MORE about members of the New Gods generation (1914-23).


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