(Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1968 edition)
4/5 (collated rating: Good)
Fresh off of Langdon Jones’ wonderful New Wave collection The Eye of the Lens (1972) I decided to see if any of my unread anthologies contained his work—queue The Best SF Stories From New Worlds (1967). Unfortunately, Jones’ contribution is far from the best in this absolutely stellar collection.
This 1967 volume was the first in a series of eight Best Of New Worlds anthologies edited by Michael Moorcock between 1967-1974. I reviewed The Best SF Stories From New Worlds 3 (1968)—i.e. the one with Pamela Zoline’s must-read “The Heat Death of the Universe” (1967)—a while back.
The takeaway: The majority of stories in are required reading for fans of New Wave SF and New Worlds magazine. Find a copy of the anthology with its fantastic Paul Lehr cover or track down the stories in other collections/anthologies.
“The Small Betraying Detail” (1965), short story by Brian W. Aldiss, 3.25/5 (Average): Over the years I’ve reviewed four Aldiss collections (Galaxies Like Grains of Sand, No Time Like Tomorrow, Starswarm, and Who Can Replace a Man?) and count him among my favorite authors—however, this is a rather slight story that neither frustrates nor inspires but does generate an uncanny aura.
Richmond and Walter, while taking their friend Arthur to a TB sanatorium, decide to stop along the way at a series of neolithic flint mines. Walter, an amateur archaeologist uses the jaunt as an excuse to demonstrate his pseudo-intellectualism, Richmond, more kindly, worries about Arthur’s exertions… Walter espouses theories that humankind had become, for a while in “his early career, an aquatic creature living mostly in the sea” before returning to land (17). And down in the mine concavities, certain properties appear to transpire indicating “the small betraying detail” that the world might be another. And Arthur descends into delusions, are they symptoms of TB? Or, a shift into a world where Walter’s proclamations might really be true?
“The Keys to December” (1966), novelette by Roger Zelazny, 4/5 (Good): Nominated for the 1968 Nebula for best Novelette. The death of a world parallels the creation of another. Within this poetic cyclicality, Zelazny weaves a poignant love story between two individuals desperate to create a life for both themselves and their people with cataclysmic ramifications. Jarry Dark was born of “man and woman” (23) but genetically modified (“Catform Y7” + “Coldworld Class”) for life on a cold planet that no longer exists after an encounter with a nova. Wards of General Mining, Jarry grows up alone in a tank connected via interlink to others of his kind—and he falls in love with Sanza. They decide to acquire and transform a new world… Terraforming devices are purchased, cold sleep pods deployed, and wake intervals decided upon. As their new world slowly dies thus creating an environment the Catforms can live in, they trigger sentience in beings beyond the walls of their enclosure that holds their cold sleep pods. Jarry, remembering his own suffering, proclaims their actions a crime!
Zelazny’s story is possessed by poeticism and beauty as the cat forms observe the death (transformation) of the world around them… Their plight, trapped in their tanks, generates palpable emotion, as does the slow transformation of their new world.
“The Assassination Weapon” (1966), shortstory by J. G. Ballard, 4/5 (Good) is the second in The Atrocity Exhibition sequence of linked short stories. Written soon after the death of Ballard’s wife and filled with the resulting trauma and pain, this story is the second in the sequence that later became The Atrocity Exhibition (1970). Dense and condensed, a series of personas manifested as historical figures (JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Jacky Kennedy, etc) weave in and out of the stories with the sequence. A chaotic, seemingly disconnected, cacophony of images—a H-bomber pilot named Traven, attempts reconcile his traumatic (PTSD?) state with the rest of the universe. The scenes emphasize the fractured nature of his mental state: “Dr. Lancaster was watching him in the sunlight, the sculpture beside him reflecting a dozen fragments of his head and arms” (58). The mental turmoil of a mind reaching and flailing and desperately attempting to create meaning from images and fragments and tangents and historical events seeps from every page.
If you are new to Ballard’s work, I recommend reading The Drowned World (1962) or the stories in Billenium (1962) first. This one will require multiple re-readings to uncover the how and why between the association of images and scenes.
“Nobody Axed You” (1965), novelette by John Brunner, 5/5 (Masterpiece): I love Brunner. Stand on Zanzibar (1968) is my favorite SF novel. He also wrote one of my least favorite novels—The Dramaturges of Yan (1982). Although I do not torture myself as frequently as Mike over at The Potpourri of SF Literature does with Brunner’s absolutely atrocious “written-to-pay-the-bills” pulp, I have been know to review them occasionally—for example, the straight from the B-movies pile-of-crap, Double, Double (1969).
Thankfully, “Nobody Axed You” is an entirely different beast and joins Kate Wilhelm’s “Baby, You Were Great” (1967) and Kit Reed’s “At Central” (1967) as one of my favorite stories about the dangers of media… A satirical story in an overpopulated world and how gruesome TV shows compel the masses to kill each other—but suicide is forbidden! The horrors of Brunner’s world are implied with uncomfortable nursery rhymes: “What is the F on your cheek pretty maid / My pretty maid, my pretty maid? / The F stands for frigid, sir she said, / Sir she said, sir she said / The F stands for fri-g-id, sir she said!” (71).
Gene Gardner is the main actor and in charge of the scenarios for his TV show while his wife plays the main victim: “I felt so detached and critical it was almost as though I were watching someone else chopping open Denise’s head” (61) he ruminates…. The dislocation from the world, the obsession with the TV show and its gruesome vignettes, the metafictional implications of wife and husband as actors, indicates the power of the program, but not in the ways intended by its creator…
“A Two-Timer” (1966), novelette by David I. Masson, 3/5 (Average): I have yet to read any of Masson’s stories (he wrote only ten but they were recently collected for the Gollancz Masterwork sequence)—the praise abounds for them on the inter webs. The appeal for “A Two-Timer” seems to be focused on the linguistic elements of the story. Told entirely in in 17th century English dialect (Masson was a rare books librarian), the narrator encounters a time machine and transports himself to 1964. Playing with the tropes of a time traveller encountering a marvelous new world, he ends up committing adultery. Be prepared for a lot of “I crouch’d me down in my Sorcerer’s Chair and commended my Soul to Almighty God, for I though, that some fearful Disaster was nigh” (96)—the fearful “Disaster” was my attention span…
“The Music Makers” (1965), short story by Langdon Jones, 3/5 (Average): As I indicated above, fresh off of The Eye of the Lens (1972), I browsed around for a collection with another Langdon story… There are some intriguing elements to this one but it ended up being rather bland. David performs the Berg Violin Concerto for the nouveau riche on Mars who, desperate to show their pretensions at culture, do not appear to truly understand the music and its meaning.. David wanders off across the landscape with his violin, and encounters a rather more alien music.
Jones’ passion for music, he was a trained musician, shows in this story—the yearning for audiences to understand what is performed, what the performer puts into a performance is heartfelt and realized. I guess the way the conclusion is reached is not compelling….
“The Squirrel Cage” (1966), short story by Thomas M. Disch, 4.75/5 (Near Masterpiece): The best Thomas M. Disch short story I’ve read yet! The parallel, a man (an author, Disch), sits in an empty room with a typewriter and learns about deep ocean pogonophores, who never leave their self-created shells…. Is the author’s entrapment an experiment? Or, some self-imposed exile? Perhaps the author has forgotten the reason for his entrapment.
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(Uncredited cover for the 1967 edition)