John Christopher, a prolific British science fiction writer whose “Tripods” trilogy became a perennial favorite among young American readers and inspired a popular BBC television series shown on PBS in the 1980s, died on Friday at his home in Bath, England. He was 89.
The cause was complications of bladder cancer, his daughter, Rose Youd, said.
Mr. Christopher’s best-known work includes two other trilogies for young adults, “The Sword of the Spirits” and “The Fireball,” and 13 novels for adults. He sometimes wrote four novels a year and went through pen names like typewriter ribbons. He also wrote as Stanley Winchester, Hilary Ford, William Godfrey, William Vine, Peter Graaf, Peter Nichols and Anthony Rye. His real name was Christopher Youd.
Each pseudonym telegraphed the genre of the work in the reader’s hands, he explained in an autobiographical essay, whether science fiction, comedy or thriller.
“A reader should know what he might reasonably expect under a particular label,” he wrote.
The financial demands of a growing family set the blistering pace of his output of books and short stories in the early years, he said. He wrote most of his stories in a single draft, until Susan Hirschman, an editor at his New York publishing house, Macmillan, cajoled him into rewriting and polishing the young-adult novels that later became the “Tripods” series. He frequently acknowledged her contributions to his books’ success.
“The original version of ‘The White Mountains’ was probably just about worth publishing,” he wrote in the preface to a 2003 anniversary edition of the first book in the trilogy, which first appeared in 1967. “But would it, without Susan, have remained in print and worthy of a commemorative relaunch, three and a half decades after its original publication? I’ve no doubt about the answer to that.”
Christopher Samuel Youd was born on April 16, 1922, in the village of Knowsley, in Lancashire. His father, Samuel, was a factory worker. His mother, Harriet, the head cook at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, had been widowed three times and had three children by her previous marriages when the couple wed. Christopher, their only child, entered the Royal Signals corps during World War II.
Married in 1946, Mr. Youd published a dozen novels while working at an office job in London, writing in the evenings and on weekends. The success of a 1956 novel, “The Death of Grass” (retitled “No Blade of Grass” in the United States), allowed him to give up his day job.
Mr. Youd’s first marriage ended in divorce. His second wife died before him. He is survived by five children from his first marriage; in addition to Rose, they are Nicholas, Elizabeth, Sheila and Margret.
Mr. Christopher, who said he had been influenced by Aldous Huxley and Arthur C. Clarke, the masters of 20th-century dystopian science fiction, was widely admired for the moral vision in his stories about aliens — some humanoid, some vegetable — that take over the world. In the “Tripods” novels, for instance, the aliens make life quite comfortable for the earthlings they enslave by surgically implanting mind-controlling brain caps. Only those who resist suffer.
“The apple which tempts my characters is the one that will remove the knowledge of good and evil,” he told an interviewer in 1984. “I suppose it’s something of a reversal of the conventional Eden story: Freedom of thought is perhaps the greatest good, and needs to be fought for and sacrificed for.”
By whatever standards his work is judged in the distant future, Mr. Christopher is guaranteed a certain immortality. Paying homage to science-fiction authors was a tradition among writers for the original “Star Trek” television series. In one episode, “Tomorrow Is Yesterday,” shown on Jan. 26, 1967, a 20th-century air force pilot who is beamed up to the Starship Enterprise is named John Christopher.