New Writings in SF 6 – John Carnell (Ed) (1965)
The Inner Wheel by Keith Roberts;
Horizontal Man by William Spencer;
The Day Before Never by Robert Presslie;
The Hands by John Baxter;
The Seekers by E.C. Tubb;
Atrophy by Ernest Hill;
Advantage by John Rackham. (John T Phillifent)
The Inner Wheel – Keith Roberts
The best story of New Writings in SF 6 is Keith Roberts’ ‘The Inner Wheel’ which takes up nearly half the book. It’s a highly poetic and stylised piece, reminiscent of Sturgeon’s ‘More Than Human’
A young man feels drawn to the town of Warwell, and once there, is struck by its sheer Stepford-esque banality, and the odd coincidences which are occurring, as if his desires are being granted by an unseen force.
When he meets a woman trying to escape from the town he becomes aware that he is a failed candidate, originally selected to become part of a gestalt, but the gestalt, (rather like Sturgeon’s) lacks a sense of guilt or conscience.
Horizontal Man – William Spencer
An immortal is locked into what is essentially a virtual reality machine and has explored and memorised all combinations of possible experiences to the extent that he is being driven insane by boredom. A bleak and rather dull exploration of the dangers of immortality and the nature of ennui.
The Day Before Never – Robert Presslie
Another bleak tale of Human Resistance and their fight against the Barbarians, aliens who have invaded Earth and massacred most of Humanity. It is well-written and atmospheric. An ambivalent ending allows one to read it as optimism or nihilistic fatalism.
The Hands – John Baxter
An excellent and enjoyable (if peculiar) little story, written sparsely and efficiently, which adds to its somewhat disturbing tone.
A group of astronauts returning from the planet Huxley (a brave new world indeed) disembark with additional limbs and organs sprouting from their bodies. It’s testament to the writer’s ability that this premise does not come over as at all ludicrous. The sense of alien-ness which emerges from the astronauts’ debriefing further adds to the surreality.
Despite its deceptive simplicity it hangs in the mind like a stubborn dream.
The Seekers – EC Tubb
Tubb’s view of Humanity is seldom a positive one. His Dumarest novels (despite their formulaic nature) inevitably shows Human society to be riddled with greed, corruption and violence.
In this story – very different in style from his 30-odd volume Space Saga – we see a group of men abroad a starship, having spent years in space. The Captain is dead and the crew have concentrated on their individual passions and obsessions, and have ceased to function as a team. Intalgo, an artist, struggles to create the right expression of the face of a crucified man, while the engineer minutely examines the workings of the ship. Delray spends his time in a VR environment, fighting.
When the discover an artefact on a barren planet, they land and become trapped by visions of what each of them truly desires.
Earlier in the story Intalgo remembers the Captain describing them as being ‘rats scuttling among the granary of the stars’.
Here is the trap.
The insignificance of Man is a theme we seem to have shied away from since the Sixties. Wells revelled in it. It’s high time it was revived.
Atrophy – Ernest Hill
An unmemorable tale about the concept of automation extrapolated to its logical conclusion. Inspired I suspect by Philip K Dick, it has, at the end of the day, nothing to say.
Advantage – John T Phillifent (as John Rackham)
An Army Major exploits the prescient talent of one of his soldiers to avert accidents whilst the Major is in charge of a construction project on a newly-discovered planet.
It’s an unexceptional piece which fails to exploit the basic premise (which is an interesting one) or the setting to maximum effect. The author missed the opportunity to pose the question of whether it was ethical to exploit one man’s freakish talent to his detriment in order to save the lives of perhaps hundreds of others.