(David McCall Johnston’s art for the 1971 edition)
3.25/5 (collated rating: Vaguely Good)
New Writings in S-F 6 (1965) is the third I’ve read so far in John Carnell’s anthology series and by far the most satisfying. New Writings in S-F 4 (1965) was worthwhile only for Keith Roberts’ short story “Sub-Lim” (1965). New Writings in S-F 9 (1972) was marginally overall better with solid outings by Michael G. Coney and M. John Harrison.
The sixth in the sequence offers an intriguing Keith Roberts novella–that takes up almost half the volume–and a kaleidoscope of other moody (albeit lesser) visions from William Spencer, John Baxter, and E.C. Tubb.
“The Inner Wheel” (1965), Keith Roberts, 4/5 (Good): A few months ago I procured a copy of Keith Roberts’ linked series of short stories containing the titular “The Inner Wheel” and chose this particular New Writings in SF volume because of the story. I suspect I won’t be returning to the “novel” anytime soon as Roberts’ story intrigued but did not pull me in. If only I could convince myself to review Pavane (1968).
Jimmy Strong, compelled by shadowy forces, feels pulled towards the small town of Warwell. Various fleeting characters he meets along the way all proclaim, with a little too much gusto, “You’ll love Warwell, everybody does. It’s a nice town. Such a nice little town….” (9). Roberts imbues his distinctly English stories with distinctly English details: from pub names to the description of the quant “everywhereness” of the town itself. As “the Wheel” turns and the uncanny grows and the dreams and compulsions swirl about, Jimmy Strong slowly uncovers more about Them.
The novella (55 pages) exudes gothic dread laced with attempts at recurrent poetic images and a New Wave vibe: “Across the street a towering ugly-pretty pile of waterside Gothic proclaimed itself the George Hotel […] From the town beyond came a buzz of sound; cars, voices; somewhere a Wheel turned slowly, unseen and unheard, its rim as big as a valley” (11). A mood piece that takes a little too long to come together. If I had to make a comparison, I’d I might suggest “The Inner Wheel” feels a bit like The Prisoner (1967-1968) if it took place in a murky haze near a gothic mansion (albeit, with telepathy and gestalt minds)….
“Horizontal Man” (1965), William Spencer, 3.75/5 (Good): Immortality. The ennui of immortality. Virtual reality as a means to temper the endlessness of it all…. You’ve read all of these pieces placed in various combinations before–and perhaps descended into a certain ennui when encountering various re-combinations…. That said, Spencer’s dark gemlike story rises above many others of the popular subgenre.
Timon manipulates a single claw to engage with a console triggering particular virtual reality simulations from within his coffin-like chamber. In the moments where he’s unplugged from the virtual simulations he ponders his existence: “[he] viewed with some distaste the thick ropelike duct which was connected to him somewhere in the region of the navel, and which supplied him all the sustenance that his feeble body required” (63). He only wishes to escape into a state of sleep — however the sleep function cannot be selected more than once in a twenty-four hour interval. But soon his claw gets stuck in the console panel. First he panics. And then glee sets in as he slips permanently into a sleep state. But what will he mechanisms that control the facility do when they discover the error?
Note: I’ve compiled a list of immortality themed SF works here.
“The Day Before Never” (1965), Robert Presslie, 3/5 (Average): Humans resist evil invaders. Are the humans also evil? How evil are the invaders? The narrator races across the landscape at the wheel of the red Berlinetta–“one thousand miles in thirty hours” (75)–with a stash of preserved food and unclear motives and plans (at least to the reader initially expecting a Mad Max post-apocalyptical adventure). The us vs. them dynamic slowly looses its distinction as the narrator engages in less than savory plots with less than savory individuals. A bleak and somewhat readable take on the SF invasion story.
“The Hands” (1965), John Baxter, 4/5 (Good): A SF story tinged with horror and a very memorable first line: “They let Vitti go first because he was the one with two heads, and it seemed that if there was anything of sympathy or honor or love for them, then Vitti should have the first and best of it” (97). A group of astronauts return from an alien planet with mysterious extra limbs and body parts. At first glance it appears that the alien species on the planet attempted to communicate with the human visitors by triggering particular growths. A fascinating idea!
I found the ending something of a cop-out. I’d prefer the intent of the aliens to have remained a mystery à la Robert Silverberg’s riveting The Man in the Maze (1969). Regardless, the barebones stylings and odd dialogue make this a keeper. Recommended.
“The Seekers” (1965), E.C. Tubb, 3.5/5 (Good): Pleasantly surprised by this short E. C. Tubb tale–men struggling with paranoia and Byzantine delusions of grandeur trapped on a spaceship after the death of their captain: “a mechanical bullet aimed at a distant star. Another star, another planet, another step on the path of total domination” (109). Inalgo paints crucifixions. Delray, the ship’s doctor, slips into virtual reality simulations of barbaric destruction. There is a functionalism to the story which doesn’t detract from its general intensity and downright pessimistic outlook on humans and exploration.
“Atrophy” (1965), Ernest Hill, 2.5/5 (Bad): I experienced a sense of atrophy reading this story–the inability to recall the most minor details of the stories set in while attempting to write this review a few months after my first read….
Elvin spends far too much time popping tranquillizers and slipping into evening programs (facilitated for maximum emersion with retina and receptivity stimulation). His partner protests: “You’ll atrophy” (120). Elvin has avoided using “IT” in weeks—“IT” being a program that orders “No smoking! No narcotics! No stimulation!” while testing one’s responses to various questions, prodding stubborn synapses to make connections, prodding particular viewpoints to be reaffirmed, ostensibly to prevent atrophy…. Elvin’s job as a button pusher suddenly becomes heated forcing his brain to work quickly! Will he win back his partner? Of course..
“Advantage” (1965), John Rackham (aka John T. Phillifent), 2.5/5 (Bad): An author I’d avoid entirely if novel length…. A workmanlike story about a narcissistic Colonel Jack Barclay who takes advantage of a young man with extraordinary gifts in order to build a colony on a dangerous planet. No one else knows the unique power of the young man to foretell disaster…. but rather complains about his endless whining. But Barclay isn’t even a font of tough love but cares solely about his reputation in the field. And when a woman arrives who threatens to steal the “forlorn figure of Richard Caddas” (141) out from under Barclay’s nose, the Colonel will do anything to keep her away.
A story about taking advantage of at risk young people? A story about the dangers of women who threaten to mother (and thus ruin) young men? There is little redeeming about this ramshackle end to the collection. Avoid.
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