Equinox (Part 1 of 2) • novella serial by J. G. Ballard ♥♥♥+
‘Never Let Go of My Hand!’ • short story by Brian W. Aldiss ♥♥
The Last Lonely Man • short story by John Brunner ♥
The Star Virus • novelette by Barrington J. Bayley ♥♥
Equinox • cover by James Cawthorn
A New Literature for the Space Age • essay by Michael Moorcock
Books: Myth Maker of the 20th Century • essay by J. G. Ballard
In 1964 Michael Moorcock took over the editorial reins of New Worlds from the previous long-serving editor John Carnell. This was Moorcock’s first issue, and the first from the new publishers Robert & Vinter in the new paperback format.1 There is an introductory editorial by Moorcock in which he raves about William Burroughs and complains about the stagnation of the modern novel. About two paragraphs from the end, to avoid frightening the horses one suspects, he mentions that he appreciates the entertainment value of SF and will publish a variety of stories. The last paragraph is a tribute to the previous editor.
J. G. Ballard’s Equinox is a two-part serial that was expanded and changed from his novelette The Illuminated Man (Fantasy & Science Fiction, May 1964) after Moorcock requested a serial from Ballard for the magazine at short notice. Ballard’s wife died around the same time as the publication of this serial and the further expansion of this novella to the novel The Crystal World was what he returned to some months afterwards. The serial concerns Sanders, a doctor from a leper colony, travelling to find a couple in Africa after the woman Suzanne writes a letter describing strange, jewelled visions to him. The rest of the first part concerns his journey to them through the jungle, with a female French journalist. It becomes apparent that a strange crystallising phenomenon has started occurring world, even universe-wide, and this produces some startling images:
At first Dr Sanders failed to recognise this as the Echo satellite. Its luminosity had increased by at least ten-fold, transforming the thin pin-point of light that had burrowed across the night sky for so many faithful years into a brilliant luminary outshone only by the moon. All over Africa, from the Liberian coast to the shores of the Red Sea, it would now be visible, a vast aerial lantern fired by the same light he had seen in the jewelled flowers that afternoon. p.25
Once, as he rested against the trunk of a bifurcated oak, an immense multi-coloured bird erupted from a bough over his head and flew off with a wild screech, aureoles of molten light cascading from its red and yellow wings. p.46
You can imagine Moorcock being delighted at the opportunity to print this well written literary work as the lead piece in the first issue of his editorship. Given the transformative magazine that New Worlds would become in the middle and late sixties it is rather fitting that it is a work about the mundane transmogrifying into something jewelled and wondrous…
Brian W. Aldiss’s ‘Never Let Go of My Hand!’ starts rather datedly with a mother and son in a cold house providing Bovril to a visiting neighbour. They are observed and eventually abducted by clunkily named aliens (e.g. Ret-Thlat). However, the story picks up when they are on the alien planet and the mother and son realise that time runs backward in this universe and they are becoming younger. This all ends on a rather bleak note when the resentful twenty-seven year old mother meets her six year old child for the last time. This piece seems to show Aldiss in transition, exhibiting elements that typified his older work and elements from that which would come: the dated domestic circumstances and the pulp aliens constituting the former and the bitter mother-son relationship and temporal reversal the latter (Man in his Time, a good example of his later work, would be published in Science Fantasy #65 a year later).
John Brunner’s story The Last Lonely Man has very little going for it.2 The maguffin is a process known as Contact where people, when they die, cohabit in another person’s mind and eventually become blended in. So everyone has several contacts who might host them when they die. Cut to our protagonist who meets a man in a bar who has no contacts at all, and upon whom he subsequently takes pity and agrees to be a temporary prospective host. This unconvincing idea has equally unconvincing development (at one point the protagonist and his wife leave a man they have just met to babysit their eleven-month-old twins: I realise that there was not the same paedophile panic in the mid-sixties but give me a break). Needless to say, by the end of the story our protagonist has come to regret his altruism.
By the by, this is written in that lame American voice that far too many UK writers used and use: essentially British English but with the odd ‘gimme’, ‘rye’ (whisky), ‘La Guardia’, etc. thrown in. I understand why writers may have done this if they were selling to an US market but not an UK one (although I note that Ballard always used his own voice and managed to sell frequently to the likes of F&SF and Fantastic). One suspects this may have sprung out of Brunner’s trunk prompted by the same type of material shortage that Kyril Bonfiglioli suffered in the early issues of his editorship of Science Fantasy, New Worlds’ sister magazine.3
Barrington J. Bayley’s The Star Virus is a little disappointing. Bayley’s stories are sometimes unusual, original and philosophical stories but there is little of that present in this novelette. Rodrone has a device called the Lens that an alien race called the Streall want. After fleeing a planet whose government want him to hand it over and experiencing a rather strange journey through space (the crew play a card game that may result in their reactor going critical) he eventually ends up in a struggle with a Streall called The Philosopher for control of the galaxy. Ninety five percent pulp space opera versus five per cent of Bayley’s sometime originality I am afraid.4
J. G. Ballard also contributes a review column that rather boringly discusses three novels by William Burroughs. The excerpts he uses do not make me want to rush upstairs to grab my copy of The Naked Lunch off the bookshelves; Moorcock makes a much better case in the first part of his editorial.
So, in conclusion, an average start to Moorcock’s editorship, with the fiction not quite matching the rallying cry in his editorial.
- Moorcock wanted the magazine to be a large-format magazine like Playboy, on art paper with good quality illustrations. Transformations by Mike Ashley, p.237.
- An episode of the TV series Out of the Unknown was made out of The Last Lonely Man. The seventies bad acting, affected speech and décor actually make it worse, but you can give Amazon £1.89 and make up your own mind.
- Bonfiglioli relied heavily on ‘bottom drawer material’ by Brian W. Aldiss for his first couple of issues of Science Fantasy after being appalled at the poor quality of quarter a million words of mss that had been submitted. Transformations by Mike Ashley, p.243.
- The Star Virus was considerably expanded (to 120pp.) to become half of an Ace Double in 1970.