New Writings in SF 3 – John Carnell (Ed) (1964)
Volume three of Carnell’s experimental magazine in book form. The quality of content has increased somewhat, helped to a large extent by the inclusion of Frederik Pohl and Keith Roberts
The Subways of Kazoo – Colin Kapp
Xenoarchaeologists call in a laterally-thinking engineer to help them solve the transport problem on an inhospitable planet of alien ruins. It’s an enjoyable if not ground-breaking exercise in science & deduction.
The Fiend – Frederik Pohl (Playboy, 1964)
As can be expected, Pohl here gives us not only a twist ending but a quite shocking – for its time – examination of the male mind. Comparing this with Colin Kapp’s ‘Subways of Kazoo’ (in New Writings in SF 3) which is very much set in the style of Fifties SF, it shows how much SF had changed.
In a few short pages Pohl gives us a male character whose somewhat twisted mentality – not only due to the nine years he’d spent alone piloting a ship of frozen colonists – gives in to his fantasy and awakens a young woman, ostensibly to terrify and enslave her for his own gratification.
Refreshingly, the young woman is capable of playing him at his own game and refuses to be intimidated. It’s a gem of a story, managing to pad more characterisation into its short length than some authors manage in entire novels.
Manipulation – John Kingston
A very literary and somewhat poetic examination of ESP in which again, as in Pohl’s piece the mind of a disturbed young man is examined in disturbing detail. Told in claustrophobic first person narrative we see life through the eyes of our unnamed protagonist and his fatal obsession with his ex-lover Julie.
Testament – John Baxter
A short mood piece which succeeds by what it doesn’t say than what it does. One of a race of drought-stricken aliens kills and eats a creature he finds in the desert, but which could very well have been a space-faring member of his own species returning to find a lost colony.
The economy of the prose cleverly leaves the reader to deduce the truth for himself.
Night Watch – James Inglis
This is an oddly nostalgic piece since one would expect a story of this style to have appeared in Astounding in the Forties or Fifties. Like ‘Testament’ it is a mood piece, telling the story of an information-gathering probe which achieves a form of sentience during its long examination of the processes of the Universe. It’s an enjoyable upbeat tale, the basic premise of which is very similar to that of ‘Star Trek The Motion picture’ and the original classic Star Trek episode on which it was based.
Boulter’s Canaries – Keith Roberts
Keith Roberts is well-known for producing work at the quality/literary end of the SF spectrum and this short piece certainly shows his potential. It’s an interesting look at poltergeist activity and though the tale holds few surprises it has a depth of visualisation and writing which is missing from many other stories in this book (New Writings in SF 3), with the possible exception of ‘Manipulation’ and ‘The Fiend’
Emreth – Dan Morgan
An unremarkable story of a humanoid alien species inhabiting what appears to be a paradise planet. But who are plagued by shape-shifting predators who feed on life-force. The characters are, frankly dull and the denouement predictable.
Once more, as in the majority of these stories, male characters take the lead, although the life-force vampire takes the shape of an attractive female. Whether one should read very much into that is debatable.
Spacemaster – James H Schmitz
Spacemaster is oddly-structured in that the tale is told via an interview between a human captive and his Spacemaster jailer, during the course of which the captive begins to realise that things aren’t always what they seem. It’s also a little controversial since it revolves about the basic concept of Humanity being able to maintain its own stock by judicious ‘culling’ of the potential for weak genetic material to pollute the general gene pool.
Although a fascinating story, calling the ruling elite ‘Spacemasters’ was a rather naff touch that this otherwise decent story could have done without.