The Fall of Frenchy Steiner • novelette by Hilary Bailey ♥♥♥♥
Stormwater Tunnel • short story by Langdon Jones ♥♥
Goodbye, Miranda • short story by Michael Moorcock ♥
Single Combat • short story by Joseph Green ♥♥♥
The Evidence • short story by Lee Harding ♥♥
Equinox (Part 2 of 2) • novella serial by J. G. Ballard ♥♥♥+
The Fall of Frenchy Steiner • cover by James Cawthorn
Letters to the Editor
British Science Fiction Convention—1964 • essay by Michael Moorcock
Books • essay by James Colvin (Michael Moorcock)
The triangle design is used again on this issue’s cover, which is a bit of a shame as the James Cawthorn drawing underneath looks quite interesting: Big Ben with barbed wire and rats, and a red Nazi swastika stamped over it.
The cover story is Hilary Bailey’s The Fall of Frenchy Steiner. As it is set in mid-1950s Nazi-occupied Britain, I was halfway there before it started; I can’t get enough of this stuff (Weihnachtabend, Fatherland, The Sound of His Horn, read them all). Nonetheless, this is for the most part a very good, gritty shading to grim work about a woman called Frenchy Steiner who is wanted by the German authorities in Britain. Narrated by her friend Lowry, it tells of their escape from London and recapture. It is full of bits of writing you want to quote:
I yawned. Not much to do but go to sleep and try for that erotic dream where I was sinking my fork into a plate of steak and kidney pudding. Or perhaps, if I couldn’t get to sleep, I’d try a nice stroll round the crater where St Paul’s had been… p.7
A cop passed across the station at a distance. Arthur’s eyes flicked then came back to me.
“Funny the way they left them in their helmets and so on,” he said. “Seems wrong, dunnit”
“They wanted you to think they were the same blokes who used to tell you the time and find old Rover for you when he got lost.”
“Aren’t they?” Arthur said sardonically. “You should have lived round where I lived mate.” p.16
She seemed very matter of fact, but her face had the calm of a woman who’s just had a baby, the pain and shock were over, but she knew this was really only the beginning of the trouble. p.27
If I have a criticism of this well characterised and striking story, it is of the closing section involving (spoiler) Steiner meeting Hitler. Lowry isn’t there so the narrative changes from the first to third person, which is jarring. Also, the foaming-mouthed Hitler and the subsequent shoot-out in this scene doesn’t totally convince. Nonetheless, I would have thought this would have been one of the notable stories of the year and a definite ‘Best of the Year’ choice.
By the way, in the introduction to the story the blurb writer does the author no favours by talking about Hitler’s clairvoyants and astrologers, and asking ‘But what if there had been just one person with a genuine psi-talent…’ First of all, the hackneyed ‘psi’ phrase is nowhere to be found in the story and the elements concerning her visions and healing power are introduced organically into the narrative.
Alas, the idiot blurb writer strikes again in Langdon Jones’s Stormwater Tunnel by stating this is a first appearance ‘with a story on the Mobius-strip theme’, thus gutting the story arc for the reader. No further description required by me as to what it is about. There is, however, one passage at the end which seems to be more to do with time than space:
He saw a picture. He saw a gigantic wheel turning slowly, slowly and that wheel turning another wheel, and that wheel was turning another, further away, and that turned another, and so it went on, on to a blue infinity. Stretching into the convoluted continuum of Time, Space and Existence. Wheels turning, turning in to infinity. p.41
One wonders to what extent he was already thinking about one of his later stories, The Great Clock.1 Not a bad first story.
Moorcock’s Goodbye, Miranda is a three page fantasy about a man who levitates over the house of a former lover and her father. It does not end well. I wonder if the germination of this one probably involved a three page hole close to a print deadline and an editor thinking he would write up that strange dream he had last night…
Joseph Green’s Single Combat gets off to a pedestrian start with its account of an Earthman surgically altered and given paranormal powers so as to rise through battle to be the king of an alien world. This is so that world can eventually join an alliance with Earth against the Flish, humanoids that exist as a hive mind. During the annual games he is challenged by a warrior who turns out to be a female Flish agent. At this point the story seriously raises its game and becomes a pyrotechnic account of their physical and mental battle along with null-time effects, molecular level control of biology, etc. Overall, quite good.
There are references to Kafka and Peake in the introduction to Lee Harding’s The Evidence, but it is a bit more workmanlike a story than that. A man realises he has his own personal ‘watcher’. It turns out that (spoiler) the former is involved in the application of game-theory to thermonuclear war and this in turn leads to some sort of metaphysical trial that the watcher has been gathering evidence for.
The non-fiction section includes a letter column that has contributions from a number of current or future SF pros: James Cawthorn, John Brunner, Edward Mackin and Charles Platt—a long and serious letter about expansion off-planet, along with his small ad in the classifieds advertising ‘…Beyond amateur magazine of serious ideas about SF’. There are comments from these and others about the new format, cover design and contents.
The editorial this month is quite the opposite of last month’s call to arms being a quite clubbish account of the recent BSFA Eastercon, to which Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett turned up unexpectedly.
The non-fiction is rounded off by a pseudonymous book review column by the editor covering amongst others, Gunner Cade by Kornbluth and Merril, and also a trio of US paperbacks including a dismissive look at Budry’s Inferno and a recommendation of Cordwainer Smith’s You Will Never Be The Same, and to a lesser extent Jack Vance’s Ace Double, The Dragon Masters/The Five Gold Bands.
The issue ends with the second part of Ballard’s novella Equinox. Any summation of the plot is probably rather irrelevant as, unlike most normal disaster novels where the characters strive to find a solution to the cause of the catastrophe or survive it intact, in a Ballard disaster novel the characters mostly run around engaged in their own crazed or obsessive agendas. I don’t mean this as a criticism: I enjoyed the intensity of the characters, the descriptive writing and the imagery. Hard not to when you come across passages like this one about a crashed helicopter:
The four twisted blades, veined and frosted like the wings of a giant dragonfly, had already been overgrown by the trellises of crystals hanging downwards from the nearby trees. The fuselage of the craft, partly buried in the ground, had blossomed into an enormous translucent jewel, in whose solid depths, like emblematic knights mounted in the base of a medieval ring-stone, the two pilots sat frozen at their controls, their silver helmets giving off an endless fountain of light. p.96
A pretty good novella that should have been in the ‘Best of The Year’ anthologies, but was probably ruled out due to its length (no 700 pp. ‘Best’ anthologies in 1966) and subsequent expansion to the novel length The Crystal World.
A good issue.
- New Worlds #160, March 1966