Charlie Brown, Locus #106, February 4th 1972
Angouleme • short story by Thomas M. Disch ♥♥
Prisoners of Paradise • reprint short story by David Redd ♥♥
Journey Across a Crater • reprint short story by J. G. Ballard ♥♥
The Lamia and Lord Cromis • novelette by M. John Harrison ♥♥♥♥
Pemberly’s Start-Afresh Calliope or, The New Proteus • short story by John Sladek ♥♥♥
The God House • novelette by Keith Roberts ♥♥♥♥
The Day We Embarked for Cythera • reprint short story by Brian W. Aldiss ♥
The Short, Happy Wife of Mansard Eliot • short story by John Sladek ♥
A Place and a Time to Die • reprint short story by J. G. Ballard ♥♥
Exit from City 5 • novelette by Barrington J. Bayley ♥♥♥+
Interior artwork • Richard Glyn Jones, Mal Dean, Mervyn Peake, Keith Roberts, Brian Vickers
Introduction • editorial/introduction by Michael Moorcock
A Literature of Comfort • review essay by M. John Harrison
New Worlds #202, more commonly known as New Worlds Quarterly #1, was the first of the Sphere Books paperback anthologies published after the large-size magazine incarnation.1 This latter format had suffered from poor distribution, bans and other financial problems, eventually limping to a halt with a special subscribers only issue in early 1970. This history is briefly discussed by Moorcock in the editorial.
The series made a big impression on me when I read it in my late teens, so I wanted to have another look at it to see how the individual volumes held up. One thing that struck me straight away is how the magazine managed to transform itself from an avant-garde large-size magazine containing all sorts of poetry, graphics, articles and fiction to a more sober publication almost without breaking step.
I know some will think it a stretch calling it a ‘magazine’ but that is what Moorcock describes it as in his editorial, and its mix of stories, art, editorial material and book reviews gives this claim substance. Moorcock states in his editorial that he is interested in publishing all kinds of fiction using the contents as examples. In some respects this sounds very similar to his editorial in New Worlds #142, where he is appealing to a broad church. Perhaps he had managed to get matters out of his system with the large size issues? What perplexes me is why he bothered to continue the New Worlds series with these anthologies: was it just survival instinct at work?
The first two stories between them certainly support the claim to a broad church: Angouleme by Thomas Disch is a future slice of life that tells of a group of youths (called ‘tweeters’!) planning to kill a man. This plot rather fizzles out at the end, and I always thought it one of the weaker parts of the fix-up novel 334 (Bodies and the novella 334 were a lot better in my opinion). This reread didn’t change my mind. Also, not that it bothers me, but the story is barely SF; there is one line that places it in the future.2 SF or not, this may be one of the victories of the New Wave, in that tangential material could be more easily incorporated into a SF magazine.3
The second story is Prisoners of Paradise by David Redd (New Worlds #167, October 1966). This story is a complete contrast in that it could have appeared in any Golden Age SF magazine. This story of a spaceman crashing onto an alien planet has a deux ex machina ending in that (spoiler) the alien hive-mind pops up at the end, undoes the problem and then disappears.4
Journey Across A Crater by J. G. Ballard (New Worlds #198, February 1970) is one of his concentrated stories. These used to completely perplex me when I first read them in my late teens. If they were a puzzle I couldn’t figure them out. They still puzzle me but I find it easier to get a little enjoyment from the prose and the imagery. Some of the images in this one seem to presage his later novel Crash. He has another story in this volume, A Place and a Time to Die (New Worlds #194, September-October 1969), an OK modern fantasy about an American town being overrun by Chinese hordes. The payoff line makes a political point about the times (which I only just got three months after a second reading).5
M. John Harrison’s The Lamia and Lord Cromis is one of the three novelettes in the collection and was a favourite of mine the first time round. I still think so: Harrison’s descriptive prose is a delight:
An ancient round tower reared above the trees. Built of fawn stone at some time when the earth was firmer, it stood crookedly, weathered like an old bone. Filaments of dead ivy crawled over it; blackthorn and alder hid its base; a withered bullace grew from an upper window, its rattling branches inhabited by small, stealthy birds. p.65
In this bleak sword and sorcery tale Lord tegus Cromis hunts down a monster. If there is one downside to this story it is that some of the characters are badly used.
The first of John Sladek’s two stories in this volume is Pemberley’s Start Afresh Calliope. This is good fun with its Victorian scientist who invents a machine that produces multiple versions of himself. Related by a surgeon in a Gentleman’s club it isn’t afraid to shoehorn the odd unrelated joke in, either.
My shout awakened Lord Suffield, who launched into his anecdote again: “Sent a servant to the Governor with three jars of jam and a letter, the beggar ate one jar along the way. Explained to him the letter had betrayed him, gave him a damned good thrashing. Next time I sent him with three jars of jam and a letter. This time he hid the letter behind a tree, so it wouldn’t be able to see him eat the jam. Didn’t have the heart to thrash him that time, I was laughing so hard.” p.75
A good payoff line too. His second story is The Short, Happy Wife of Mansard Elliot, in which the verbal stylistics don’t compensate for the lack of anything much else going on in this tale of a man wanting a woman to divorce her husband.
The God House is part of Keith Roberts’s The Chalk Giants, the post-holocaust fix-up novel, and I’d say one of his best dozen short stories (as are another handful that would appear in subsequent volumes of New Worlds: Monkey and Pru and Sal, Weihnachtabend, The Beautiful One and The Ministry of Children; some might add The Grain Kings). The priest of a primitive post-holocaust tribe badly uses a young girl/woman who is chosen as their god-bride. She gets the upper hand eventually, but leads her people to destruction. However, the events in the story could have occurred in many primitive tribes in the past so this, like the Disch, could equally have been a mainstream story with minimal change.
Brian Aldiss’s The Day We Embarked for Cythera (The Moment of Eclipse, 1970) has two threads: the first has three men verbally jousting at a picnic in what appears to be a far-future location; the second section, in italics, has packs of cars hunting down locomotives and humans. I have no idea what this is about; perhaps another case of never mind the story, concentrate on the images.
The final fiction is a novelette by Barrington Bayley, The Exit From City 5. I have always had a soft spot for Bayley, especially when he shows his strength in marrying pulp SF plots with more intellectual material (in this case ideas from astrophysics, sociology and psychology). Set on City 5, which is the sole remaining outpost of humanity in the void beyond a contracting universe, this charts the civil war that develops between those who favour stasis versus change.
As for the non-fiction there is an essay by M. John Harrison, A Literature of Comfort, which seems to be fairly typical of what I remember of a number of New Worlds book reviews in that it spends part of the time taking various SF D-listers apart. I mean, I can see the point of negatively reviewing Anderson’s Tau Zero, but L. P. Davies’ Genesis Two? Who was he? And why would you bother spending your limited space on his book? To support whatever agenda you are pursuing at the time, I suspect. That said, part of the column is given over to a review of J. G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition:
One of the first science fiction authors to stop saying nice things was J. G. Ballard, and in [this] we find the culmination of his early formal experiments, in which fragmentation and condensation minimise the waste products of the story and leave the image—the essence of the fiction—to stand by itself. p.170
A word about the design in this volume: it is an attractive publication and I like the title page typographies and the artwork that goes with them.6 A good range of artists too: Peake, Roberts, Dean, Glynn Jones, etc. The cover disappoints though: a psychedelic blob. These were far too common at the time: probably an attempt to save money and/or be trendy.
Finally, the couple of pages introducing The Authors is scary: Moorcock, Disch and Bayley are in their early thirties, and with the exception of Aldiss, Ballard and Roberts most of the rest of the contributors are in their mid-twenties. Such accomplishment so young.
So how did this compare with my memories of the first time around? Well, I pretty much thought the same as I did then. The stories I liked best I didn’t find as good as I had first time around, but then they didn’t have novelty value on re-reading (and it is probably the third time around for the Disch, Harrison and Roberts at least). On the other hand, I probably got more out of the material I didn’t like or understand the first time around (e.g. the first of the Ballard stories).
To conclude, I enjoyed this volume and would recommend it. Even though I would rate only half the fiction as really worthwhile, some of the material below that level is of interest. It helps that all three novelettes (Harrison, Roberts and Bayley) are good or better, and that there is a wide range of material on offer.
I wish there was a magazine publishing this range and quality of fiction in the UK today, but I suspect those days are long gone. Perhaps I am simply guilty of wanting to be back in my own personal Golden Age but it would be great to have something like this dropping through the letter box every quarter, or even once a year.
- There was also a US edition of some of the volumes in this series.
- I believe Samuel Delaney demonstrated Angouleme was SF in his book The American Shore. A whole book of criticism out of a short story…
- There were a number of this type of near-future works in the late sixties to mid-seventies: 334, The World Inside and The City Dwellers were all worthwhile works, but I remember acres of material in Amazing, Fantastic and various 1970s anthologies where a number of writers shared their miserable, crime-ridden city existences as ‘near-future’ SF.
- At this point I started wondering what kind of editor Moorcock was. I suspect that once he got behind a writer he would take most if not all their work, and was probably pretty much a ‘hands off’ editor. This presumes of course that you think there is something wrong with some of the stories and that they need to be ‘fixed’.
- There was no new material from J. G. Ballard in any of the ten volumes of the anthology series: 1971-76. This is very strange given the amount of material that Ballard had been contributing to the magazine since Moorcock took over the editorial reins in 1964.
- Have a look at the p.78-79 artwork/title for the Roberts and you will see what I mean about the art and design: