The New York Times just published a sad but fascinating story about F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, a bizarre, secretive science fiction author who once tortured a neighbor, whose real name no one seems to know and who died in June when he deliberately set his books and papers on fire.
The full account of Gwynplaine's life is a mix of tragic events, made-up stories and sordid details, many of which may not even be true. Here are some excerpts from the article about the man whose first name was (possibly) Fergus but who usually went by the nickname Froggy:
"It was the bizarro death of a man who lived a bizarro life," said Andrew Porter, a Brooklyn writer who was among the first to announce Mr. MacIntyre's demise, on the sci-fi fan blog File 770. "What was his real name? Where was he born? No one knows. Froggy was weird, and his death is just as weird."
"Froggy always presented himself as like an English clubman, an eccentric who might be a time traveler from the 19th century," Mr. Schweitzer, his friend and agent, said. "He was always meeting someone famous in some remote part of the world -- Mother Teresa, Idi Amin -- and you couldn't confirm or deny any of it."
Take, for instance, his gloves, which he said he wore to hide his hands. "He claimed he had a hideous skin condition, but there was also the webbed-fingers story," Mr. Schweitzer said, noting that Mr. MacIntyre had told some people that webbed fingers were the origin of his nickname, and others that it derived from an obscene phrase his father called him. "Other times, he'd claim he had prosthetics," Mr. Schweitzer noted, "and then there was the story about having had his fingernails pulled out by Idi Amin's soldiers while working as a reporter in Africa."
Even his name was manufactured and mysterious: Gwynplaine was the smiling but unhappy character in Victor Hugo's "The Man Who Laughs." He used other aliases -- Timothy C. Allen (taxes) and Paul G. Jeffery (passport) and Oleg V. Bredikhine (magazine subscriptions) -- but never revealed his birth name, though he often recited details of a Dickensian childhood.
On his Web site and in correspondence, Mr. MacIntyre said he was born in Perthshire, Scotland, a twin, with some deformities. He claimed that his parents had wanted to give him up for mercy killing but instead shipped him off to an orphan labor camp in Australia, and that his mother later contacted him to ask if he would donate a kidney to his twin brother. Outraged, he refused.
Mr. Schweitzer described Mr. MacIntyre's "public persona" as "basically a character he invented."
"He was not an outright liar -- he was too good," Mr. Schweitzer said. "But there was nothing about him that you could confirm: not his name, his age, his nationality. Nobody even knew where he lived."
The most sordid story neighbors told about Mr. MacIntyre involved Helene Lapointe, who lived across the hall and whom Mr. MacIntyre would pay to remove bags of garbage. On Sept. 10, 2000, according to Ms. Lapointe, Mr. MacIntyre grabbed her, duct-taped her to a chair and began torturing her and threatening her life.
"He stripped me and buzz-shaved my head and then spray-painted me black -- my whole body," said Ms. Lapointe, who broke free and ran to a friend's house.
Just before dying, he forwarded his copyrights and future royalties to one of his publishers and put out the word that he was extremely depressed and moving to Australia and might not be heard from again. He spoke of suffering from synesthesia, a neurological condition in which the senses are crossed, and said that simply touching certain objects could set off painful feelings.
AFTERWARD, city officials and cleaning crews sifted through the contents of the apartment, which had been flattened into a charred, soggy, hip-high heap. There was a huge collection of esoteric science-fiction books and journals, personal correspondence and drawers full of rejection letters and notices of unpaid taxes. There were countless devices and literature suggesting an encyclopedic array of sexual deviancy.
Some fans rebutted the news in chat rooms, citing a mass e-mail Mr. MacIntyre had sent hours before the fire saying that he had decamped to Australia and let a friend house-sit his apartment -- which seems to have been a ruse.
The medical examiner's office has not officially confirmed the identity of the man who burned to death that day in Apartment C-9. The corpse is "not visually identifiable, from the fire," and there were no dental or other X-rays to help identify the body, said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the office.
The body has remained unclaimed for months, but last Wednesday, Ms. Borakove said that "a relative was recently located, and DNA testing is being conducted to positively identify" the body. She would not say whom, citing privacy policies.
Here's a look at Gwynplaine's writing career from an obituary published by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America:
Froggy, as he was often known, wrote short fiction for magazines such as Weird Tales Analog, Asimov's Science Fiction, Amazing Stories, Absolute Magnitude and Interzone. While primarily known as a short-fiction writer, he also had a wide-ranging career as a novelist, though much of that was as a ghost writer, including at least one Tom Swift novel, The DNA Disaster.
His own novel, The Woman Between the Worlds is a science-fiction that Library Journal called, "Wildly comic, darkly horrific, and surprisingly bittersweet, this quirky novel has a place in most sf and fantasy collections." It is set in 1898 in London and is narrated by a tattoo artist with a highly unusual client -- an invisible woman who wants a full-body tattoo.