John Shirley was born in Houston, Texas and grew up largely in the vicinity of Portland, Oregon. His earliest novels were Transmaniacon and Dracula In Love for Zebra Books, and City Come A-Walkin, a proto-cyberpunk novel, for Delacorte. He also wrote the A Song Called Youth cyberpunk trilogy for Warner Books, re-released as an omnibus in 2012 by Prime Books. 2012 saw his noir-flavored novel of apocalypse, Everything Is Broken released by Prime Books. In 2013 PM Press released Shirley's New Taboos. In October 2013 HarperCollins/Witness released his novel about Conan Doyle in the afterlife, Doyle After Death; Skyhorse Publications brought out his historical novel about Wyatt Earp, Wyatt in Wichita, in August 2014.
Besides having written numerous books John Shirley was lead singer of the punk band Sado-Nation, in 1978, and 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. Shirley has also written 18 song lyrics recorded by Blue Öyster Cult. His one nonfiction book is Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas (Penguin/Tarcher). He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife, Micky Shirley. John Shirley has three adult sons, twins Byron and Perry and their younger brother Julian. Byron is a yacht captain and yacht broker; Perry is a journalist, teacher and artist. Julian is a Bay Area-based underground rapper and producer of hip-hop, trap, chiptune and various other electronic music genres as well as a professional computer technician. He is sometimes called as Juji or Young Bios.
John Shirley is known for his cyberpunk science fiction novels, such as the A Song Called Youth trilogy, City Come A-Walkin' and Black Glass, as well as his suspense (as in his novels Spider Moon and The Brigade), horror novels and stories (e.g., Demons and Crawlers and the story collection Black Butterflies) and horror film work. The A Song Called Youth cyberpunk trilogy, Eclipse, Eclipse Penumbra and Eclipse Corona, has been slated for a new edition by Dover Books in 2017. His tie-in novels include the best-seller Bioshock: Rapture. 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. He was nominated for an Emmy in the Prime Time Animation category for an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Authors David Agranoff and Nancy Collins and editor/critic Paula Guran 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, 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.
Shirley's cyberpunk novels are City Come A-Walkin and the A Song Called Youth trilogy. Avant-slipstream critic Larry McCaffery called him "a postmodern Edgar Allan Poe." Bruce Sterling has cited Shirley's early story collection Heatseeker as being a seminal cyberpunk work in itself. 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 in an introduction to Shirley's City Come A-Walkin. Shirley's 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. 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 has written "tie-in novels" and novelizations, such as Constantine, based on the Keanu Reaves movie, and the best-seller BioShock: Rapture,(Tor, 2011), a novel providing a prequel to the BioShock videogame story and Halo: Broken Circle. He also wrote the 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 Shirley's tendency to create fantasy entertainment which is also political satire, or spiritual allegory. E.g., 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. His novel of dark urban fantasy set in a slightly futuristic New York, Bleak History, was published by Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books in 2009. In August 2011 Underland Press published In Extremis: The Most Extreme Stories of John Shirley and in January 2012 Prime Books published his near future apocalyptic political allegory, the novel Everything Is Broken. His novel about Arthur Conan Doyle in the afterlife, Doyle After Death, was released by HarperCollins/Witness in October 2013. Shirley's apocalyptic and surreal novel High, based on his early novel Three-Ring Psychus, has been re-released by Start Books as an e-book.
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.
In 2013 Black October Records released a two-CD compilation of Shirley's own recordings, Broken Mirror Glass: The John Shirley Anthology - 1978-2012 ...
Also in 2013, Shirley teamed with Ubisoft to release a companion novel to release alongside the game Watch Dogs, entitled Watch Dogs: Dark Clouds. One version of the ebook will be a standard digital book, but the other will be a totally upgraded interactive story with videos and images.
2014 saw the release of John Shirley's first historical novel, Wyatt in Wichita, a novel of the young Wyatt Earp.
Other recent novels are Halo: Broken Circle and Doyle After Death.
John Shirley received several nominations and won the following awards.Bram Stoker Awards – for horror works, voted by Horror Writer's Association professional membership (2 nominations; 1 win)
1999: "What Would You Do For Love?" (Black Butterflies: A Flock on the Dark Side) – long fiction – nomination
1999: Black Butterflies: A Flock on the Dark Side (Mark V. Ziesing) – collection – winner
Locus Awards – for science fiction, fantasy and horror works, polled by readers of Locus Magazine (5 nominations)
1981: City Come A-Walkin (Dell) – science fiction novel – 24th place
1989: In Darkness Waiting (NAL Onyx) – horror novel – 13th place
1990: Heatseeker (Scream/Press) – collection – 10th place
1999: Black Butterflies: A Flock on the Dark Side (Mark V. Ziesing) – collection – 22nd place
2000: Really, Really, Really, Weird Stories (Night Shade Books) – collection – 17th place
International Horror Guild Awards – for horror works, juried (6 nominations; 2 wins)
1998: "Cram" (Wetbones #2) – short story – winner
1999: Black Butterflies: A Flock on the Dark Side (Mark V. Ziesing) – collection —winner1999: "What Would You Do For Love?" (Black Butterflies: A Flock on the Dark Side) – long fiction – nomination
2001: Demons (Cemetery Dance) – long story – nomination
2002: "Her Hunger" (Night Visions 10) – long fiction – nomination
2004: Crawlers (Del Rey) – novel – nomination
Interzone Readers Poll – for stories published in Interzone magazine, polled by readers (1 nomination)
2014: "The Kindest Man in Stormland" (Interzone #249) – story – 8th place
Dracula in Love (1979)
City Come A-Walkin' (1980)
Three-Ring Psychus (1980)
The Brigade (1981)
Several books in the Traveler series of post-apocalyptic men's adventure novels (as D. B. Drumm)
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 Penumbra (1988)
Eclipse Corona (1990)
In Darkness Waiting (1988)
Kamus of Kadizar: The Black Hole of Carcosa (1988)
A Splendid Chaos (1988)
Wetbones (1991). A supernatural serial killer novel featuring creatures called the Akishra who take over human minds and bodies.
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)
Doom (2005, novelization of the film version of the Id Software computer game)
Constantine (2005, novelisation of the film featuring the DC/Vertigo comicbook character)
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)
John Constantine, Hellblazer: Subterranean (2006)
The Other End (2007)
Alien: Steel Egg (2007)
Black Glass (2008)
Bleak History (2009)
BioShock Rapture (2011)
Borderlands: The Fallen (2011)
Everything Is Broken (2011)
Borderlands: Unconquered (2012)
Doyle After Death (2013)
Wyatt in Wichita (2014)
Grimm: The Icy Touch (2013)
Watch Dogs //n/Dark Clouds (2013)
Halo: Broken Circle
New Noir (1993)
The Exploded Heart (1996)
Black Butterflies (1998)
Really, Really, Really, Really Weird Stories (1999)
Darkness Divided (2001)
Living Shadows (2007)
In Extremis: The Most Extreme Short Stories of John Shirley (2011)
Freezone (Rock On: The Greatest Hits of Science Fiction & Fantasy, Prime Books 2012)
Meerga (Altered States, Indie Authors Press, 2014)
Solid (Outside a graphic anthology of new horror fiction, with art by Gabriel S Moses, Ash Pure and Topics Press 2017)
Gurdjieff - An Introduction to his Life and Ideas (2004) ISBN 1-58542-287-8
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - "Visionary"
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - "The Manhattan Project", "The Invasion", "The Moons of Thalos 3" and "The Ever-Burning Fire"
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. A two-cd compilation of select recordings by John Shirley and his collaborators was brought out by the European label BLACK OCTOBER RECORDS in December 2012. The album is called BROKEN MIRROR GLASS. Recordings run through several musical eras, from 1979 - through 2012.
Shirley's current band, which performs in and around Portland, Oregon, is called The Screamin' Geezers.