Science Fiction Monthly v02n12, December 1975


The Worlds that Were • reprint short fiction by Keith Roberts ♥♥♥
On Cooking the First Hero in Spring • short story by Ian Watson

Cover • Richard Clifton-Dey
Interior artwork • Bob Layzell, George Underwood, Lucinda Cowell, Eddie Jones, Terry Griffiths, Bruce Pennington, Richard Clifton-Dey, Ian Miller, Tony Masero, Ray Feibush, Mark Lowden, James Cunningham
Keith Roberts: The Patient Craftsman • essay by Mike Ashley
The Query Box • by Walter Gillings [as by Thomas Sheridan]
Book Reviews • Peter Weston, Malcolm Edwards
News • by Julie Davis
Film Review • by Robin McKie
When NASA Commissions Imaginations • essay by Sandra Miesel
Trieste ‘75 Film Festival • essay by John Brosnan

As a result of reading Keith Roberts’ ‘Pavane’ stories in Impulse I was taken back to the magazine article that started it all for me. Keith Roberts: The Patient Craftsman by Mike Ashley was an enthusiastic and informative article that not only kindled my love for Keith Roberts’ work but also for the magazine Science Fantasy (especially of the Bonfiglioli period). It wasn’t long before I bought Pavane, and later started finding the odd volume of Science Fantasy in a second hand bookshop I used to frequent.1
The article itself covers Roberts’ work from his debut in 1964 through to the mid-seventies, and is illustrated by four of Roberts’ covers for Science Fantasy although the B&W reproduction doesn’t really do them justice. I highly recommend it as an introduction to that writer’s work. However, at the end he says:

What a wonderful prospect there is for the sf readers of this country from an author who can produce masterpieces from a cold start. He is now 40, with a literary career just over ten years old. One can only gasp at the wonders the next ten should bring. p.4

Unfortunately this was not the case as Roberts’ second decade as a writer was a pale shadow of the first. Notwithstanding this, I hope Mike Ashley manages to produce a revised version of this article at some point covering all Roberts’ work.

While we are on the topic of Keith Roberts, Ashley chose The Worlds that Were2 as the story to accompany the article. This story has a rather dull start and it takes a while to get past the miserablist Midlands beginning:

I’m standing in a little park. It’s maybe a quarter mile square, bordered on two sides by railing and struggling lines of trees, on the others by walls of dull brick with buttresses set at ten foot intervals all the way along. Above the farther wall, houses hump stolidly under their glittering lines of roof. Paint-peeling, brown and sooty-pink, show-your-plumbing, outside-privied houses; nasty little houses, tall and mean-shouldered, wet-footed. Bathtins hang on lavatory walls, bikes rust in their sheds among heaps of coal, socks and underwear hang dispirited as they soak up the day’s fall of water and smuts. I can’t see it all from where I stand.
Not all at once. But I know it’s there.

It proceeds to a story of two brothers who have an unusual Talent. Alan and his brother Dicky can create whole realities:

I get my key out, push it in the lock and turn. Houses like mine don’t have handles on their doors. I shove the door, squinting a bit in readiness, and walk into the Sahara. I stand quite still, soaking in sensations. The smells first; an ancient sweetness and dryness, the mummy-breath of winds coming in over baking miles of sand; the nearer deep-green evanescence of water. It’s evening. Way off the sun is dropping over the rim of the horizon. The shadows it throws are undulating and miles long. Ahead of me is an oasis. Firelight glimmers through the trunks of trees; their tall fronds hang still, reflecting in the quiet mirror of a pool.

However, their life is disrupted when Alan brings back a woman, Andrea, to their house. Dicky’s anger causes Alan and Andy to have to survive a number of perilous worlds. Some of these are intriguing and you wish Roberts had actually given us his take on these scenarios in full-blown stories. In one or two he probably did (Weihnachtabend):

I ran forward again and saw Andy. She was wearing a checked shirt and a belted skirt of some rough cloth. Her face was white and she was standing fists clenched, facing the Obersturmfuehrer. The heavy automatic he was holding out at her looked too big for his hand.
Nacht und Nebel’, he said softly. ‘Nacht und Nebel, Fraulein… p.10

In others, you wonder what he would have made of an entire pulp story:

The sky colour altered and shifted and there were cloudy streaks running from horizon to zenith and dark clusters of planets. Simultaneously the Thing burst out of the ground beside me, followed by half a dozen others.
The first glimpse suggested the results of a high-speed car smash, a second sight put me more in mind of an abortion on a cat. The cat image was best; the machines, if they were machines, came hopping after me with metallic mewings. I blasted the nearest pair and ran ahead, shouting for Andy. No answer; then I saw her. She was chained to a rock, Andromeda-fashion; a half circle of the horrors were converging on her. The blaster whimpered again, turning the creatures to glowing puddles, but there were others coming fast and hundreds more thronging the horizon. A Possibility Twist disposed of the rock and fastenings but that was all I could manage, I was getting out of breath. Andy sat up, pushing the hair back from her eyes. ‘It’s the Khan,’ she said tonelessly. ‘As he threatened, he has released the Direcats…’

It is worth sticking with it for the roller-coaster ride of fast changing realities in the second half. That said, I think I would have probably chosen one of Roberts’ ‘Anita’ stories to go with the article (The Mayday, as mentioned in the article for example).

The other piece of fiction in this issue is On Cooking the First Hero in Spring by Ian Watson. This is about an exploration team who investigate alien slug-like beings called claymen. At one point they observe a rite:

They seized one of their own number out of the crowd, slung him over the cooking spit and wrapped him round it flexibly, binding his feet and head together. One clayman stuck long, thin clay pipes into the victim’s mouth, nostrils and rectum. Another kindled a fire beneath the spit. A third began cranking the handle to turn it. Others slapped wet clay onto the victim’s body. p.19

Later, one of the team, a Tibetan, communes with the creatures and then tells the others what he has gathered:

‘They must be the noblest logicians in the universe, these. Number can hardly exist for them, yet they affirm series. Cause constantly cancels logic out because they can’t see into outer space to know the true causes of these strange effects. Yet they affirm logic. They deny the very evidence of their senses for the sake of it. Only thus is culture possible for them. Only thus can there be rules from day to day, and form of time-binding.
Yet they can’t speak about their world, because to do so destroys logic.’ p.19

I had no idea what he was talking about.

On the non-fiction side there are good reviews of two books each by Peter Weston and Malcolm Edwards. Part of the Weston review of Wilson Tucker’s Ice and Iron (about a new ice age) appealed to the cynic in me:

According to Reid Bryson, Director of the Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, there has already been a real and steady decline in global mean temperatures for the past twenty years. These are supposedly due to the activities of man, in putting vast quantities of dust in to the atmosphere and so causing the sun’s heat to be reflected back out in to space.
We are at present living in what is known as an ‘interglacial period’, only 10-12,000 years after the end of the most recent of four successive Ice Ages. No one knows what caused them; or whether there will be another.
This is where the article is really frightening. It says that . . . ‘sharp changes can occur in only seventeen years or so, switching climate from inter-glacial to a full glacial period in only a little over 100 years’.

It reminded that not so long ago we were worried about a premature Ice Age coming.
Also in this issue is The Query Box and the usual Letters column. The latter has a letter from Harry Harrison complaining about Peter Weston second guessing his assembly of The John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology and stating he was well aware of the gaps:

Let me tell you about the ones we missed. Robert Heinlein was in the middle of a novel the entire time the anthology was being put together and could not do a short story. I was on the phone to A. E. van Vogt many times; the story he was doing just did not gel in time. L. Ron Hubbard never responded to my letters. Unhappily, somewhere in his papers, there is a 10,000-word fragment of an unfinished sequel to First Contact by Murray Leinster. James Blish started a story that was never completed. p.12

There is also the News column which announces this issue’s price rise to 40p (from 35p). Ah, those good old days of rocketing inflation.
Robin McKie contributes a film column where he reviews Death Race 2000, which he liked, and David Cronenberg’s The Parasite Murders, which he didn’t:

The Parasite Murders, an all too successful attempt at shock and revulsion, must rank as one of the most pointlessly gory films ever made. It is the epitome of [that] that is puerile and silly in badly-made horror movies. The insistence that it is science fiction will do nothing but harm to the genre. p.20

There is also an article by John Bronsan covering the Trieste ‘75 Film Festival, which seems have shown only one film over the week that he liked (Rendezvous with a Joyous Death/Expulsion of the Devil) although he writes entertainingly about the others:

The Spanish entry, for instance, was a cheap and amateurish production called Refuge of Fear about two ‘typically middle-class American families’ trapped in a bomb shelter after World War III. Boredom, of course, causes an eventual breakdown in their minisociety but not before it has caused a similar breakdown in the minds of the audience. p.26

The last article is When NASA Commissions Imaginations by Sandra Miesel, which is about various types of artists being shown round a NASA launch site and viewing a launch.

Finally, the artwork in this issue: great cover, but the internal colour work is of variable interest and you rather wonder if the art inventory was beginning to run low after two years of publication.

  1. Dow’s Books at the top of King Street in Aberdeen was, to be honest, a grotty hole and they also had the foul habit of cutting off the rear topmost corner of most of their books and stamping them with an indigo price stamp, usually 20p. However, it was the source for me of quite a few of the Roberts and Vinter New Worlds and Science Fantasy of the 1964-67 period, and I also picked up most of the early to mid-seventies Analog there, amongst other things. I eventually bought a complete run of Science Fantasy from Ken Slater of Fantast Medway. They had originally belonged to James White, but he sold them when his eyesight deteriorated.
  2. From the introduction to the story: ‘The Worlds that Were’ originally appeared in the May 1966 issue of the American magazine ‘Worlds of Tomorrow’. The editor at that time, Frederik Pohl, commissioned Keith Roberts to write a story around an illustration which was to appear on the cover. As it happened, the artwork was extraordinarily bad and discouraged the author from accepting a similar commission a second time, nevertheless the story turned out to be surprisingly good. Since its first publication the story has eluded anthologists and editors alike but Keith Roberts has now prepared a revised and updated version especially for publication in ‘SFM’. p.8
    Why Pohl would commission a story from a writer he had never worked with before and would never work with again eludes me.
    The cover of Worlds of Tomorrow, May 1966: ‘Cover by Morrow suggested by The Worlds That Were:

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