George Michelsen Foy
(also known as Georges Foy and G.F. Michelsen) is a French-American novelist and magazine journalist. He has published 12 novels, seven under his own name and five under the nom de plume
G.F. Michelsen. Until February 2010, the author kept secret the Michelsen persona’s real identity (see below).
The Michelsen books are:
- Mettle (University Press of New England, 2007)
- The Art and Practice of Explosion (UPNE, 2003)
- Hard Bottom (UPNE, 2001)
- Blues for Nansen (Schneekluth Verlag, 1993)
- To Sleep with Ghosts (Bantam Doubleday, 1992)
The George Foy books are:
- Last Harbor (Bantam Doubleday, 2001)
- The Memory of Fire (Bantam Doubleday, 2000)
- Contraband (Bantam Doubleday, 1998)
- The Shift (Bantam Doubleday, 1996)
- Challenge (Viking Press, 1988)
- Coaster (Viking Press, 1986)
- Asia Rip (Viking Press, 1984)
A non-fiction work, Zero Decibels,
under the compound name George Michelsen Foy, is due to be published by Scribner/Simon & Schuster in May 2010.(1)
Foy’s essays, reviews, and criticism have appeared in Harper's Magazine, Rolling Stone, Poets & Writers, Men's Journal,
and other first-tier publications; The Notre Dame Review
has published his short fiction. He has been teaching advanced creative writing at New York University since 1998. A nonfiction work, Music in Stone: Sculpture Gardens of the World,
was published in 1986 by Scala Press.
Foy received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in literature in 1994-95. The Art and Practice of Explosion
received honorary mention in ForeWord
magazine’s Best Novel of the Year competition in 2004. The Shift
was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award in literary science fiction in 1997.
According to an essay on pseudonyms in Poets & Writers
, Foy (writing as Michelsen) believes that one reason an author opts for a secret literary personality has to do with preserving artistic freedom against a publishing establishment that seeks to pigeonhole the artist for commercial reasons.(2) Foy/Michelsen apparently struggled from the late 1990s on to keep his dual literary identity hidden. However, a press release from UPNE revealed the stratagem.(3) In fact, the evidence has been present since 1992 for anyone who compares jacket photos from Foy's earliest novels (Asia Rip
, for example) with photos on the Michelsen books. These clearly show Michelsen and Foy to be the same person.
The Michelsen novels address corporate and political trends in the here and now. Hard Bottom
describes the struggles of a commercial fisherman on Cape Cod whose landscape and livelihood are being wiped out by policies beyond his control. To Sleep With Ghosts
concerns corruption and poverty in an east African country (Foy specialized in African politics at London School of Economics). Mettle
’s flawed hero captains an oceangoing freighter whose crew is breaking up under pressure from their corporate bosses, while a flaw in its steel threatens the structure of the ship itself.
The Michelsen books are, however, far less political fictions than classic quest novels. Foy’s subjects seek personal integrity, harmony with nature, and...whether they’re PhD-level scientists or blue-collar laborers...a hint of what human consciousness is all about. Like the fantasy novels, they probe at the interaction between memory and perception and between moral choice and organic compulsion.
Foy, according to his books' biographies, has worked as an underground laborer, a factory hand, and "chief cream puff transporter in a cookie factory." He has also been a commercial fisherman in New England and an officer on British merchant marine ships. Reviewers have noted the verisimilitude in his seafaring scenes as well as in portraits of his native Cape Cod. According to some reviewers, at least, this realism constitutes one of the pleasures of reading his fiction.
While the Michelsen novels are best described as literary fiction, the Foy books are futuristic adventures that commentators have described as belonging to the "cyberpunk" school. They are not, however, light reading, and it’s difficult to call them “genre.” Foy earned a BS from LSE and worked at Business Week
during the 1990s; his last three fantasy titles extrapolate from contemporary global economic conditions. They “[posit] two main ideas: 1) that the world has been taken over by huge business and governmental organizations that are actual, living, breathing life-forms; and 2) that the only way to escape becoming slaves to these life-forms is to construct a web of ‘nodes,’ black-market communities that espouse no official rules but aim to achieve a barter economy independent of the ‘Megorg’ dominating most of the rest of the world.”(4) The protagonists of these novels are smugglers, anarchists, artists, or some combination of the three.
Cultural phenomena get fast-forwarded just to the point of satire. Reviewing Contraband
on www.sfsite.com, Victoria Strauss wrote: “Commercials hawk earwax deodorant; graves are equipped with video so the dead don’t miss their favorite shows; people suffer from TeleDysFunction, a serotonin imbalance triggered by overexposure to electronic media.”(5) The TDF sufferers whom Foy invented in 1998 stagger through the novel, hung head to foot with telecom devices and unable to interact directly with other people — nicely prefiguring today’s smartphone and iPod addicts. But Foy makes clear that these distractions exist to mask real pain. Explaining a mutual friend’s existential depression, one character says to another: “We are failed spacemen. That’s what’s wrong. . . . We’ve lost the earth, and we can’t reach anything else. Wouldn’t you be unhappy?”
As a professor of creative writing at NYU, Foy/Michelsen earns his living in part by explaining fiction’s “rules” to his students; as a novelist, apparently, he knows how to break them. In an essay about literary theory (writing as Georges Michelsen) he notes that when he edited The Art and Practice of Explosion
, the book seemed to him to come to a different conclusion from what he’d intended while writing it. The secret it revealed was different from the one he thought he’d hidden. The novel had assumed, as the cliché has it, a will of its own.
The essay encapsulates Foy/Michelsen’s literary theory: “I hold a belief that every novel constitutes a story-world, built by the author in collaboration with the reader. . . . Much of the thrill of reading comes from the fact that a well made story-world . . . is as uncontrollable as Frankenstein’s creation. It’s an unguided missile, an independent tool. It will and must work in ways its author cannot control.”(6)