Mark Twain
Biographical notes by Blake Wilfong

"Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution--these can lift at a colossal humbug--push it a little--weaken it a little, century by century, but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand."

Mark Twain was the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), probably America's greatest, most famous writer and humorist. He is best known for the novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).

Twain's experiments in speculative fiction are often difficult to classify. He liberally mixed themes of science fiction (e.g., time travel, utopia, dystopia, interstellar flight, microscopic universes, nuclear power) and fantasy (e.g., God, Satan, angels, magic, dreams). A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), for example, magically hurls a modern mechanic into the distant past, then realistically explores the advantages of his knowledge of future technologies. However, a few of Twain's stories are clear-cut SF; for instance, in Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894) the familiar characters Tom, Huck, and Jim cross the Atlantic in a mad scientist's high-tech airship.

Twain was raised in Hannibal, Missouri, a Mississippi river port. His pen name derived from his time as a steamboat pilot, in whose vocabulary the call "Mark twain!" indicated a water depth of two fathoms--safe for steamboats. He was also at various times a Confederate soldier, Nevada silver prospector, lecturer, typesetter, publisher, correspondent, and (of course) novelist. A celebrity during his later years, Twain received an honorary doctorate from Oxford University in 1907. The dates of his birth and death coincided with the appearance of Halley's comet.

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