Book Review: New Writings in SF 4, ed. John Carnell (1965) (Asimov + Roberts + Tenn + Kapp + Etchison + Morgan)


(Robert Foster’s stunning cover for the 1968 edition)

2.75/5 (Collated rating: Vaguely Average)

Despite the presence of one of Robert Foster’s best covers (for more on his art: Part I, Part II), New Writings in SF 4, ed. John Carnell (1965) contains only a few glimmers of brilliance—concentrated in Keith Roberts’ short story “Sub-Lim” (1965), a dark tale of crooked people and subliminal stimuli.  Isaac Asimov regurgitates something about a SF heist he scribbled on a napkin, Dan Morgan mumbles about alternate universes and tricycles, and Colin Kapp lectures on the “unusual methods of cementation of electrolysis” (54) instead of telling a story…

The best stories in the collection can be found in other author specific volumes: “Sub-Lim” in Keith Roberts’ Machines and Men (1973) and William Tenn’s “Bernie the Faust” (1963) in The Seven Sexes (1968).

Recommended only for New Writings in SF series collectors and fans of Robert Foster’s covers.

Brief Analysis/Summary

“High Eight” (1965), novelette by Keith Roberts as David Stringer, 3/5 (Average):  A few of Keith Roberts’ earliest stories were written under various pseudonyms…. “High Eight” has a plot straight out of SF B-movies yet manages to evoke some genuine terror as Roberts pushes the story to violent extremes.  Rick Cameron works for Saskeega  Power Company checking the lines.  Lines that, according to rumor, were “bringing the current that ran the Doomsday Brain” (5).  Rick’s wife Judy fears the lines and their awesome power: “Electricity, Rick.  It scares me.  Look at it all round.  Just think, if it was waiting.  If it all wanted to pull…” (7).  And then the lines start to pull people in.  As Rick untangles the growing pile of bodies from the transistor stations he concludes that the suicides and explosions aren’t accidental or even manmade. What sinister force is afoot?

A minor yet unsettling story told in a vigorous and ernest manner.

“Star Light” (1962), short story by Isaac Asimov, 2/5 (Bad):  A short almost flash fiction piece which doesn’t instill much of a “flash” as Asimov cannot convey the searing image and lasting implications in a memorable manner.  Arthur Trent buys into a ridiculous heist plan.  As his spaceship Jumps randomly into the expanse of space with his loot, he relies on the mathematically probability of emerging far away from a star.  But some other interstellar feature gets in the way.  And that’s it!

“Hunger Over Sweet Waters” (1965), novelette by Colin Kapp, 2.75/5 (Vaguely Average):  A few years ago I read but did not a review a handful of stories from Colin Kapp’s Unorthodox Engineers (1979) which contained a sequence of stories written between 1959-1975.  They followed a set pattern: 1) strange world causes strange disaster. 2) Brilliant yet unorthodox engineers and scientists save the day.  “Hunger Over Sweet Waters” takes the same premise and adds sexual tension.  Blick and Martha get stranded after a technological disaster and must survive on a water world.  Surviving disaster on a strange watery planet with “floating” rich mineral slag suitable for mining aside, most of the story reads as follows:

“This is the copper region of Hebron V, and some of the current streams carry a fairly pure but dilute solution of copper salts in water.  Factually, the copper concentration in these streams is so low that the attempt to extract the copper from the stream by the usual methods of cementation of electrolysis would be a costly and inefficient business.  But if I pass the dilute liquor through a cation resin column, the copper ions will remain in the resin bed while the radical with which it was combined will pass on out of the column, the copper ions will remain in the resin bed while the radical with which it was combined will pass on out of the column, together with whatever ions the copper has itself displaced—in this case, hydrogen” (54).

I am “factually” quaking with expectation about whether the “cation resin column” will actually nab all those naughty “copper ions”!  Will Blick succeed in doing science?

I am all for realistic scientific content in SF when necessary. However, Kapp’s work for Mullard Radio Valve Company and later freelancing as an electroplating consultant, does not give him the license to slip into lecture mode at every conceivable moment (SF Encyclopedia for more on Mr. Electroplater himself)….

If this type of exposition excites your atoms into a frenzied state of mouth-frothing happiness, then send me an email and I’ll send you a PDF.  But you’ll have to wade through my snarky marginalia that indicates my deep distrust of authors attempting to write “Hard” SF as it is often an excuse for badly delivered stories in the guise of scientific exactitude.

“The Country of the Strong” (1962), short story by Dennis Etchison, 3.5/5 (Good) is a bleak post-apocalyptical story from an “acknowledged” master of horror.  “The Country of the Strong,” characterized by craft and precision in image and detail, tells of Marber’s afternoon trip to a “park” with a neighbor’s club-footed daughter Darla.  Her father, a Selected Survival (SS) man, spends his time hunting down mutants while tasking his wife with protecting their mutant daughter.  Odd scenes around a once pristine swimming pool transpire, and a violent culmination…

“Parking Problem” (1965), short story by Dan Morgan, 1/5 (Bad):  A while back I read Dan Morgan’s novel Inside (1971) which I remember chiefly due to its amazing Richard Powers cover.  According to my review, Dan Morgan’s ability to tackle his intriguing entropic premise  “never goes beyond the strictures of the plot.”  Unlike Inside, “Parking Problem” if problematic on every level…  A supposedly comical story, “Parking Problem” does not resonate on either a comedic or satirical level.  A black box that transports its rodent test subjects (and eventually its creator) to alternate universes, is patented as  as a “Snerd Extra Dimensional Parking Locker” (89). A thief with fascist aspirations (a past president of the Adolf Hitler Society), attempts to steal cars from the locker and out comes a strange pink tricycle…  Who rides the strange pink tricycle?  Certainly not Barbie.

“Sub-Lim” (1965), novelette by Keith Roberts, 4.5/5 (Very Good):  From 1943 on subliminal messages were impeded in “radio, film and television programs” (for more: Scientific American’s article “A Short History of the Rise, fall and Rise of Subliminal Messaging”).  Keith Roberts’ story takes these “Images” to another extreme.  Johnny Harper recounts, in a therapy session with his doctor, his grasping and unscrupulous attempt to get “to the top” (118).  Johnny’s a filmmaker who discovers a man named Freddy, who has distilled human emotion from films into a series of powerful Images (which Freddy himself is immune to).  Johnny incorporates these emotion-evoking Images into a hack TV show called Little Andy.  However, everyone around him is just as grasping as Johnny is and willing to use Freddy’s Images for their own ends.

Told in a paranoid style—Johnny receives therapy due to his suicidal compulsions—Roberts creates an intense and compelling reading experience.  Why are future media stories so good?   Robert Silverberg’s “The Pain Peddlers” (1963) and Kit Reed’s “At Central” (1967) come to mind.

Highly recommended.

“Bernie the Faust” (1963), novelette by William Tenn, 3.75/5 (Good): William Tenn’s satires manage to be comical and intelligent—for example, the amoeba alien pornography in “Party of the Two Parts” (1954) accidentally reproduced in Earth textbooks.  “Bernie the Faust” is no different.  A funny exercise in paranoia, Bernie is perplexed by an offer he receives from a homeless man (or an actor?): $5 for $20 dollars.  Although Bernie initially rebuffs the man, he speculates that perhaps it is all part of a TV program with a prize!  He tracks him down and makes the exchange.  And soon the man offers to buy the Golden Gate Bridge.  Bernie sees an opportunity for free cash!  But who is the mysterious buyer?


Previous William Tenn works I’ve read: his sole novel Of Men and Monsters (1968) and the short story collection The Human Angle (1956).

For more book reviews consult the INDEX


(Solution’s cover for the 1971 edition)

7 thoughts on “Book Review: New Writings in SF 4, ed. John Carnell (1965) (Asimov + Roberts + Tenn + Kapp + Etchison + Morgan)

  1. Hi Joachim

    Your comments on the Knapp story were wonderful, I read parts to my wife and she enjoyed them immensely as well. I have Robert’s Kiteworld waiting to be read at home. It sounds like I may need to look for his short stories as well. Tenn is also on my list so you covered a lot of bases for me. Thanks for all the links I am interested in exploring more of Robert Foster’s covers.

    All the best

    • Hell Guy, Hah! Sometimes the snarky bits are the most fun to write.

      William Tenn is very much in the Robert Sheckley mode (although not as experimental) — a witty and readable author. I prefer Sheckley more due to his experimentation with narrative etc (but that is to be expected!).

      The reality is Kapp’s story would have been solid if he cut down on the lecturing by 4/5ths — the planet is fascinating, the characterization isn’t as bad as it could be and Martha, a biologist, proves to be a rather adept individual although her specialized knowledge is not used for their survival (which strikes me as ridiculous).

      Sometimes I think Hard SF fans don’t like their SF character heavy for the sole reason that Hard SF authors tend to be really awful AT characterization. Thus, their readers think that all character driven SF must be like those egregious sections!

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