Vortex v01n02, February 1977

ISFDB link

Editor, Keith Seddon

The End of All Songs (Part 2 of 4) • serial by Michael Moorcock ∗∗∗
The Machine at Cheviot House H.Q. • novelette by Ravan Christchild
Mutant! • short story by James Corley

Cover • by Rodney Matthews
Interior artwork • by James Cawthorn, Jocelyn Almond, Rodney Matthews, Richard Hopkinson
Editorial • by Keith Seddon
Landscapes of the Mind • interview of Rodney Matthews by Steve Axtell
Next Issue

The second part of The End of All Songs by Michael Moorcock picks up pace at the end of this instalment but still meanders somewhat at the start.
Jherek and Amelia go to a party that the Duke of Queens has organised. After the latter’s visit to the 19th century he has created a strange, huge version of Scotland Yard for this event, where people float around on various platforms in the cavernous interior.

At the party there are a number of conversations, including an extended (and rather dull) one where Jherek talks to two versions of his mother, the Iron Orchid, who has split into multiple ‘selves’ for the party. She appears to be jealous of Amelia, and the latter recognises this when she joins them at the end of their chat. After the Iron Orchid leaves Amelia cuts Jherek off just as he begins to propose to her.
At this point it occurred to me that as the denizens of the End of Time adopt more of the attitudes and customs of the nineteenth century, the less happy everyone is, and the less fun the novel is.
After this Jherek and Amelia discuss time-travel with a disgruntled Brannart Morphail (whose hump is now as big as the rest of him, and who has a larger club foot to keep his balance), and then go with the Duke of Queens to see five space travellers held in his menagerie:

“These are from Yusharisp’s planet,” explained the Duke of Queens,”but they are not him. They are five fresh ones! I believe they came to look for him. In the meantime, of course, he has been home and returned here.”
“He is not aware of the presence of his friends on our planet?”
“Not yet.”
“You’ll tell him tonight?”
“I think so. At an appropriate moment.”
“Can they communicate?”
“They refuse to accept translation pills, but they have their own mechanical translators, which are, as you know, rather erratic.”
Jherek pressed his face against the force-bubble. He grinned at the inmates. He smiled. “Hello! Welcome to the End of Time!”
China-blue eyes glared vacantly back at him.
“I am Jherek Carnelian. A friend of Yusharisp’s,” he told them agreeably.
“The leader, the one in the middle, is known as Chief Public Servant Shashurup,” the Duke of Queens informed him.
Jherek made another effort. He waved his fingers. “Good afternoon, Chief Public Servant Shashurup!”
“Why-ee (skree) do you continue-oo too-too-to tor(roar)-ment us?” asked the CPS. “All we (kaaar)sk(skree) is (hiss) that-tat-tat you dooo-oo us(ushush) the cour(kur-kur-kur) tesy-ee of com-comcommunicat(tate-tate)ing our requests to your representat(tattat)ives!” He spoke wearily, without expectation of answer.
“We have no ‘representatives’, save ourselves,” said Jherek. “Is there anything wrong with your environment? I’m sure that the Duke of Queens would be only too pleased to make any adjustments you saw fit…”
“Skree-ee-ee,” said CPS Shashurup desperately. “It is not(ot-ot) in our nat(tate-tate)ure to (skree) ake(cake-cake) threat(et-et-et)s, but we must warn you (skree) that unless we are re(skree)lea(skree)sed our peo(pee-pee)ple will be forced to take steps to pro(pro-pro)tect us and secure(ure-ure) our release. You are behaving childishly! It is imposs(oss-oss)ible to believe(eve-eve-eve) that a race grown so old can still(ill-ill) skree-skree yowl eek yaaaarrrrk!”

Amusing stuff.
They cut short this exchange when Mongrove arrives at the party with news of his space travels. Once everyone assembles he tells them that their energy rings are consuming the universe, but the denizens of the End of Time are not much interested, and become bored.

Jherek and Amelia return home and build a castle for themselves. Bishop Castle visits, and lets them know the Iron Orchid has gone time travelling. Then Inspector Springer, several policemen, and Ameila’s husband Harold arrive at the front door.

“I ’ave, sir,” said Inspector Springer with heavy satisfaction, “been invested with Special Powers. The ’Ome Secretary ’imself ’as ordered me to look into this case.”
“The new machine — my, um, Chronomnibus — was requisitioned,” said the time-traveller apologetically from the background. “As a patriot, though strictly speaking not from this universe…”
“Under conditions of utmost secrecy,” continued the Inspector, “we embarked upon our Mission…”
Jherek and Mrs. Underwood stood on their threshold and contemplated their visitors.
“Which is?” Mrs. Underwood was frowning pensively at her husband.
“To place the ringleaders of this plot under arrest and return forthwith to our own century so that they — that’s you, of course, among ’em — may be questioned as to their motives and intentions.”
Inspector Springer was evidently quoting specifically from his orders. “And Mr. Underwood?” Jherek asked politely. “Why is he here?”
“’E’s one o’ the few ’oo can identify the people we’re after. Anyway, ’e volunteered.”
She said, bemusedly: “Have you come to take me back, Harold?”
“Ha!” said her husband.

And so begins a livelier chapter where the inspector and his men search the castle. During this, an energy ray takes off the top of the castle, and Bishop Castle arrives to tell them that the Lat are laying waste to everything. Amelia, Jherek, and Harold leave in the locomotive and escape to one of the ancient cities, where energy weapons will not function as the ancient machines prohibit their use.

While they are hiding in the city a memory bank starts a philosophical conversation with Harold, and Jherek tells Amelia this is where he was conceived, and then proposes to her. Just at that point Captain Mubbers and the rest of the Lat arrive.
The pacing of the first two parts of this novel is not as steady as that of the first two; there are too many longeurs. Hopefully, the next two parts will pick up speed.

The Machine at Cheviot House H.Q. by Ravan Christchild is the second story adapted from his novel The Englishman’s Lady (see the quote at the end of this section), and so it uses characters, locations, etc. from last issue’s story. This rather makes it feel like a second serial and, as such, gives this issue a distinct Groundhog Day feel.
The main characters that reappear in this one are Steve Mitchell, Karen Black and Johnny Terrier (although there are others). They feature in a very loose tale that starts with an invasion of an alternate world Britain by German airships (although this happens when the characters are watching Survivors1 in a Bonanza2-themed room):

They watched in silence as the TV cameras panned over a part of Southern England, showing columns of men marching across the fields, meeting little resistance. Great black and silver airships hovered in the sky above, occasionally releasing a biplane or two after refuelling. More zeppelins lay on the ground amidst billowing clouds of mustard gas, disgorging tanks and soldiers. Briefly, the viewers saw one of the airships explode silently intoflame, before the screen went blank.
“This,” said Steve Mitchell seriously, looking at Johnny Terrier, “will complicate matters somewhat.”
Terrier nodded, thinking of the red and gold uniform in his suitcase, and the Smith & Wesson .38 in his drawer. p. 13

The rest of the story involves the appearance of a huge metallic structure that destroys the village of Portmeirion (presumably another oblique media reference, this time to The Prisoner3). This phenomena leads to discussion of the Multiverse, a Conjunction, and the Lords of Chaos.
I wouldn’t want all this to give the impression that there is much of a story here because there isn’t; most of the writer’s energies are focused on an arch, contemporary and (although not in the following passage) mildly transgressive delivery:

“Mr. John Lennon, of the ‘Beatles’ jazz-band, has been found dead at his Kensington home. Mr. Lennon’s apartment on the Bayswater Road was broken in to by police after his friend, the American Negro tap-dancer, Mr. Robert Dylan, became disturbed at not having seen him for several days. Mr. Lennon’s death is unexplained at the moment; police say that no dangerous drugs were found in the apartment.
“A letter bomb was delivered to Alastair Burnet, television personality and former editor of the Daily Express, yesterday. He called the police when he saw Indian stamps on the envelope. The letter was sent last week to his address in Glasgow and was forwarded to his Kensington, London, home. Experts defused the package.
“A raid by police on a council house in Bushey, Hertfordshire, early this morning, resulted in the arrest of a young woman. A police spokesman said later that the raid had not yielded satisfactory results. A quantity of literature was taken away, as well as a large amount of scientific and laboratory equipment.
“Sport, and rain has stopped play at Lords. The West Indies, in their first innings, are 206 for two. In Mexico, the Chinese have beaten Team America by four goals to one.
“That’s the news at eleven, we’ll be back at midday with the latest car crash results from Los Angeles. Now, over to Kenneth Everett in the music studio.” p. 15

I liked this one slightly more than the last (the scenes are moderately interesting—they just don’t amount to anything) but maybe I am just becoming acclimatised.
There is an interesting note about Jocelyn Almond’s involvement (the editor Keith Seddon’s future wife) at the end of the piece, which perhaps gave rise to the rumours that Christchild was a pseudonym for Seddon (denied at the time and a few years ago):

This story is very loosely based on Ravan Christchild’s forthcoming novel, THE ENGLISHMAN’S LADY. Certain themes and plots in this story will be investigated in the next story, THE AGONIES OF TIME. Two characters in this story, Sebastian Dorrell and Electra Vanderpump, were created by Jocelyn Almond. Their original adventures and exploits are related in the novels THE DEATHS AND TIMES OF SEBASTIAN DORRELL, THE SICILIAN DRAGON, and THE RETICENCE OF PEACOCKS. p. 24

Mutant! by James Corley is either heavily influenced by, or a pastiche of, J. G. Ballard’s work.
In this story the world is subject to a vast increase in solar activity, and there is an increase in number of mutations. Various scenes play out against this backdrop, all centred on a research scientist called Stoddard, who is at a marine research facility in the Indian Ocean.

The story opens with him visiting Pamela, a female colleague who he has been in a relationship with. They argue, and she eventually pulls a knife on him so he leaves. After this Stoddard collapses outside the facility. As he later recovers he talks to one of his Indian colleagues, and we get some background information about what is happening in the world.
Once he is up and about again he goes walking and sees evidence of mutant sea birds. He also sees Penelope sunbathing in the fierce sunlight, oblivious to the radiation:

Stoddard had been kept awake most of the night thinking of the figure on the beach, pulling at the desperate problem she posed. He had decided against the theory that this was a macabre form of suicide. Her body had flared in to a vivid redness but there was no blistering of the smooth, perfect skin. Obviously Pamela had been coming here for days. She had not abandoned herself to the sun but had gradually accepted it, exposing herself at first only momentarily while building up tolerance to the rays.
But was it insanity? Could she perhaps believe she lay sunbathing on some Mediterranean beach? Was she on holiday somewhere inside her skull? Had she forgotten the world was lurching under the impact of shattered genes? Did her mind pretend to itself that nothing had changed? He could have borne a realisation of her insanity but something told him that the girl was as sane or saner than Stoddard himself.
Her actions as she turned over were deliberate and calm, they showed none of the emphatic motility of madness. She was dressed modestly now in the fine, pale sand which clung to her sweating body. Once it seemed she looked straight at him but her eyes passed on, unseeing or uncaring that there was a watcher on the cliff-top. p. 47

Years pass and, long after they stop receiving any radio broadcasts, they see a silver sphere flying over the island. This is attributed to something that has mutated beyond humankind. The story ends.
The parts of this are well enough done, but (again) they don’t cohere into a whole.

While I don’t dislike this issue’s Cover by Rodney Matthews, I’m not sure it is a particular favourite of mine—but it certainly hold the eye. Matthews is also the subject of an interesting interview by Steve Axtell, Landscapes of the Mind. I am always interested to hear about the jobs writers and artists have in their early life:

When I left school, the art mistress and everyone were all saying, “You must become an artist or something.” So I went around to the local print factory, where they offered me a job as a retoucher. Then I thought, “Christ, I can’t sit and do this all day.” So I went on to do some metal working, taking the surface off a thumb, slitting the odd finger here and there, so I thought, “Christ, I can’t do this.” And I ended up at the West of England Art College, which I left prematurely after one and a half years because a job came up. Although I didn’t like it, the period which then followed at the ad agency was important because there I learned the basic disciplines — creative lettering, layout, presentation, visualizing, typography and something of printing.
After leaving the ad agency, I went to work as a freelancer, in an outfit called PLASTIC DOG GRAPHICS. Here were laid the foundations on which I have built my style and direction. To start with I had to do a lot of mediocre stuff in order to make a living, but every now and then a job (usually a college poster or a record sleeve) would present me with an outlet for my fantasies. My partner and me were currently playing in bands, so it wasn’t surprising that much of our graphic work came from the musical business. Notably United Artists and Sonet of Sweden. Sonet together with its several small subsidiaries, and headed in London by Rod Buckle, produced mainly Jazz, Blues and Folky albums. I was invited to design the covers for many of these. In fact, a lot of my stuff has come about by being rejected by record companies or bands or what have you. p. 40

The Interior artwork this issue is by James Cawthorn, who provides three B&W illustrations, Jocelyn Almond contributes the same for the Christchild story, and Richard Hopkinson provides a B&W illustration for the Corely. I’m not entirely sure that the three colour title illustrations4 are produced by the same artists as who do the B&W pages (with the exception of the one for the Christchild story which looks like Almond’s work): all the colour work is uncredited, where the B&W work by Almond and Hopkinson is signed.

A new feature this issue is that the cover art is reproduced without type on the back cover, and the inner front and inner rear cover have a monotone reproduction of one of the works by Rodney Matthews printed along with his the interview.

The Editorial by Keith Seddon is one of those pigeon-holing pieces that discusses the various types of fantasy and SF. This kind of thing has always seemed a bit of a waste of time to me: where does describing Frank Herbert’s Dune as ‘Science Fantasy’ get you?
Next Issue is a new feature and a self-explanatory one:

In conclusion, and given I’ve already mentioned the feeling of déjà vu above, this issue is like the first: an average effort at best. There are, though, glimmers of improvement.

  1. The Survivors was a 1970’s TV series set in a post-apocalypse UK. More at SFE and Wikipedia.
  2. Bonanza was a long running TV Western. The Wikipedia page.
  3. The Prisoner was an excellent SF TV series that ran during 1967. Even though I’m pretty sure that Rover gave me nightmares I have the boxset to watch again one day (Rover was a terrifying creature or machine that looked like a huge bubble of chewing gum, as wide as a man is tall, and which pursued escaped prisoners from the Village. When it caught them it pressed itself over their face till they lost consciousness and, I think, sometimes killed them.) More at SFE and Wikipedia.
  4. The title pages for the Moorcock and Corley stories (the Christchild is above):


Leave a Reply