John Boston & Damien Broderick: Building New Worlds, 1946-1959: The Carnell Era (Location 159 of 5623)
The Mill of the Gods • novella1 by Maurice G. Hugi
Solar Assignment • short story by John Russell Fearn [as by Mark Denholm]
Knowledge Without Learning • short story by John Russell Fearn [as by K. Thomas] ♥♥
Sweet Mystery of Life • short story by John Russell Fearn ♥
The Three Pylons • novelette by William F. Temple ♥♥♥+
White Mouse • short story by John Russell Fearn [as by Thornton Ayre]
Cover and internal artwork • by R. A. Wilkin
Editorial • by E. J. Carnell
This month marks the seventieth anniversary of the most important and iconic of British SF magazines, New Worlds. This magazine had originally begun as a fanzine under two editors, Maurice K. Hanson and E. J. ‘Ted’ Carnell, and there had been one abortive attempt at publishing it professionally just as WWII was starting. It wouldn’t be until after the war ended, when a demobbed Ted Carnell met Stephen Frances of Pendulum Publications, that a professional magazine would see the light of day.
Even so, its initial publication history was precarious. This first issue actually ended up having two covers, a result of the magazine only selling 3000 of its initial 15000 copy print run due to wholesaler apathy.2 The second issue of the magazine had a better cover and sold out due to a concerted effort by Pendulum Publications, so the covers were stripped off the remaining issues of #1 and a redesigned version of the second cover applied.3 Having cleared this hurdle, Pendulum Publications subsequently went bust after the third issue appeared. It was only when a group of fans and professionals formed Nova Publications and started publishing the magazine from the fourth issue onwards that matters settled down.4
As for this first issue, all the artwork is by R. A. Wilkin. The cover is very contemporary but rather flat and amateurish looking in execution. His internal artwork was better but it is obvious that he was essentially a comic-book artist.5
The internal contents are very basic. Apart from the inside and back cover advertisements (for ‘Stafford Herbs/Rheumatism’, ‘Ambitious Engineers’ and ‘Sleeping Hairs that cause Baldness’) there is the artwork, fiction, a half-page editorial and the contents page.
It is 7¼” x 9¾” in size and has 64pp. plus covers.
The fiction was about as bad as I had been expecting, although there was one pleasant surprise. Unfortunately the opening story, The Mill of the Gods by Maurice G. Hugi, isn’t it. A company called Mills Inc. starts flooding the world with cheap, superior products, starting for some reason with marmalade and syrup, and then progressing to automobiles. When this starts affecting the world’s economy, a MI5 team are sent to investigate.
After breaking into one of Mills Inc.’s factories, and discovering a strange room with a metal plate on the floor and no other entrances, they end up in a parallel world. Much evasion and capture ensues before they find out (spoiler) that this world has been taken over by those pesky Nazis—that’s why they couldn’t find the missing ones at the end of the war! The subsequent interrogation scenes are the campest I have ever read:
“I said before, I’m a very unimportant individual in the scheme of things— just an interrogation officer”—again the prodigious wink—“and as such I cannot answer your questions. And you won’t answer mine? Too bad! The High Council will be very cross. I shouldn’t try and tempt them to lose their temper. The Lunar Lords are really very terrible when aroused. No, please, don’t think I’m trying to fool you. Oh, dear, it makes me feel quite faint when I think of some of the tortures they inflict! Really, my dear Lawrence, don’t antagonise them, whatever you do. It’s too, too terribly dangerous!” p.15
Needless to say the agents escape and get back to this world and inform the authorities. Pretty dreadful but at least it moves along.
Next up is the first of four short stories by John Russell Fearn under various names.6 Solar Assignment concerns two journalists cruising around Pluto looking for a newsworthy story (as you do) when they spot a glass structure below. As they investigate they see a human body through one of the windows. After breaking in they are captured by crystalline aliens who have taken possession of frozen human bodies. They are then taken to a huge underground cave where there is then some backstory about a lost human colony before the journalists break free and leg it. The ensuing fight scene provides a striking image, and the only good thing in this fairly crude pulp story:
Furious, desperate, Len clenched his fist and drove it with stunning force into the blank, granitelike face in front of him. A cold, sickly chill went through him as he found the power of his punch had knocked the man’s head right off! No blood flowed: the body was as hard and brittle as though it had been immersed in liquid air—but there was something revolting about seeing the head go flying, to smash into a thousand splinters on the floor. It had been like hitting a plaster statue. Len hesitated, appalled—and his horror rose still higher when the man did not drop, but continued to bar the way! Of course! The truth flashed through Len’s mind. The creature did not rely on the dead man’s nerves, arteries and muscles. He merely used them, could do without them if need be. Instinct was his sole guide. The missing head made no difference as long as the body could move. . . .
The leader came hurrying up and fired his gun. By a fluke he missed—and by that time the two men were through the doorway, pursued by the weirdest assortment of damaged men that ever came out of a nightmare. p.28
They (spoiler) eventually kill the aliens by accidentally turning on the aircon. Well, repressurising the cave actually. This is on a level with the pulpier SF stories I’ve read in Amazing and Weird Tales.
Knowledge Without Learning is a rather better effort. This is a about a man who can obtain knowledge from others when he is in close proximity with them, the problem being that when he does so the donor loses that information. This manifests itself problematically when he absorbs a bus driver’s ability to drive and the bus crashes. At this point he meets a young woman psychologist who deduces his ‘kink’ and wants to study him. He is having none of that and matters go from bad to worse.
If you can ignore the protagonist’s lack of ambition (he thinks it cool to absorb the ability of a bus driver) and his stupidity (having caused a bus crash he almost does the same again on a locomotive) this is OK, although the ending is rather perfunctory.
Sweet Mystery of Life is a Weird Tales-type tale that is about a man who ends up growing a half-human/half-plant alien woman in his conservatory. They eventually find out that she is from a moon of Venus and she later agrees to give him the secrets of atomic power and space travel so their two races can work together. Spliced into this story is Idiot Jack, one of the villagers who observes the woman growing—and singing—in the conservatory. It does not end well. Rather unlikely, but one star for the clever last paragraph. And while I remember, I think this was the second story in the issue where one of the characters has a ‘man-servant’. Different times….
Fearn’s fourth and last story in this issue is White Mouse, which is a load of mawkish old rubbish about the first time an Earthman marries a Venusian woman and takes her to Earth. Initially she is homesick, then three months later the oxygen differential makes her seem drunk; finally (spoiler), our Sun’s radiation—which she wasn’t exposed to on cloudy Venus—causes brain damage and kills her. Nice last line, though:
She was silent. A wistful smile was fixed on her small mouth. Her eyes were wide open, unblinking. Stupidly I followed their direction towards the open window, where the curtains stirred restlessly.
Over the sunset was a star, a glowing planet, brilliant and alone. p.64
I rather liked The Three Pylons by William F. Temple. This novelette is in that sub-genre where current technology or knowledge is discovered by people at a considerably earlier stage of development. The events occur in the distant past, on a huge island that was subsequently destroyed by volcanic action.
After an opening scene where the King of Argot’s guard all commit suicide to follow him into the afterlife, we are introduced to his heir. Rodan is a nasty piece of work who has been left a letter by his father, who wants him to conquer the other kingdom on the island, Mag:
My wish was this: That I should become Emperor of the World, King of Argot and Mag together. But the path to that greater throne is hard. Hard to build, harder to follow. And the Gods decree that there shall be no other path for he who would conquer.
Before I began even to build, my spirit quailed. I knew I had not the qualities to tread that path. My dream of Lordship of the Two Kingdoms was just a dream—for me. But in you, my son, I perceive the qualities of the true conqueror, and therefore over many years and with much labour I have builded the path, for you. That you may gain the prize for our line.
The first necessary step is that you climb to the top of the White Pylon, the Pylon of Life, which stands without the Palace, and learn what is written upon the top thereof. That will place your feet firmly on the beginning of the road. p.45
Rodan promptly ignores Benevo, his advisor, and sets off to climb the White Pylon, a huge four-sided needle-like building with bars coming out its side. He arrives at the top as it is getting dark and spends a cold night curled up on the small platform. Once dawn breaks he reads the message and discovers the location of his next challenge.
After travelling to the Red Pylon he finds it smooth-sided and impervious to his sword so he returns to his palace and consults Oelin, his soothsayer and astronomer. Over the course of the next two challenges (spoiler) he discovers gunpowder (which he uses to blow up the Red Pylon) and builds a hydrogen balloon (to get to the top of the Blue Pylon, which is surrounded by water). He then combines both these technologies and sets off to blow up the mountain fort of the Mags and gain access to their kingdom. However, his adviser Benevo, who appears a number of times in the story with his attempts to moderate the King’s behaviour, has other ideas….
This isn’t bad at all, and is head and shoulders above the rest.7
The only non-fiction is a short Editorial by Ted Carnell about the possibilities of tomorrow. There are a couple of passages that are very much of their time:
With one great discovery now within our grasp—the secret of atomic power—Man can reach to the stars, or return to the ooze from whence he crawled long eons ago. He can write his name in letters of fire across the heavens or obliterate it entirely from the scroll of Time itself. p.22
We also suggest that to ensure receiving your copy of the next “New Worlds,” on sale in approximately eight weeks time, you place an order with your news dealer now. Paper restrictions and other factors will still make it difficult for everyone to obtain a copy. p.22
Now that is what I call ‘austerity Britain’.
An issue for completists really, but possibly worth checking out for the unreprinted Bill Temple novelette.
- ISFDB lists The Mill of the Gods as a novelette, but a quick cut and paste shows 17900 words.
- Ted Carnell wrote two essays about the birth of the magazine: The Magazine That Nearly Was (Vision of Tomorrow #9, June 1970) and The Birth of New Worlds (Vision of Tomorrow #12, September 1970). These are quoted extensively in Vultures from the Void (revised & expanded edition) by Philip Harbottle.
- This was the second cover the magazine had:
- New Worlds at SFE.
- One of R. A. Wilkin’s interior illustrations:
- ‘Fearn responded to my urgent request for material by sending over one quarter of a million words and in all those first few months produced over half a million, all of which had to be read and from which a selection had to be chosen for that vital first issue.’ John Carnell in Vultures fom the Void by Philip Harbottle, p.73
- ‘Bill Temple, who had spent a lot of his spare time in Italy writing a novel which periodically was either blown up or sunk in transit home [The Four-Sided Triangle] sent me an unusual fantasy titled The Three Pylons.’ John Carnell in Vultures fom the Void by Philip Harbottle, p.72