Vortex v01n04, April 1977

ISFDB link

Editor, Keith Seddon

Fiction:
The End of All Songs (Part 4 of 4) • serial by Michael Moorcock
Act 1, Scene 3,000,000 and Counting . . . • novelette by J. K. Dixon
The Fall of Xierozogenes • short story by Jocelyn Almond [as by Carol Bewley]

Non-fiction:
Cover • by Eddie Jones
Interior artwork • Eddie Jones, Michelle Robson, Jocelyn Almond, Terry Brace, Richard Glynn Jones
Editorial • by Keith Seddon
And I Type Rather Fast . . . : An Interview with Michael Moorcock • by Mark Ambient
Book Reviews • by John Grubber, Jocelyn Almond
Stop Press . . . Next Issue

The final instalment of The End of All Songs by Michael Moorcock1 starts with two long chapters which are almost entirely taken up with Amelia’s continued attempts to accept her relationship with Jherek and  adjust to life at the End of Time. These matters have previously arisen, and her lack of success in coming to an accommodation becomes even more wearying and joyless here. This material is quite at odds with the rest of the novel, and at times reads like a deranged version of something out of Woman’s Romance (if there is such a magazine).

There is a brief respite from all this in the third chapter, where the Duke of Queens marries Sweet Orb Mace. The idea spreads like wildfire through the denizens of the End of Time and they all join in with enthusiasm, as Jherek finds out:.

Mistress Christia, the Everlasting Concubine, laughed a tinkling laugh, as was her wont. She was surrounded by Captain Mubbers and his men, all dressed in the same brilliant powder-blue she wore, save for strange balloon-like objects of dull red, on elbows and knees. “Lord Jagged rescued them, I gather, and I insisted that they be my special guests. We are to be married, too, today!”
“You — to them all!” said Amelia in astonishment. She blushed.
“They are teaching me their customs.” She displayed the elbow balloons. “These are proper to a married Lat female. The reason for their behaviour, where women were concerned, was the conviction that if we did not wear knee-and elbow-balloons we were — um?”
She looked enquiringly at her nearest spouse, who crossed his three pupils and stroked his whiskers in embarrassment. Jherek thought it was Rokfrug. “Dear?”
“Joint-sport,” said Rokfrug almost inaudibly.
[. . .]
“And we are to be Mr. and Mr. Mongrove-de Goethe!” It was Werther, midnight blue from head to toe. Midnight blue eyes stared from a midnight-blue face. It was rather difficult to recognize him, save for his voice. Beside him lounged in an attitude of dejected satisfaction the great bulk of Lord Mongrove, moody monarch of the weeping cliffs.
“What? You marry? Oh, it is perfect.”
“We think so,” said Werther.
“You considered no one else?”
“We have so little in common with anyone else,” droned Mongrove. “Besides, who would have me? Who would spend the rest of his life with this shapeless body, this colourless personality, this talentless brain . . . ?”
“It is a good match,” said Jherek hastily. Mongrove was inclined, once started, to gather momentum and spend an hour or more listing his own drawbacks.
“We decided, at Doctor Volospion’s fairground, when we fell off the carousel together, that we might as well share our disasters . . .”
“An excellent scheme.” A scent of dampness wafted from Mongrove’s robes as he moved; Jherek found it unpleasant. “I trust you will discover contentment . . .”
“Reconciliation, at least,” said Amelia.
The two moved on.
“So,” said Jherek, offering his arm. “We are to witness three weddings.”
“They are too ludicrous to be taken seriously,” she said, as if she gave her blessing to the proceedings.
“Yet they offer satisfaction to those taking part, I think.”
“It is so hard for me to believe that.”
They found Brannart Morphail, at last, in unusual finery, a mustard-coloured cloak hanging in pleats from his hump, tassels swinging from the most unlikely places on his person, his medical boot glittering with spangles. He seemed in an almost jolly mood as he limped beside My Lady Charlotina of Above-the-Ground (her new domicile).
“Aha!” cried Brannart, sighting the two. “My nemesis, young Jherek Carnelian!” The jocularity, if forced, was at least well-meant. “And the cause of all our problems, the beautiful Amelia Underwood.”
“Carnelian, now,” she said.
“Congratulations! You take the same step, then?”
“As the Duke of Queens,” agreed Jherek amicably, “and Mistress Christia. And Werther and Lord Mongrove…”
“No, no, no! As My Lady Charlotina and myself!” p. 27

Unfortunately, this reversion to the cheerier and more comic aspects of the novel does not endure. In the last chapter Jagged tells Jherek and Amelia that he can send them to the beginning of time so they can live a simpler life. However, they will not have access to Power Rings, and will only live for several generations before dying. They choose to go.

The story finishes with the couple going for a final stroll along a seaside promenade that Amelia creates, before heading for the beginning of time.
An exasperating finish, and a disappointing end to the trilogy.
Act 1, Scene 3,000,000 and Counting . . . by J. K. Dixon is yet another contribution to this magazine from a OSW (one-shot wonder, a writer who only ever published one story in the SF field).

This story has a group of so-called experts descending into a huge underground excavation in England called the Burrow, which is being built to house 20 million people, the residents only coming above ground for work or leisure. I say ‘so-called experts’ as I’m not exactly sure what it is they are meant to do on their survey: they seem to spend their time either data dumping or bickering with each other:

‘I have a theory,’ Dobson declared behind him. ‘I’ve noticed lately that life follows a definite pattern—’
‘Knit one, purl one,’ offered Wilkins from the front, shouting over his shoulder.
‘—which derives from the type of existence we lead.’
‘Tell me mo’, brother Moses!’ said Emma.
The van turned a corner and everyone lurched to one side, righted themselves, swore at Wilkins.
‘Because of the crush of population,’ Dobson continued, ‘none of us has any sense of external privacy. I know this to be true of myself. I never have the time to think clearly and extensively for any great period of time. If I was a research technician this would be fatal, of course. Where would I obtain the information and inspiration to continue my studies?’
‘The Reader’s Digest,’ someone suggested. There was general laughter.
‘What conclusions do you draw, Doctor Freud?’ asked Sarah. Tyce stole a glance at her eyes—they were slightly red in the sockets.
‘I maintain that each of us builds his own world of privacy inside his head, and the outside world becomes nothing more than an incidental affair, a world of scenes, of happenings, which affect our inner worlds only slightly. It feeds us information like computer-tape with which we populate our hallucinations. Experience becomes fragmented, arbitrary, each event a little nugget of fact from which we draw conclusions and add depth to our inner sanctums.’
‘You’re saying that each of us is only part here?’ asked Emma. Her hair fell in a curtain to one side as she cocked her head at the geologist.
‘That’s right. The weight of population, the closeness of our existence, conspire to make us withdraw into ourselves, to fragment our experience of the outside world into units of information to be digested and processed and altered to fit our concept of the world as it exists.’
‘What we have here,’ commented Emma, ‘is a basic lack of understanding.’
‘That’s right, that’s right!’ said Dobson. He was becoming excited. ‘A failure to transmit our basic logic-structures—’
‘What I mean,’ said Emma, ‘is that I don’t understand a word you’re rattling on about.’ p. 17

Running parallel to this is team leader Tyce’s infatuation with one of the woman on the team, Sarah, who is unhappily partnered to someone else but still unavailable.
The climax occurs when (spoiler) a vast re-echoed sound causes the team members to experience hallucinations. Predictably Tyce’s are fantasies, some sexual, about Sarah.

This is overlong, and the interpersonal relationships exhibited by the team are unbelievable due to their wild dysfunctionality. I’d give it some credit for ambition, though (it has a number of New Wave quirks, both stylistic and typographical).

The Fall of Xierozogenes by Jocelyn Almond2 is that rarest of things in this magazine: a story I actually liked. It tells of a nobleman called Morgbraith travelling through the mountains to kill the last dragon. He is accompanied by a barbarian aide who senses his reservations:

‘ ’Tis said,’ Norlan remarked presently, ‘that the Monstrous Thrawn was the deformed offspring of the Dragons: a degenerate, wingless creature, crawling upon the surface of the earth like a worm.’
‘So it is said,’ Morgbraith agreed.
‘And so the Dragons rejected it and disowned it as a child of their noble blood, and cast it out to live alone and wretched in the wilderness.’
‘So it is said,’ Morgbraith assented.
‘The Dragons felt no pity for the weak,’ Norlan observed. ‘Pity is the sentiment of weaklings for weaklings. Men and Dragons do not pity.’ He was silent for a while, then, turning to Morgbraith a face ash grey in the ghastly light, he said gravely: ‘Remember that, Boy.’
And Morgbraith raised his eyes to the grim, grey crags of the mountains and thought of the ancient, solitary creature that he knew to be lurking somewhere in the darkness of the mountains’ shadows: the Dragon which had dwelt there alone, years beyond numbering, the last of his noble race, brooding in the deep caverns of his forefathers. And Morgbraith knew that Norlan knew what he thought, and he said quietly: ‘I shall remember it.’ p. 43

When Morgbraith finally enters the dragon’s cave the encounter does not turn out as he expects. A minor piece, but I rather liked this poignant tale.

This issue’s cover is my favourite of Vortex’s short run, and it surely must be one of Eddie Jones’s best pieces. It makes this issue really look like an SF magazine. There is an unadorned copy of the painting on the rear cover.

The Interior artwork is by some expected names (Eddie Jones, Michelle Robson, and Jocelyn Almond) and some previously unseen here: Terry Brace produces some professional level work for Dixon’s story, and Richard Glynn Jones has a few decorating the interview with Michael Moorcock.
The Editorial by Keith Seddon is another one where he gets into categories and labels again, and he also mentions he is receiving a lot of speculative fiction submissions:

As an Editor I find myself in the position of Intermediary between the Writer and the Reader. The material which is submitted for publication in VORTEX might be divided into three categories; Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction. A large proportion of the material I receive would be placed in this last category, which new form of writing is now superseding the older forms of SF. Much of the new Speculative Fiction I refer to is poorly written. The exploratory nature of it naturally tends towards experimental efforts by amateurs. Nevertheless, there is much of this type of material of an acceptable standard that has been rejected by VORTEX because of our present policy of publishing a variety of types of that which has previously been grouped as SF. It seems that other terms such as ‘Gothic’ and “Surrealistic’ are now needed to apply to styles within the new category of Speculative Fiction which at present is extended to a wide range of literature. p. 1

And I Type Rather Fast . . . : An Interview with Michael Moorcock by Mark Ambient (my memory is that this was a pseudonym for the editor, but I can’t point to anything to confirm this) mostly has Moorcock talking about writing and Jerry Cornelius.

Keith Seddon follows the interview with a sidebar review of The Condition of Muzak, where he manages to say almost nothing about the book other than that it isn’t as good as The English Assassin. He recommends it nevertheless.
There are a couple of pages of Book Reviews by John Grubber and Jocelyn Almond. John Grubber spends most of his panning The Time of the Hawklords by Michael Moorcock & Michael Butterworth, before doing a volte face in the penultimate paragraph:

If you can stagger through the bad grammar, the weak vocabulary and the flagging dialogue of this review, you might be able to stand up to The Time Of The Hawklords.
Despite all its technical faults and its ridiculous plots (or, maybe, because of it) this book is fun to read, and a pleasant way to cure insomnia.
The book proves that The Day Of The Amateur is in no way over. p. 47

Jocelyn Almond is less than impressed with Spock Messiah:

To resurrect an old idea in a new form that lacks the original novelty and enthusiasm is about as satisfying as digging up your grandmother’s grave to see if she would look any fresher in a new dress. I am sure that there are many other Star Trek fans who would agree when I say that if we cannot have Star Trek as it was. we would rather not have it at all than make do with its bastard offspring of poor TV cartoons, stories adapted from the original scripts and uninspiring novels.
Nevertheless Star Trek was and will continue to be a standard. In its heyday its widespread appeal opened up the SF genre to a new and more diverse audience than had previously attempted to explore science fiction. Whilst the nostalgia that surrounds Star Trek remains, books like Spock Messiah will continue to sell, though I’m afraid that this last bandwagon trek through the wild west of Kyros, complete with Red (Kyrosian) Indians is more than enough for me.
There is one consolation: believe it or not, and you probably won’t. Captain Kirk does not get the girl. Is there some mistake, or can it be a genuine attempt to break with the old tradition? It could be that poor old Kirk is just worn out after all these years. p. 48

Stop Press . . . Next Issue promises a lurch towards very traditional SF with its line-up for issue #5. Leading off will be the first part of The Chaos Weapon by (Carnell) New Worlds and New Writings in SF stalwart Colin Kapp. Also appearing will be the known if new-ish writer Terry Greenhough3, and unknown writer Mark Ambient. Also promised is an interview with this month’s cover artist Eddie Jones.

Probably the best issue of the magazine so far.


1. Michael Moorcock provides a short but interesting introduction to the paperback edition of The Dancers at the End of Time, 2003, where he discusses the characteristics of Jherek Carnelian as compared to the other heroes in his multiverse. He goes on to briefly discuss and recommend The British Barbarians by Grant Allen, 1895, which has a time-traveller from the future confronting the social mores of the day.
Before Moorcock gets to all this, he starts with an amusing, self-deprecating anecdote:

This book, a particular favourite of mine, is my homage to the inspired dandyism of our fin-de- siecle, to The Savoy, The Yellow Book, Beardsley, Beerbohm, Dawson, Whistler, Harland and, of course, Oscar Wilde. I had a passion for Wilde and Firbank in my late teens. For a while I took to wearing oddly-cut jackets and trousers, dipping carnations in green ink and dusting my embarrassingly robust features with talc in the hope of looking paler and therefore more interesting.
As a result of this obsession I had the first pair or Edwardian flared trousers (made by Burton) as well as the first high-button frockcoat to be seen in London since 1910. I like to think I suffered a little for my passion and boldly wore my suit where none before dared pose, ignoring all commentary or expressions of amusement, until one day Keith Roberts, author of Pavane, remarked approvingly how in that suit I had the bluff domestic air of a Hamburg Zeppelin commander and irrevocably damaged my romantic self-image. When bell-bottom trousers became the general style, I packed away my suit, laid a symbolic green carnation on top and left it to be eaten by maggots in the same Ladbroke Grove basement which ultimately returned all my best-loved finery to nature and which is still occupied, I believe, by the ghost of Mrs Cornelius.

2. I found out that Carol Bewley was a pseudonym for Jocelyn Almond on Amazon:

There is a short introduction to the story in the book:

The Fall of Xeirozogenes was first published in April 1977 in the fourth issue of a British science fiction and fantasy magazine, Vortex. At the time, I was twenty years of age, and later that year I married the editor, Keith Seddon.
Over the years, many strange rumours about Vortex have spread abroad, most of them absurdly untrue. One of the rumours was that the editor wrote all the stories himself! This is ridiculous, but it is, however, true that there was a shortage of good work available — only about one in a hundred stories submitted to the magazine was of publishable standard, so that it was necessary to augment this slightly. For this reason I wrote The Fall of Xierozogenes and it was published in the magazine under the pseudonym of Carol Bewley, though the illustrations bore my real name. I chose ‘Carol’ because I was a great fan of Lewis Carroll, and still am. ‘Bewley’ was inspired by the stately home, Beaulieu in Hampshire, which I happened to have visited shortly before.

Almond died in 2014, having suffered from chronic rheumatoid arthritis from the age of 25, a condition that resulted in her husband becoming her long-term carer. If you want to know more about her life after this story, I suggest you read Dark Gifts from Black Isis, which is Appendix I in Keith Seddon’s book Another Grief Observed (you can read it through the ‘Look Now’ function on Amazon but, be warned, it is a very bleak account).

3. I recognised Greenhough’s name when I first got this magazine as I had read his previous stories in Science Fiction Monthly, November 1975 (Artist) and Andromeda #1, 1976 (Doll).

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