John Shirley

John Shirley was born in Houston, Texas and grew up largely in the vicinity of Portland, Oregon. He was lead singer of the post-punk funk-rock band Obsession, on Celluloid Records, while living in New York City and Paris, France, in the 1980s, and was later in the band the Panther Moderns. He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay area.


The influential and eclectic John Shirley is known for his cyberpunk science fiction, as well as his suspense (as in his novels Spider Moon and The Brigade), horror novels and stories, and horror film work. His best known script work is the film The Crow, for which he was the initial writer, before David Schow reworked the script. He also wrote scripts for Deep Space Nine and Poltergeist: The Legacy. Some cite his intense, expressionistic early horror novels, such as Dracula In Love and Cellars as an influence on the splatterpunk movement in horror, and the subsequent “bizarro” movement. Appreciation of John Shirley as an author of dark fiction was amplified by a January 2008 The New York Times review,[1] by critic Terrence Rafferty, of Shirley’s story-collection Living Shadows which said in part:

It’s a greatest-hits album spanning a few decades of astonishingly consistent and rigorously horrifying work. . . Shirley’s great subject is the terrible ease with which we modern Americans have learned to look away from pain and suffering. The opening line of his novel “Demons” states the theme succinctly: “It’s amazing what you can get used to.” . . .Maybe the best story in this superb collection is a rapt little piece called “Skeeter Junkie,” in which a young heroin addict first begins to enjoy the feeling of the mosquito feeding on his arm, then starts to identify with it and then, as the drugs ooze through his veins, somehow becomes it and finally uses the “exquisite” flying bloodsucker to transport him to the apartment of his comely but standoffish downstairs neighbor. It’s a horror story, I guess, but it’s also funny, weirdly erotic and, in a way that horror almost never is, tragic.

According to literary critic Paul T. Riddell

Just as the Sex Pistols weren’t the first “punk” band but acted as the catalyst for the whole movement, John Shirley catalyzed the whole cyberpunk movement. A Portland native who fronted a punk band while writing science fiction as a day job, Shirley managed to inspire most of the other talents with his vicious, balls-forward writing style… Unfortunately, most of the science fiction community wasn’t ready for Shirley’s wolverinelike attitudes, preferring Gibson’s cyber fantasies to Shirley’s punk riffs. His ambitious Eclipse series saw print in the late eighties but never really caught on. City Come A-Walkin’ and The Exploded Heart, the first two releases from Brown’s Eyeball Books, are a revised reprint of one of Shirley’s earlier books and a collection of his early short stories respectively, they reveal the genesis of the prototypical cyberpunk tale. City in particular does this: the first glimmerings of the cyberpunk stereotype of the mirrorshades-wearing street survivor appear with City, a living personification of a city’s consciousness. City, the book, starts with Stuart Cole, the owner of the popular nightclub Club Anesthesia, and his importance to City as a knight protecting San Francisco from its enemies. While ending a bit hurriedly, it emphasizes the punk aspects of the genre, as well as nailing home the thought that being a knight isn’t always glorious… [2]

Shirley’s most significant cyberpunk novels are City Come A-Walkin and the Eclipse (A Song Called Youth) Trilogy. Avant-slipstream critic Larry McCaffrey called him “the post-modern Poe.”[citation needed] Bruce Sterling has cited Shirley’s early story collection Heatseeker as being a seminal cyberpunk work in itself. Indeed, several stories in Heatseeker were particularly seminal, including Sleepwalkers, which, in just one example, probably provided the inspiration for William Gibson’s “meat puppets” in Neuromancer. Gibson acknowledged Shirley’s influence and borrowing ideas from Shirley in his introduction to Shirley’s City Come A-Walkin. Shirley’s recent story collection, made up of increasingly bizarre stories, the whimsically titled Really, Really, Really, Really Weird Stories has developed a cult status.

William Gibson, the author of Neuromancer, collaborated with Shirley on short stories — as did fellow cyberpunks Bruce Sterling and Rudy Rucker. Shirley’s lyricism, wealth of ideas and imagination, crossover pioneering, and street-level honesty have been praised by other writers including Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Roger Zelazny, Marc Laidlaw, and A. A. Attanasio. His more surreal work, as in A Splendid Chaos showed how it was possible to describe the indescribable with a paradoxical believability and impeccable internal logic no matter how bizarre the subject matter. Unlike many “street” flavored writers, Shirley’s personal experiences as a recovering drug addict and punk rocker brought real verisimilitude to his darker, urban-tinctured writing.

In recent years Shirley was for a time lured by high advances into writing “tie in novels” and novelizations, but is rumored to be returning to form with an apocalyptic, politically charged novel, The Other End which, according to the author’s website, takes the apocalypse away from the Christian Right and gives Judgment Day to Liberals to do with as they please. This reflects his tendency to create fantasy entertainment which is also political satire, or spiritual allegory. Eg, Demons, in which it is discovered that industry has deliberately caused deaths by cancer as part of a vast secret program of human sacrifice. 2007 saw the release of a new story collection, Living Shadows, from Prime Books. In 2007 he signed with Simon and Schuster to write a novel of dark urban fantasy set in a slightly futuristic New York, entitled Bleak History.

Shirley’s work ranges in tone from the surreal to the grittily naturalistic to the nightmarish. He is also a songwriter and singer, having fronted numerous punk bands, including the New York band Obsession, who were recorded by Celluloid Records. He has written lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult, such as several songs on the album Heaven Forbid.


Shirley’s short story collection Black Butterflies won the following awards:

Selected Works


  • Transmaniacon (1979)
  • Dracula in Love (1979)
  • City Come A-Walkin’ (1980)
  • Three-Ring Psychus (1980)
  • The Brigade (1981)
  • Cellars (1982)
  • Several books in the Traveler series of post-apocalyptic men’s adventure novels (as D. B. Drumm)[3]
  • Several books in the Specialist series of mercenary/adventure men’s adventure novels (as John Cutter)
  • A Song Called Youth Series (also known as Eclipse Trilogy):
    • Eclipse (1985)
    • Eclipse Penumbra (1988)
    • Eclipse Corona (1990)
  • In Darkness Waiting (1988)
  • Kamus of Kadizar: The Black Hole of Carcosa (1988)
  • A Splendid Chaos (1988)
  • Wetbones (1991)
  • Silicon Embrace (1996)
  • “Demons” (2000, novella)
  • “…And the Angel with Television Eyes” (2001, novella)
  • “The View From Hell” (2001, novella)
  • “Her Hunger” (2001, novella)
  • Spider Moon (2002)
  • Demons, a new version with sequel novel Undercurrents (2002)
  • Crawlers (2003)
  • Constantine (2004, novelisation of the film featuring the DC/Vertigo comicbook character)
  • Doom (2005, novelization of the film version of the Id Software computer game)
  • John Constantine, Hellblazer: War Lord (2006, based on the comic book character, not the movie version)
  • Predator: Forever Midnight (2006, Predator series tie-in)
  • Batman: Dead White (2006, tie-in with Batman Begins)
  • John Constantine, Hellblazer: Subterranean (2006)
  • The Other End (2007)
  • Alien: Steel Egg (2007)

Short story collections

  • Heatseeker (1989)
  • New Noir (1993)
  • The Exploded Heart (1996)
  • Black Butterflies (1998)
  • Really, Really, Really, Really Weird Stories (1999)
  • Darkness Divided (2001)
  • Living Shadows (2007)



Shirley wrote most of the lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult albums Heaven Forbid and Curse of the Hidden Mirror as well as the songs “Demon’s Kiss” and “The Horsemen Arrive” from their soundtrack Bad Channels. Their 1972 song “Transmaniacon MC” was the inspiration for the book Transmaniacon.

In 2000, Shirley recorded several tracks with Tony and Paul DeStefano of Too Hip For The Room, and also appears on their Blue Öyster Cult tribute album Don’t Fear The Remake.

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