Today I’ve reviewed the seventeenth story in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future. John Brunner explores how total immersion media, one organ in a vast futuristic fair designed to satiate the masses, can transform fear within the broken.
Previously: John D. MacDonald’s “Spectator Sport” in Thrilling Wonder Stories, ed. Sam Merwin, Jr. (February 1950). You can read it online here.
Up Next: C. M. Kornbluth’s “The Advent on Channel Twelve” in Star Science Fiction Stories No. 4, ed. Frederik Pohl (1958). You can read it online here.
Alice Eleanor Jones’ “The Happy Clown” in If, ed. James L. Quinn (December 1955). You can read it online here.
4.5/5 (Very Good)
John Brunner’s “Fair” first appeared in New Worlds Science Fiction, ed. John Carnell (March 1956) under the pseudonym Keith Woodcott. You can read it online here. It also appeared in his first collection No Future In It (1962).
I recently devoured Jad Smith’s short monograph John Brunner (2012) in the Modern Masters of Science Fiction series for Illinois University Press. Not only did the book rekindle my desire to tackle more of Brunner’s short fiction but I also bought copies of The Squares of the City (1965) and Quicksand (1967). I might even reread The Shockwave Rider (1975) in the near future. If you are at all interested in John Brunner’s science fiction I recommend acquiring a copy.
Smith identifies “Fair” (1956) as Brunner’s “finest achievement during this [early] period” (Smith 28). I’d rank it right under his spectacular generation ship short story “Lungfish” (1957). As with many of Brunner’s best works, “Fair” had a contested publication history–in this instance John Carnell only accepted it under the pseudonym “Keith Woodcott” to “fill out an issue” (Smith 29). The identity of the consummate wordsmith didn’t last long as Carnell accidentally revealed his identity in next issue when the story came in second in the reader’s poll!
“Fair” was written soon after Brunner was discharged from the RAF in January 1955 which allowed him to restart his writing career. Smith writes that Brunner’s experience in the RAF inspired the thematic content of his stories–including how “groupthink could perpetuate outmoded thought patterns and entrench social complacency” (Smith 23). And that is clear here as the antihero Alec Jevons, “ex-test pilot […], ex-husband,” feels responsible for the growing tidal waves of fear that galvanize the UK (117). A fear that permeates the mind to such an extent that “the sun reminds you of the hydrogen bomb and the rain reminds you of a gas spray” (121). The fair draws in all who desire “temporary nirvana” (119).
As Jevons wanders towards the metal throat that blasts “Do you want amusement?” (117) to the crowds gathering at the entrance to the fair, he engages in a internal dialogue with the imaginary metal mind that controls the fair rehashing his fall from grace. Jevons omitted his heritage (half English and half Russian) when he applied for his pilot position. Now without any attachment or career, he allows himself to be pulled into the dissociative swirl of the fair’s interior… He imagines the fair as a mechanical entity shuttling forth the humans (and their money) like blood through its organs (118). He observes the mass of humanity seeking a “pleasure-filled night” to keep out the “darkness of their rooms, those without a future” (121). And one booth in particular draws him in.
Its interior contains the future of movies and TV–“total sensory identification was what they called it” (125). Originally for the training of intelligence agency, this organ of the fair uses it for an altogether different purpose. And Jevons, after immersing himself in the suffering of a Malay pearl diver, the joyous love of an African couple, the joy of flying without a nuclear payload, and speaking Russian without fear of reprisal, becomes its emissary.
In the science fiction I’ve explored in this series, futuristic post-TV sensory immersion devices are often presented as devious traps for those seeking escape. A few examples: In John MacDonald’s “Spectator Sport” (1950) the virtual reality device is a perverse formulation of future capitalism that replays pulp escapism, in Robert Bloch’s “Crime Machine” (1961) it’s a manifestation of destructive nostalgia, and in Lino Aldani’s “Good Night, Sophie” (1963, trans. 1973) it can reprogram the viewer to follow the “correct” narrative. In this instance despite the trappings of a dystopic future immobilized by the terror that grips all, this machine has the possibility to transform: “you’re teaching these people about the men and women they hate because they think they’re different” (127).
I found Brunner’s use of an antihero, effective descriptions of the fair and its chaotic interiors (he would refine the use of background as character in later works), and poignant dissection of fear and paranoia refreshing and worth tracking down!
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68 thoughts on “Future Media Short Story Review: John Brunner’s “Fair” (1956)”
Thanks, this sounds great. Will read and report back.
On a side note, I read C. M. Kornbluth’s ‘Shark Ship’, and it has a future media spin, which was most unexpected. Kornbluth reaching for greatness and somewhat dragged down by his misanthropy, but a story definitely worth the time nonetheless.
Let me know what you think! I was debating a bit about ratings — whether it’s “Good” or “Very Good.”
I’ll put the Kornbluth on my list. I have a handful of his other works waiting to be read as well for the series.
I didn’t point it out in the review, but I love the implication that humanity cannot on its own come to these conclusions of empathy — a mechanical means is necessary. Which is downright sinister… I dodged a lot of what Jad Smith says about its importance (prefiguring cyberpunk, its posthumanist concerns, etc.) as I didn’t want to repeat his analysis.
Sinister, or not, as the case might be. Transhumanists and accelerationaists probably don’t have a problem with developing a “mechanical means” for empathy. I’m not sure. Against the misanthropes I believe that humans are capable of empathy and solidarity without complex technologies. Often its the latter under present capitalist conditions that strip us of the ability to empathise and cooperate. So sure, sinister!
Let me know, when you get to the story, whether you think Brunner intended it to be sinister or not.
I cannot help but think that if we need some strange mechanical means (dolled up as a an experience for the depressed hyperviolent masses) to understand how to be empathetic to our fellow humans… it’s a problem.
But yes, I take your point!
I’ve got to find a Collected Stories of his at some point…well said, Dr B! Well said.
This is a good one! If you get to reading it, I’d love to know your thoughts. Do you have any favorite Brunner novels? Short stories?
My favorite Brunner is still the novella sequence collected as Times Without Number by Ace in 1969. Right up there with Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen by H Beam Piper and Warlord of the Air by Moorcock as foundational reads in my beloved alt-hist subgenre.
Not one I’ve read. I have read Moorcock’s Warlord of the Air though.
Well, they’re plentiful when you decide you’re curious, or you can have mine when you’re ready to read it.
I’ve read a lot of Brunner, but for some reason I’ve never read Times Without Number, and even tho I’ve had a copy for more than 30 years. And who knows how many times I’ve picked it off of the self to look at it–maybe not times without number, but a number… When will it be time to read Times?
I’ve read a TON of Brunner and never gave passing glance to Quicksand (1967). Jad Smith (in the monograph I mentioned in the review) makes the case that it too should be considered one of his best (or at least most experimental) works.
I have heard this of Quicksand. I also have had a copy of this novel for exactly the same time as Times. I’m not sure what stopped my Brunner run. Is it time for a new one? Maybe it’s always time for a Brunner run.
Well, you might need to rescue the books from Michael Moorcock’s fireplace — muahaha. A bit of clarification, as you might know, Brunner never completely fit into the British New Wave movement (we consider him an exemplar now but he was often dismissed as too American in his concerns and interaction with pulp, etc.). Aldiss, Moorcock, and Platt regularly dismissed his work. Aldiss mentions coming across Moorcock at a party burning John Brunner’s books! (maybe a bit of jealousy as Brunner was the first Brit to win the Hugo Award for best novel yet wasn’t considered by them to be “New Wave” enough?)
The relevant passage from Smith’s book:
Moorcock’s Fireplace: it could be a podcast!
I love Brunner for Zanazibar, Jagged, Sheep and Shockwave, at the very least.
I have a soft spot for ‘The Long Result’ and ‘The Dramaturges of Yan’, and a huge soft spot for ‘The Infinitive of Go’. I remember nothing much of ‘The Productions of Time’ or ‘The Tides of Time’. They are timeless to me. And I couldn’t finish ‘Players at the Game of People’, despite being a player of games.
I really should read ‘Squares of the City’, ‘Quicksand’ and ‘Times Without Number’. Now? Later? Sometime soon?
I adore Brunner because of Stand, Sheep, Jagged Orbit, Shockwave Rider, “Nobody Axed You,” and “Lungfish.”
I also found The Crucible of Time, “Fair,” Bedlam Planet, Total Eclipse, and Meeting at Infinity a solid second tier. I expect reading novels like Squares of the City and Quicksand will increase the number in this group.
I must confess that I never cared for The Dramaturges of Yan (I gave it 1 star!) or The Infinity of Go (never reviewed).
I forgot about ‘Total Eclipse’. It’s good, solid Brunner. And whoops! I meant to say ‘The Crucible of Time’ not ‘Tides of Time’. I haven’t read the latter, though the online descriptions makes me want to.
I know you don’t like Yan. Horses for courses I suppose. I loved the idea of the planet wide mass theater of the alien species. Sadly Brunner was not able to give this cool idea the denouement it deserved.
“Squares” was on the low end of second tier, but certainly not his best work.
The Infinity of Go was good fun but the Dramaturges of Yan did drag and I remember little about it. Quicksand was more readable and I enjoyed it enough to re-read it at some point. Not especially memorable to me now though.
I recommend giving “Fair” a go. It’s quite good.
I have bought a copy of Quicksand. I don’t know when I’m going to get to it but count me intrigued!
TIMES WITHOUT NUMBER has recently been reprinted as THE SOCIETY OF TIME; THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY AND OTHER STORIES (BRITISH LIBRARY SCIENCE FICTION CLASSICS) thanks to the efforts of the estimable Mike Ashley, who also contributes an introduction.
This is the full version that Donald Wollheim abridged for its publication by Ace. It’s an alternative history scenario, where the Spanish Armada won, Britain became a colony of the Spanish Empire, and the Jesuits — or a very similar Catholic order — are responsible for control of time travel, which was discovered a century earlier.
Except as regards the obvious, and pretty much obligatory, end-state of the novel, Brunner makes none of the obvious plot moves in terms of who it is who has agency and wants to rewrite history. I’d say THE SOCIETY OF TIME is quite a bit better — and cleverer — than either any of Beam Piper or Moorcock’s alt histories. I’d read it before at least a couple of times over the decades, and it still reads well — i.e. the suck fairy hasn’t gotten to it. Ashley also gives us a couple of other Brunner novellas first printed in the Carnell magazines, one of which (‘The Analysts’) is quite interesting.
This is the Good Brunner, almost up there with his Club of Rome novels. I recommend it (in the Ashley edition).
I, too, bought and read with interest the Jad Smith monograph. I, too, noted that Brunner thought QUICKSAND was perhaps his best novel and regretted being made to rewrite the ending. As it happens, I’ve an old paperback copy of QUICKSAND lying around where I live in California — which I have bounced off of over the years — and for reasons of my own I’m currently interested in ‘mental asylum’ narratives, so I got a Kindle version here in the UK to finally read.
And I am afraid to say that I’m a quarter of the way into it and again struggling with it.
Because QUICKSAND is basically a ‘mainstream-or-is it?’ novel that requires mainstream literary type writing, and I have to say, IMO, Brunner wasn’t up to it. I can tell that Brunner thought he was being serious and literary, but: (1) in a very genre-writer way, every character so far is a stereotype and exactly as flat and without surprises as they appear on their first appearance, and; (2) Brunner writes really bad sentences — clunkers that look like he first quickly typed a standard cliche sentence, then looked at it and replaced the most obviously offending word with another word-choice that’s even clunkier or, sometimes, simply inappropriate (i.e. the word may not even mean what Brunner seems to have thought it meant).
Algis Budrys panned the novel in his review in GALAXY at the time, and in retrospect it seems to me that Budrys was actually too kind — giving Brunner too much credit for what he was clearly *trying *to do. If I had to be reductionist about it, QUICKSAND so far reads as if it was written by the Bad Brunner — the pretentious Brunner, whom Aldiss and Moorcock and others so disliked.
Strange. Some of Brunner’s Ace productions of the early 1960s seem like they should be garbage with titles like THE ATLANTIC ABOMINATION, but turn out to be exemplary, intelligent novels of their kind. Whereas when Brunner thought he was being so literary in QUICKSAND, it was a dud.
As for ‘Fair,’ I will re-read it — because it’s been decades and I don’t remember it — and get back to you.
Are you sure that Wollheim abridged the stories in the original Ace TIMES WITHOUT NUMBERS. I have them in their appearances in SCIENCE FICTION ADVENTURES and it was my impression that they were mostly similar to the Ace Double version. I also have a later paperback version, and there are definite changes in that — I assumed that, as with many of Brunner’s novels, he did a later rewrite. Perhaps I was wrong, and those later reprints were restoring his original text?
I need to look at the novella versions again — maybe I didn’t compare them closely enough to the books. I definitely compared the Ace Double with the later PB. But I think I also looked at the novellas, and they were slight different from the Ace Double version but more similar than to the later version.
I did a summary review of a packet of Science Fiction Adventure issues I bought 20 or so years ago, and as one might expect reported that most of the stories were pretty mediocre. Greg Feeley, with something that seemed to approach exasperation, asked if their was any reason to read those old magazines — were there any actually worthwhile stories? And I was able to answer, with confidence, “The Fullness of Time”.
Rich H: Are you sure that Wollheim abridged the stories in the original Ace TIMES WITHOUT NUMBERS?’
I am not sure. I read a couple — not all three– of the SCIENCE FICTION ADVENTURES appearances of these stories when I was a kid in the late 1960s. Then I read the Ace Double version. Then I read the later, longer non-double version. And now I’ve read the Ashley edition. If you or John Boston wants to determine what’s what here, I defer to you and salute your indefatigability.
RH: * Greg Feeley … asked if their was any reason to read those old magazines — were there any actually worthwhile stories? And I was able to answer, with confidence, “The Fullness of Time”.*
Well, there was also a little story by a writer not much remembered now called ‘The Drowned World’ in the January 1962 issue.
There’s probably some others that don’t come so immediately to mind.
TIMES WITHOUT NUMBER is also my favorite. (Favorite in the sense of “the one I love most”, not “the one I think is actually the best”.)
I believe the closing novella, “The Fullness of Time”, is one of the greatest time travel stories ever.
It’s a fine use of time travel indeed. All three are good, that one stands out:
“Your people,” said the long-faced Mohawk who managed the mines, “came to what you call the New World hungry for gold. You came looking for fabulous kingdoms—Cibola, Quivira, Norumbega, Texas. And so keenly were you disappointed when you found they didn’t exist, you set about creating them.”
Good Brunner indeed, as M. Pontin says above.
Alas, I didn’t have the issue of SCIENCE FICTION ADVENTURES containing “The Drowned World”!
Yeah, paired with David Rome’s generation ship story I’ve picked up and put down at least three times for my series — “Bliss” (1962)
One of the few generation ships stories I have left to review from the decades I focus on.
The Del Rey ‘The Best of John Brunner’ has ‘Fair’ in it, alongside some other cool Brunner (like ‘The Totally Rich’ for example). Sadly it has an awful cover:
Truly, truly hideous cover. Urpsome. Unconscionable.
That cover is so bad that it’s still bad. Although I did giggle a bit… It looks like one of a particular Star Trek Voyager Episode (The Thaw) https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0708990/mediaviewer/rm4274313473/?ref_=tt_md_6
I assume it illustrates a story in the collection?
I fear that the cover illustration is for ‘Fair’, even if somewhat unfaithful to the material.
That cover would be unfaithful to the material even if the artist was trying to make it right!
Yeah, I guess it is… not the vibe I got — at all. I got a far more grungy, salacious, decadent, decayed sort of vibe from the story.
I’m glad I read the story before it occurred to me the cover could be an illustration for it. Such an awful riff on a good story (if indeed that is what it is…).
I had just read the story and didn’t make the connection! haha. But yeah, I find a random Powers scene or a lovely Paul Lehr blobscape more satisfying than that utterly off interpretation of the story…
Book Burning with Moorcock?
I like Pyre!
Moorcock’s Firepit also has a certain earthiness to it.
I have not read this Brunner story. Very interesting about Carnell’s cluelessness. Did you mean to imply that Carnell took the story but told Brunner he had to use a pseudonym? Or that Brunner purposely put a pseudonym on it?
Keith Woodcott was a name Brunner used on a lot of his stories and Ace Doubles. And by no means was it always slapped on weaker stuff (though I do remember disliking a couple of the Woodcott Ace Doubles.) But Mike Resnick wrote once that he couldn’t stand John Brunner’s work. However, he said, there was this Ace Double, I SPEAK FOR EARTH, that he thought was really excellent, a forgotten masterwork even. So he looked up its history — and was astonished to learn it was by the terrible John Brunner!
According to Jad Smith, Carnell didn’t care for the story and only accepted it as he needed to fill an issue. He told Brunner he needed to publish it under a pseudonym. He then accidentally listed Brunner’s name next to the story in the next issue’s readers’ poll of favorite stories (came in second).
But yeah, he used the same pseudonym later in the US market. I suspect some (apparently not Resnick) readers knew it was Brunner as the person behind the pseudonym was already known?
Brunner apparently thought highly of the Ace Doubles (at least for a bit) as they gave him a ton of exposure by whom he was paired with.
JB: Brunner apparently thought highly of the Ace Doubles (at least for a bit) as they gave him a ton of exposure by whom he was paired with.
There’s that. But let’s not disregard the fact that at that time being published by Ace for the US market also paid at about four times the rate that producing for the UK market would. That made all the difference in the world, because it was the difference between owning a house in Hampstead, one of the toniest parts of London, and living hand-to-mouth like E.C. Tubb or Kenneth Bulmer, or the other Carnell writers–
That Hampstead house, together with the fact that Brunner probably was unbearable in his pretentious, supercilious toff mode, would go a long way towards accounting for Moorcock and Aldiss’s dislike of the man. Even Ballard out in Shepperton wasn’t living so well. (Though Ballard was worth $6 million when he died!)
Yeah, the Jad Smith monograph discusses the advantageous exchange rate between the US and the UK at the time that made it financially possible. However, at the end of the Ace run Brunner realized that Pyramid books would pay a similar rate (with more conscientious editorial interactions). Also apparently Ace shafted Brunner so much (he claimed a year worth of mortgage payments) that he went broke while writing Stand on Zanzibar and had to leave London as a result… Ace apparently paid up.
I never thought of Aldiss as that poorly off — he had at least modest UK bestsellers from early on (with THE BRIGHTFOUNT DIARIES) — and his autobiography, as I recall, describes a reasonably comfortable adult life (financially, at least — I seem to recall a difficult divorce.) But I would think the “pretentious and supericilious toff mode” would have been a reason they disliked him.
E. C. Tubb was at least as prolific as Brunner, and sold fairly regularly to Ace as well. By the end of his career he had two regular series with DAW — Dumarest and Cap Kennedy. I did always wonder how Bulmer made ends meet — wasn’t he also a bus driver or something?
Speaking of Ballard’s $6,000,000 (surely helped by movie money) I remember that when Philip Larkin’s much put upon partner Monica Jones died she left an estate of over 1,000,000 pounds. I assume most of that was left her by Larkin — and I wondered how he was worth that much? Just three slim books of mature poetry — great as they are (and they are very great indeed) they could not have made that much money. Though Larkin had a fairly significant job as a college librarian, and he seems to have been very cheap ….
Oh, my comment had to do with Brunner’s finances. Sorry for not being super clear!
Rich H: I never thought of Aldiss as that poorly off … I seem to recall a difficult divorce.
That difficult divorce was protracted, from 1959 to 1965. For a substantial stretch of it, Aldiss was reduced to living in a single rented room above a butcher’s shop or newsagent’s, or some such. This, while Brunner was enjoying his glory years with that house in Hampstead, after having cracked the US market.
And basically it was Brunner’s success there that seems to have opened the way for Tubb and Bulmer, both of whom didn’t really get going in the US market till the end of the 1960s. (Though Tubb had placed a couple of novels with Wollheim in the first half of the 1960s, the first Dumarest wasn’t till 1967-68.)
Speaking of DAW series, Bulmer churned out the Dray Prescott series as by Alan Burt Akers. Sure he wrote quite a lot under other names as well…
Ah, right, good point. I should have remembered that! I had pondered in the past the amusing parallels between the careers of Bulmer and Tubb.
Perhaps I am being naive about how much DAW paid but I would have thought that given the quantity of books producted by Bulmer and Tubb in the early to mid ’70s their writing income would have been — acceptable?
The writer I have never figured out how he survived is James Schmitz. As far as I know, he did not have another job. And he really was not very prolific. I suppose his wife must have worked.
transrealfiction: Speaking of DAW series, Bulmer churned out the Dray Prescott series as by Alan Burt Akers. Sure he wrote quite a lot under other names as well…
Indeed. And like Tubb, he wrote Westerns too. Also, during the 1950s-60s, Bulmer scripted comics, mostly for series characters that were second or third-string ‘Dan Dare’ clones, like ‘Jet Ace Logan’ and ‘Captain Condor.’ (Harry Harrison, when in the UK, did this too.)
Brian Lewis, who did so many of the most memorable covers for the Carnell mags, was the artist for some of these comics. See forex —
I don’t think I’ve read anything by Bulmer. I probably won’t be reading the Dray Prescott novels. What are his best works?
JB: What are his (Bulmer’s) best works?
While E.C. Tubb in his best stuff arguably achieved some parity with some of the Brunner of the Ace Doubles era, my impression is that you’d be wasting your time with Bulmer.
I actually did read a 1957 Bulmer novel, CITY UNDER THE SEA, and enjoyed it somewhat — but then I was nine or ten! Likewise, when a little older, I collected second-hand a whole bunch of Carnell mags, and read some Bulmer stories in them — none of which seem to have been remotely memorable.
John Boston would know more than me, if he happens to drop by. But between Bulmer’s comics work and his series, John Clute’s conclusion at the SFE about Bulmer is probably on point: –
As the Dray Prescot series would show, Bulmer’s forte lay in the transparency of the pulp tale truly told.
Yeah, I’ve always thought he really wasn’t for me. But sometimes even the tellers of transparent pulp have some one-off novel or short story. I am reminded of Keith Laumer’s wonderful (and surprising considering the majority of his output) short story “In the Queue” (1970) https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2014/12/03/book-review-nebula-award-stories-six-ed-clifford-d-simak-1971/
I bought the John Brunner entry into the Modern Masters of Science Fiction series and I’ve read about a third of it so far. I’ve only read one of his novels, Stand on Zanziber but read it twice. I’ve started a few others but never finished them. And I’ve only read a handful of his stories.
Reading the Jad Smith books makes me want to get into Brunner’s older stuff. But it also makes me wonder if older science fiction wasn’t more philosophical and intellectual. At least it feels that way when a scholar discusses it.
I suspect a bit of selection bias is at play here. Jad Smith gives barely a mention to some of Brunner’s lesser works. And tons of short stories aren’t referenced (unlike Wilson’s monograph in the same series on Ballard which discusses the vast majority of Ballard’s short fiction).
I plan on getting the monographs of Ballard and Aldiss. I have The Complete Short Stories of J. G. Ballard for Kindle and audiobook. So far, I’ve only skipped around, but it might be good to read them and read about them as a whole. I wish there were more authors covered in that monograph series — that is if they were as readable as the one for Brunner.
I found the Russ volume quite readable. The Ballard volume engaged a bit more with the current scholarship on Ballard and had a more overt argument (this makes sense as Ballard is a FAR MORE studied by academics author than Brunner) so it struck me as bit more argumentative but still revealed tons about the author and his work.
I’ll let you know what I think about the Pohl volume as I’m currently reading that one.
Regardless, if you get to “Fair” let me know what you thought! There’s a lot to be said about it when it comes to transhumanism and some of Brunner’s later obsessions that crop up in his best known novels.
Well I’m switching between the Jed Smith book and Catch a Falling Star. But I’ll try to get to “Fair” soon.
Sounds good! The Smith book is great in my view. It’s told in a clear and concise way and re-inspired my love of Brunner. And I found all the asides about the New Wave rivalries and debates and disagreements fascinating (but not something that took over the entire book). The monograph has a wonderful balance.
I’ve read Catch A Falling Star and found it good, if perhaps not as wonderful as I was hoping from the set up. A riff on the dying earth genre, which was more than enough encouragement to read.
I have the Catch a Falling Star version (I guess the final of the three versions) on the shelf. Not sure which one I should read…. Never much a fan of rewriting. The monograph I keep on mentioning discusses how the rewrites that Brunner made were at periods of acute financial stress (you’ll notice the date is around when Stand on Zanzibar came out and made little to no money beyond his advance of 1.3k initially).
Well, here’s my review.
I’ll check it out!
Bulmer never did anything as good as even middle-range Brunner. Neither did Tubb. For Tubb, I’d stick with the Dumarest books, which are basically routine space opera and very repetitive, but pretty entertaining. (Early in his career, by the way, he wrote “The Cold Equations” before Godwin did! Though apparently there was a similar story as far back as the 19th Century.)
I’ve read a half dozen at least Bulmer books, and they’re — also kind of routine, but sometimes enjoyable. I might recommend THE CHANGELING WORLDS? Or his “Keys to the Dimensions” series. But I must say you’re not missing a whole lot by skipping them.
Mark — both Bulmer and Tubb sold Ace Doubles to Wollheim as far back as the mid-50s. But, yes, in both cases in the late ’60s they started selling a lot more to him, at both Ace and DAW.
I’ve read some Tubb. A short story and novel here and there. He struck me as a rather rushed author who had some fascinating ideas but cranked them out at such a rate that the quality suffered.
His generation ship novel The Space-Born (variant title: Star Ship) (1955) is a perfect example: https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2019/12/27/book-review-the-space-born-e-c-tubb-1955/
I’ve read Brunner’s ‘Fair’. The narrative drive is excellent. Brunner manages to evoke the insistent demands of the fair in question, its enticements as much as the cajoling calls of its advertising to consume. The ever-present threat of “youth” in the story wonderfully conjures the fear of the delinquent of the 50s, even anticipating the more full-blown youth culture of the 60s. I also love the way Brunner presents the “fairs” and VR (the wonderfully named “Tosensid”) as moments of a more fully realised development of a future immersive culture industry against the lesser lights of TV. And is it just a coincidence that the protagonist shares his surname with one of the lamentable 19th century theorists of marginal utility?
Another SF media gem you’ve found.
Parts of it remind me of Henry Kuttner’s ‘Year Day’ (1953), particularly the way the advertising appears in the story—perhaps anticipating, in a very rudimentary fashion, ‘Stand on Zanzibar’ (or even ‘Nobody Axed You’ if I remember correctly?).
I am glad you enjoyed it! I reread the first two pages and you’re right that Brunner conjures an enticing narrative drive that pulls you into the swirling interior of the fair. And the layered vocalization of the metal machine, decadent allure, the youth and their violence and lusts all feels like some pulsating dystopic wasteland. The last place you’d expect to find a transformative empathetic experience…
I find the premise of a fair and the marvels within relentlessly fascinating. My favorite filmic example is Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky’s Werckmeister Harmonies (2000) in which a fair/circus arrives with a decaying stuffed whale that starts to unsettle the people causing all forms of strife and chaos… the film sets up a series of symbolic clashes between disorder and order — a drunk reenacts the orbits of the planets in one sequence. And of course, in reference to the title, the main character’s musicologist uncle studies the scales of Andreas Werckmeister.
I keep on meaning to write about Kuttner’s “Year Day” (1953). I thoroughly enjoyed it. As I mention at the end of the review, Brunner’s far more positivist (if you want to call it that) view of the virtual reality device is radical when you compare his take to John MacDonald, the Kuttner, Lino Aldani, Robert Bloch, and others.
I find that the style is the most important part of the story, in the way that the insistent prose seems to match the world Brunner is trying to conjure.
I have to admit that the positive spin Brunner places on the fair right at the end is the least convincing part of the story for me. Certainly it chimes with Brunner’s own hopes and dreams for a world beyond competition and racism. I feel that what makes the story important is the way he manages to conjure the vertiginous expanse and immersion of the coming cultural spectacle of the 1960s and further, its violence as much as its sexual allure, which has not played the role that Brunner perhaps imagined for it in this story. Still, the overwhelming feel of the story is negative to my mind, not positive (“positivist” is freighted with too much philosophical baggage to be used in a way in which “positive” is more than adequate). I just choose to ignore the pollyannish end–or at least downplay it.
I haven’t watched the Werckmeister Harmonies, but have been meaning to for some time. Perhaps it’s time to finally crack now that you’ve given it the thumbs up.
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Okay. I read — actually, re-read –‘Fair.’ And I’m going to be a dissenting view on this, because I just don’t think it was that good or that convincing.