New Worlds #169, December 1966


Echo Round His Bones (Part 1 of 2) • serial by Thomas M. Disch ♥♥
Conjugation • short story by Christopher Priest
The White Boat • novelette by Keith Roberts ♥♥♥
Lost Ground • novelette by David I. Masson ♥
The Total Experience Kick • short story by Charles Platt ♥♥
Tomorrow is a Million Years • reprint short story by J. G. Ballard ♥♥

Cover • G. Price Sims
Interior Artwork • James Cawthorn, uncredited
Editorial: Death of Cordwainer Smith • by Michael Moorcock and Langdon Jones
Up the Flagpole • book reviews by Hilary Bailey
Brief Reviews • book reviews by Michael Moorcock [as by WEB (William E. Barclay)]

One of the things that cursed SF covers of the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies was the psychedelic image. I suspect that the reason these were used was partially to do with the zeitgeist but more likely was predominantly economic: it is cheaper to pay a photographer who had accidentally put his coffee mug1 down on a photographic image (see the cover above) than a real life artist. Coming late to these I generally found them ugly and dated (all this hippy stuff was in its death throes by the time I was a teen, with punk shortly to put it out of its misery).

Around half of the fiction wordage in this issue is provided by the first half of Echo Round His Bones by Thomas M. Disch. This story doesn’t do itself any favours in the first couple of chapters, where it introduces Captain Hansard and his platoon as they prepare for a matter transmitter (‘manmitter’) jump to a base on Mars. Apart from instilling a general lack of arousal in the reader, Disch keeps on butting in with a ponderous authorial presence:

This captain, who will be the hero of our history, was a man of the future—that is to say, of what would seem futurity to us, for to the captain it seemed the most commonplace present. Yet there are degrees of living in the future, of being contemporary there, and it must be admitted that in many ways the captain was more a man of the past (of his past, and even perhaps of ours) than of the future. p.6

In witnessing the foregoing remarkable events, it may have occurred to the reader to wonder how he would himself have reacted in Hansard’s circumstances, and if this reader were of a sceptical temperament he might very well question the plausibility of Hansard’s so-sudden and so-apt adjustment to the enormous changes in the world about him. p.33

The story finally gets going in chapter three where we find the manmitter jump has created a doppelganger of Hansard and his men in a sub-reality on Earth. Hansard barely manages to escape ambush by the doppelgangers that have been created by previous manmitter jumps. He flees the transmission facility.
Most of the rest of this part is given over to Hansard’s struggle to survive, alone and without water or food. With its sub-reality that mostly doesn’t interact with ours, and its domed cities and imminent nuclear war, most of this has the feel of an OK early Philip K. Dick novel.
At the end, having managed to obtain food and water and information with some degree of difficulty, he is rescued by Bridgetta. She is the wife of the inventor of the manmitter, Dr Panofsky…

Conjugation by Christopher Priest seems to be a copy of one of J. G. Ballard’s concentrated stories and is full of fragments like this:

End of sponsor’s announcement. Fade.
Fade-in credits, (“mescaline passionate” Pt. III). Theme music. Fade-out music and credits.
Scene: Hotel bedroom. Mescaline in bed, her back to the camera. Door (r.) and Francesca entrance. Bathrobe loose across her breasts.

       MESCALINE (appreciative glance at F.)
This heat . . . intolerable.

Drink? Only cold thing here, water. Wonder-worker on whisky.
(Her hand at her robe. Slow movement of release.)
       MESCALINE (movement from bed to F.)

I have no idea what this is about but at least it is mercifully short.

The White Boat by Keith Roberts is the sixth ‘Pavane’ story, one that was written a few months after the others. I suspect the reason it ended up here in New Worlds rather than in SF Impulse was that Roberts was by now the full-time Associate Editor of that latter title and presumably thought it inappropriate to publish his own work.
Although this is, I think, the weakest of the ‘Pavane’ cycle it is still a fairly good story of Becky, an adolescent fisher girl who watches the White Boat from the shore, a ship that symbolises to her an escape from her drab village life. At one point she swims out to it and is rescued from drowning. She ends up staying on the ship and goes on a roundtrip to France. There is some evocative description of life afloat:

A dozen times she moved desperately as the crew ran to handle the complication of ropes. The calls reached her dimly, stand by to go about, let the sheets fly; then the thundering of the jib, scuffle of feet on planking as White Boat surged onto each new tack. Changed the angle of her decking and the flying sun and cloud shadows, the stinging attack of the spray. The horizon became a new hill, slanting away and up; Becky looked into racing water where before she had seen the sky. p.85

There was a little sea toilet, in a place too low to stand. She closed the lid and pumped, saw the contents flash past through the curving glass tube. The sea opened her stomach, brought up first food then chyme then glistening transparent sticky stuff that bearded her chin. She wiped and spat and worked the pump and sicked over again till the sides of her chest were a dull pain and her head throbbed in time it seemed with the thumping of the waves. p.85-86

Back in her village, after having been put ashore, she (spoiler) eventually reveals a heretical electronic item stolen while onboard the White Boat to the village Priest. A trap is set for the ship.
If I have a minor criticism it is that I found a couple of Becky’s actions quite stupid and irritating and, even though they are consistent with those of an adolescent, it blights the tale a little. That said, still the best story in the issue.

The other novelette is Lost Ground by David I. Masson. This story starts off with a married couple and their two kids at breakfast. In the background is a weather report on the radio:

“A system of depressions and associated troughs will follow one another in quick succession over Scotland and the north,” it said. “Insecure, rather sad feeling today and tomorrow, followed by short-lived griefs, some heavy, some stormy, with cheerful intervals. By midweek the griefs will be dying out, rather sooner in the south.” p.96-97

The story proceeds for the next few pages with this idea of mood weather and the associated pharma that people in this world take to counter the phenomenon. A short while later one of the children is involved in a car accident and dies, and the couple go away on a trip.
At this point it becomes a completely different story as the couple go to a bar and overhear stories about dogs and the like going missing in a specific location. As the husband works for the BBC they decide to visit and the same happens to them but they are separated. The rest of the story involves the husband in the future with a team that investigates what they call the ‘poikilochronism’. This phenomenon involves several time zones all intersecting in one area. Parts of this, such as the interface between the different time zones, aren’t that well-explained but the story moves along well enough.
This one is a bit of a disappointment as the separate parts of the story are interesting and original but they don’t cohere into a unified piece.

The first of the two short stories is The Total Experience Kick by Charles Platt. This is about the near-future music industry and a machine that is able to amplify and feedback emotion at concerts. This idea is unpacked against the background of a not entirely convincing story about the inventor’s unrequited love for the daughter of his boss. The other short story is a reprint, Tomorrow is a Million Years by J. G. Ballard (Argosy, October 1966). This tells of Glanville and his wife Judith who have escaped to an alien planet. They have landed at the edge of a lake where ‘time-winds’ blow and bring strange visions:

Rolling slowly, the great ship crested silently through the sand, its hull towering above them as if they had been watching from a skiff twenty yards off its starboard bow. As it swept by with a faint sigh of sand, the whisper of the time-winds, Glanville pointed to the three men looking down at them from the quarter-rail, the tallest with stern eyes and a face like a biscuit, the second jaunty, the third ruddy and pipe-smoking.
“Can you see them?” Glanville shouted. “Starbuck, Stubb and Flask, the mates of the ‘Pequod’ Glanville pointed to the helm, where a wild-eyed old man gazed at the edge of the reef on which he seemed collision-bent. “Ahab…!” he cried in warning. But the ship had reached the reef, and then in an instant faded across the clinker-like rocks, its mizzen-sail lit for a last moment by the dying light.

The above gives us some idea what a story by Ballard set in the world of Moorcock’s The Ice Schooner would have read like…
Later, a policeman called Thornwald turns up to arrest Glanville but the latter temporarily escapes. Interesting writing and imagery but the resolution doesn’t entirely satisfy.

As to the non-fiction, the editorial starts with comments about the death of Paul Linebarger (Cordwainer Smith) and also on an upcoming article by Brian W. Aldiss on Wells. The rest is about the recent reader survey which found that the readership was an unexpectedly diverse group, with nearly all commenting on J. G. Ballard:

The most contradictory response of all was that to the work of J. G. Ballard. Ballard is at the same time the most popular and the most unpopular writer in British science fiction. In the survey he received sympathetic insight and misunderstanding. It can be seen that an appreciation of Ballard is connected in no way with educational qualifications, but appears to take place entirely on an emotional level. p.3

The commentary on the survey finishes with:

This survey, too, has made it clear that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the current condition of science fiction. Lack of ideas, poor writing, cliché thinking and lack of real imagination, are all charges that have been levelled at certain kinds of modern science fiction.
Our readers, clearly, have very strong ideas on science fiction, and have felt the need to express them. Often, the forms returned were filled out in remarkable detail, and we have received many long letters expanding on the answers. We should like to extend our thanks to all those who have expressed their interest in New Worlds. We feel that any form of literature that can evoke such a detailed and enthusiastic response is in a very healthy state of growth and development. p.138

I suspect that the dialogue between the editors of New Worlds and its readership that played out in its pages over many issues is one of the (many) reasons why this phase of the magazine was so well remembered years later.

Hilary Bailey’s Up the Flagpole is less a review column and more a group of capsule reviews. I like the reviews by both her and the Brief Reviews by Michael Moorcock: they are frank about the shortcomings they see but measured with it—unless they feel the need to put the boot in as in this one by Bailey:

Shepheard Mead’s The Carefully Considered Rape of the World (Macdonald, 25s.) has a plot obviously based on that of The Midwich Cuckoos—i.e., in it, men from space impregnate simultaneously every woman in the world (short on ovarian biology here). The result is unamazing from start to maternity ward. Enjoyable whimsies about convents full of pregnant nuns and secluded girls’ schools full of expectant adolescents—haven’t laughed so much since the last lynch-party. The book was recently printed in condensed form in a saucy man’s mag. Mead is the author of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Good luck to him in his new venture. p.155

Moorcock has his moments as well:

Nebula Award Stories 1965 (Doubleday, $4.95). Frothy stories voted best and runners up by Science Fiction Writers of America. The emphasis is on style rather than subject matter or quality of idea. Toughest and most original, containing the best but least pyrotechnical writing is The Drowned Giant by Ballard. Frothiest is prize-sweeping Repent Harlequin, Said the Ticktock Man by Ellison. The Saliva Tree is Aldiss at play, lacking the quality of Aldiss at thought. Zelazny’s two pieces are He Who Shapes and The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth, with well-sustained mood and lots of atmosphere but saying very little. Computers Don’t Argue by Dickson says “look out, the machines may control us one day”—weary, but well done and almost a relief to find something to bite on however stale. American critics, it seems, are concentrating too much on style—not enough on subject matter and form. One is reminded of the worst of fin de siecle work. Is this the way U.S. sf will end?
When will the richly decorated balloon pop? Bah! p.156

A strange line of attack from an editor who was promoting J. G. Ballard’s concentrated stories, which were a more extreme experiment with form that any of the above were with style.

Overall a fairly middling issue.

  1. On second examination that coffee-mug ring may be an exhaust gasket.

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