Ian Watson: Foundation #6, May 1974
Chris Morgan: Vector 69, Summer 1975
The Lake of Tuonela • novelette by Keith Roberts ♥♥♥
Wagtail in the Morning • short story by Grahame Leman
Made to Be Broken • short story by E. C. Tubb
The Eternal Theme of Exile • by Brian W. Aldiss ♥♥
The Five Doors • short story by Michael Stall ♥♥
Sporting on Apteryx • short story by Charles Partington ♥♥
Rainbow • short story by David Garnett ♥♥
Accolade • short story by E. C. Tubb [as by Charles Grey]
The Seed of Evil • novelette by Barrington J. Bayley ♥♥♥♥
Foreword • editorial by Kenneth Bulmer
New Writings in SF wasn’t a magazine but an anthology series1 started by John Carnell in 1964 and continued by Kenneth Bulmer after the former’s death just short of his sixtieth birthday in 1972. This wasn’t the first volume of this series that Bulmer edited, but that one, New Writings in SF #22, was a memorial to John Carnell so was more like the previous volumes that the later Bulmer-edited ones. So this is where I am starting.
After the childish comic book cover that mashes up images from a number of the stories, the volume starts off with Kenneth Bulmer’s editorial which discusses traffic. From there he introduces canals and airships for freight transport, mentioning Keith Roberts’s story in particular before moving on to introduce the others. Each of the stories also has a short blurb before a title page. The blurbs are mostly forgettable, but the layout of these, blurb, blank page, title page—always with the blurb and title page on the right hand side of the book—is quite smart.
The opening piece is The Lake of Tuonela by Keith Roberts, one of two ‘Canal’ stories set on the alien planet of Xerxes that Roberts published that year.2 It begins with an Earthman called Mathis trying to get permission from the planetary administrators to take a canal boat up through the deserted canal system to the Hy-Antiel summit. The alien canals have fallen into disuse as a result of imported Earth technology (Ground Effect Machines) making the boatmen redundant. When refused permission by the bureaucrats he goes anyway, accompanied by Jack, a native of the planet.
There isn’t really much story to this one, and it is mostly a descriptive account of their languid journey along the canal:
In the second cutting they were delayed again, this time by mud and weed. The weed, slimy strings of it twenty feet or more in length, wrapped itself persistently around the propeller, building a solid ball between blades and hull. As the obstructions formed the Boatman sliced them away patiently. Mathis poled dully, disinterested in time; later the machetes were once more brought into use. Finally the narrows were passed; the second cutting opened up ahead. The rock rose steeply, a hundred feet or more, clothed still for most of its height with living green. Through much of the day the far lip caught the sun; the feathery trees that lined it seemed to burn, haloed with pale gold. Later, clouds grew across the sky. The drizzle returned; and a thin mist, veiling the highest rock. In time the mist crept lower, rolling slowly, clinging in tongues to the water. p.28
They navigate their way over the aqueducts and into the long tunnels in the hills, one of which spills out into the huge underground Lake of Tuonela:
He swung the big lamp left and right, discovering no sign of walls; the gloom ahead was likewise unrelieved. At last the abundance of summit water was explained; they had entered an underground lake, of unknown size. He wondered fleetingly if Bar-Ab and his engineers had known. Had they plotted the extent of the cavern, tunnelled to its brink; or had the miners burst into the void, startled and unsuspecting …
On impulse, he angled the light upward. Above, suspended it seemed from an infinite height, the Bar-Ko, dark red and dripping, marked the way. Beyond the great iron Sign hung another; and another, dimly seen.
He nodded to himself. They had known. p.33
While I liked the unhurried pace and setting of this one, it is a little uneven (the dull meeting with the administrators at the start seems less real than the journey, although the former is perhaps truer to life). Also, the section at the inclined plane could have been better explained, and there is also a vision of a woman from Mathis’s past at the end of the story which seemed somewhat tacked on. A worthwhile read for all that.
The rest of the content from this story until the notable Barrington J. Bayley novelette at the end of the volume ranges from OK to awful so I’ll talk about his The Seed of Evil next. I had memories of this being one of the best stories that Bayley produced3 and wondered how it would stand up to rereading all these years later. I was still impressed by it.
The novelette consists of six chapters that generally telescope in time and length. The first is a short set-up describing an immortal being, Aeternus, who is part of space-time fabric and its desire for another immortal so it will not be alone.
After this (multiple spoilers) the story starts with an alien called Neverdie who, having fled from his pursuers, is given permission to settle on Earth. A surgeon, Julian Ferrg, who has adapted the alien for life on Earth, thinks it should have been forced to surrender the secrets of its immortality and FTL drive. The committee set up to oversee the alien’s settlement disagrees and Neverdie takes up residence in an apartment in a future bowl-shaped London. The rest of the story follows Ferrg and his single-minded determination to discover the alien’s secret. Several years later he kidnaps Neverdie, only to be caught on a ship he has fitted with theatres and laboratories to dissect and examine the alien.
Julian subsequently gets out of prison after fifteen years. He tries once more to make Neverdie reveal his secrets in an interview but fails. Julian puts himself into suspended animation and sets the timer for 500 years. A hundred years later, Neverdie discovers Julian’s location, breaks into the vault and disconnects the timer.
All these events play out in the final chapter of the story. Neverdie watches the fall and extinction of man and the rise of lupus sapiens millennia later. As these intelligent wolves are beginning to become a threat he decides to leave Earth and prepares his spaceship. Before he departs he travels to Ferrg’s chamber and releases him from his long sleep. However, Neverdie’s spaceship malfunctions on take-off and crashes. Julian finds him and takes him back to his chamber, dispatching two of the intelligent and hostile wolves en route.
After examining and dissecting Neverdie for some time he eventually finds a small sphere in a fold in the alien’s brain and is told that it is the ‘Seed of Evil’, originally meant as a punishment for a major criminal so he would never forget his crime. Neverdie makes one final effort to persuade Julian to forgo immortality but fails. As Julian swallows the device he has a momentary vision of the space-time being from the first part of the story:
That consciousness was calling him. Its call had caused the Seed to be made in the first place. Somehow, sometime, one of the beings enchained by the Seed would, in due course, be lifted out of the material realm to share Aeternus’ state, life without any of the means of life; and without end. Aeternus’ voice came to Julian; You are my only-begotten son, with whom I am well-pleased. And at that blasphemy he experienced a great fear that he was to be that eternal companion. p.190
This is an accomplished story in a number of ways. Not only does it manage to insert a sense of epic timescale into a relatively short story, and portray Ferrg as a convincing single-minded, amoral protagonist, but it manages to do so against a convincing backdrop. Recommended.
Of the rest of the stories, everything bar the two stories by Ted Tubb and the Leman are average fare.
The Eternal Theme of Exile by Brian W. Aldiss is the second of his ‘Enigma’ triptychs. These were a series of works that presented three short pieces together. I was going to quote the author’s introduction from the first of these but I am not sure that provides any illumination as to what these are supposed to be.5
The first of the three is The Eternal Theme of Exile, which has a man leaving for one of zodiacal planets as Anna Kavan thinks he is persecuting her. While he is there he experiences another personality.
All Those Enduring Old Charms has a man leaving for the zeepees to avoid the attentions of Anna K—. He then finds his grandmother in suspended animation and decides to have her reanimated so he can fall in love with her:
Daily, my master sent her one lemuroid after another, hoping to win her heart. One by one, the animals were returned, decapitated. My master sent her flowers, mathematical disputations, five-dimensional objects, sweetmeats, metaphors, plumes, plums, live jewels. All were returned. Grandmother was not to be moved.
‘How vexatious,’ said my master to the girls, ‘that I should leave one planet to escape the attentions of a woman, only to find myself on another planet where another woman plainly wishes to escape my attentions!’ He besought Vittoria to go to his grandmother and present his case personally. Vittoria was not returned. p.87
Finally, Nobody Spoke Or Waved Goodbye has Anna falling in love with a hired personality.
None of these singly or jointly act as a conventional story or stories, and they are probably best thought of as partially related and ambiguous glimpses of a strange future. Aldiss can write well enough to avoid these falling flat but I’m not sure they succeed either, certainly not in a conventional sense: you would probably have to be in the right mood to get the best out of them.
The Five Doors by Michael Stall has a cylinder appear in England that contains what seems to be the first of a series of five translocational doors which appear to be an alien test. Each of the worlds the doors lead to have their own particular problems that need to be solved (the first world is highly radioactive and kills the first man who went through). This is fine for the most part but there are one or two scenes at the end (the discussion of matter transmission devices is one) that are not that clear.
Sporting on Apteryx by Charles Partington tells of the people of Apteryx, who live beside a forest that has a cliff where there is a powerful wind. As the story opens one of their number, Mrogre, is being hunted by the tribe as he has developed a hump between his shoulders and is to be killed. His woman Minona is pregnant and later watches (spoiler) as Mrogre is burnt and wings spread from the hump… Ok as far as it goes but rather inconclusive. I think a monthly magazine editor would have asked Partington to compete the rest of the novella this is the seed of.
Rainbow by David Garnett is fine as long as you don’t think about its premise too much. A portal that leads to an OAP colony of 9000 people on an alien planet stops functioning and a breakdown of order occurs. One of my reservations is that there are too many staff members involved in the fighting to keep track of and they are not particularly well drawn. Another is that the ending doesn’t really flow logically from the rest of the story That said, it all moves along at an engrossing pace.
As to the ones I disliked, Wagtail in the Morning by Grahame Leman just lost me. A psychologist in the future gets a hand written letter to go and visit the Minister to discuss a way of controlling the ‘liveware’, e.g. the general population. There is a discussion with the Minister that I presume is meant to be satirical: when it is not there is not a lot of data dumping going on.
As to the Tubb stories, they are both pretty bad. Accolade is published as being by Charles Grey, a pseudonym, and until I found out from ISFDB I thought it was a slush pile story that has accidentally made it into print. A generation starship crew explore their new environment while the captain broods. There is some discussion about the fact they were able to travel faster than light and then (spoiler) they notice a dark shadow approaching before they are swatted like an insect. A truly daft story.
Made to Be Broken, however, has a different set of problems. My foreboding started with the first line:
Head aching slightly from the effects of the hypnotute Lieutenant Zac Karsov made his way through the ship to where the landing party waited before the main lock. p.59
Sure enough, this turns out to be a refugee from New Worlds of the 1950s, and not a particularly good one either. This is about a planetary contact team headed up by a woman, and the Lieutenant mentioned in the first line turns out to be a patronising male underling who is a know-it-all. Their first attempt to establish contact with the natives fails when they discover the captain is a woman.
Lieutenant Karsov then goes undercover to research the natives. As he is in RT contact with the Captain he uses the opportunity to chat her up (this after patronising her about the failed attempt in front of their superiors):
‘Remember to report everything and anything you see. I shall not be able to advise you without full data to work on.’
‘I’ll remember. Captain,’ he promised. ‘And it’s nice to know that you care.’
‘For the mission, Lieutenant,’ the voice said coldly. ‘There is nothing personal about this.’
‘A pity. With you I’d like to get personal.’
‘Sorry,’ he said, smiling. ‘A sub-vocal wish, Captain. You shouldn’t have heard it. Not that it wasn’t genuine. As I said you are a very attractive woman.’ p.67-68
On the second attempt the contact team appear at the village in force and convince the natives to parley.
It also appears that Tubb has also placed a chip on his protagonist’s shoulder about academic education:
‘Thanks to you,’ she said when he pointed it out. ‘But how did you know what to do? At college they—’
‘Talk a load of guff,’ he interrupted. ‘Textbook theorising unbacked by actual experience.’ p.78-79
No doubt the gobby Lieutenant Karsov was voted ‘Most likely to be shot in the back by his own men’ during training. Old-fashioned, sexist and patronising.
To conclude, this volume was generally pretty much what I had remembered New Writings in SF to be like, and perhaps a bit better than that. Normally you could count on one or two notable stories in every volume, a wedge of material that was OK and some that… wasn’t. What it did have were British names that you wouldn’t find elsewhere. In those pre-internet days if you wanted to send your story to markets in the States it was relatively costly to do: paper mss were expensive to send to the USA, and you had to include a couple of IRCs6 for the reply. I suspect this was enough hassle to have a group of part-time UK writers who would write and send work to a British market if there was one around at the time, but wouldn’t bother if there wasn’t (the late 1970s for instance).7
This volume is recommended for the Roberts and Bayley novelettes.
- As a regular anthology series it has many of the characteristics of magazines: regular-ish publication schedule, regular-ish stable of writers, editorials, story introductions, etc.
- The other, and better, story was The Trustie Tree in New Worlds #5 (1973).
- The other contender would be Bayley’s The Ship of Disaster (New Worlds #151, June 1965).
- By the way, this story contains this phrase ‘He envied the myriad creatures whose lives were given meaning by the fact that those lives must end.’—the same dubious sentiment that the Michael Barrington story in New Worlds #89 (December 1959) had.
- If you don’t believe me here is the introduction to the first Enigma triptych in New Writings in SF #22 (1973):
‘Here are three of my Enigmas. Consider them as paintings, as Tiepolo’s engravings crossed with de Chirico’s canvases.
I have written other Enigmas and shall write more. When I have written fifty, the best of them can be collected and published as a book.
Consider that statement. Its author appears to operate securely within well-defined parameters; his chart of his known world plainly contains at least a portion of the future. One would not suspect from the statement that the world in which he operates is full of ambiguities, of alternatives that open and close like sliding doors.
Yet so it is. The author of the statement has chosen to make assumptions. He operates on the basis of those assumptions just as navigators of old operated on the assumption that the Pole Star was fixed. That assumption worked, although it was totally erroneous—the Pole Star travels millions of miles a year on its ineluctable errands. Which was something the ancient navigators could never guess.
So with these other assumptions. They are probably incorrect in ways we cannot attempt to understand. And that is the assumption which underlies the Enigmas: that the world is a stage on which we, the players, have no adequate means of determining the nature of the drama in which we enact our bit parts—despite various dogmatic assertions on the subject from Religion or Science.’
- IRC=International reply coupons, each was exchangeable world-wide for a surface postage stamp to reply to the sender. Two would be enough for an airmail stamp although, given they had probably sat on your story for nine months, I don’t see what the hurry was for the rejection letter.
- Have a look at Ritchie Smith and Thomas Penman on ISFDB for instance: three stories in New Writings in SF 26, 28 and 30, and then never heard from again. That said, a number of Australian names turned up in this series.