My life in outer space

Aldiss – Brian W

Year’s Best SF 6 – David G Hartwell (Ed.) (2000)

Year's Best SF 6

Contents

The Reef – Paul J McAuley (Skylife Ed Benford/Zebrowski 2000)
Reality Check – David Brin (Nature, Vol 404 2000)
The Millennium Express – Robert Silverberg (Playboy, Jan 2000)
Patient Zero – Tananarive Due (F & SF 2000)
The Oort Crowd – Ken MacLeod (Nature, Vol 406 2000)
The Thing About Benny – M Shayne Bell (Vanishing Acts, Tor 2000 Ed Ellen Datlow)
The Last Supper – Brian Stableford (Science Fiction Age, Mar 2000)
Tuberculosis Bacteria Join UN – Joan Slonczewski (Nature, Vol 405 2000)
Our Mortal Span – Howard Waldrop (Black Heart, Ivory Bones, Avon Books/Eos, Ed Ellen Datlow and Terri Wilding)
Different Kinds of Darkness – David Langford (F & SF, Jan 2000)
New Ice Age, or Just Cold Feet? – Norman Spinrad (Nature, Vol 405 2000)
The Devotee – Stephen Dedman (Eidolon #29/30 2000)
The Marriage of Sky & Sea – Chris Beckett (Interzone Mar 2000)
In The Days of the Comet – John M Ford (Nature, Vol 405 2000)
The Birthday of the World – Ursula K LeGuin (F& SF, Jun 2000)
Oracle – Greg Egan (F& SF, Jul 2000)
To Cuddle Amy – Nancy Kress (Asimov’s, Aug 2000)
Steppenpferd – Brian W Aldiss (F&SF, Feb 2000)
Sheena 5 – Stephen Baxter (Analog, May 2000)
The Fire Eggs – Darrell Schweitzer (Interzone, Mar 2000)
The New Horla – Robert Sheckley (F&SF July 2000)
Madame Bovary, C’est Moi – Dan Simmons (Nature, Vol 407 2000)
Grandma’s Jumpman – Robert Reed (Century, Spring 2000)
Bordeaux Mixture – Charles Dexter Ward (Nature, Vol 404 2000)
The Dryad’s Wedding – Robert Charles Wilson (Star Colonies, 2000)
Built Upon The Sands of Time – Michael Flynn (Analog July/Aug 2000)
Seventy-Two Letters – Ted Chiang (Vanishing Acts, Tor 2000 Ed Ellen Datlow)

Annual collections have evolved like dinosaurs from the slim volumes of the 60s and 70s into the paperback versions of Tyrannosaurs, vying for attention with their garish colour schemes (Sadly, the text for the cover of this issue completely obscures the artwork, looks like it’s been thrown together hurriedly in a copy of Adobe Illustrator and doesn’t do the volume itself any justice at all).
This series, ably edited by David G Hartwell, goes head to head with the Gardner Dozois series and a whole subspecies of other annual compilations which somehow survive to re-emerge next year, so good luck to them.
This volume purports to be the best SF of 2000. I say purports to be since the publishing history is a little strange, giving a first paperback publication date of June 2000, when some of the stories included were not published until July/August 2000. Looking at the publication dates of the stories included we notice that, yes, it seems that possibly all of the work included comes from a time before August 2000, which is unfortunate if your excellent SF story was published in, say, November 2000.
Odd.
However, it is nevertheless an excellent collection and Hartwell, whatever publishing constraints he is bound by, has to be congratulated on selecting not only brilliant pieces of work, but those which complement and enhance each other. McLeod and Slonczewski, for instance, both deal with the theme of intelligent bacteria, and there are other examples of synchronicity throughout the collection.

The Reef – Paul J McAuley

One of my favourites in this collection, which tells of an expedition to find the result of a lost experiment in genetically engineered zero-gravity organisms.

Reality Check – David Brin

This is the first of several examples of the short pieces that were published in Nature throughout 2000 to celebrate the Millennium. David Brin takes a very Dickian turn with this piece which suggests that there is embedded code within the text which can wake certain people up to face a truer reality.

The Millenium Express – Robert Silverberg

On the eve of the Third Millenium, an investigator is tracking four men: Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway and Vjong Cleversmith. His aim is to find out why they are planning to blow up (or implode, since the matter is still under discussion) The Louvre, and to stop them. But can he, and more importantly, should he?

Patient Zero – Tananarive Due

A good, if a little schmaltzy, tale of a young boy who was one of the first to contract a lethal virus, and one of the only people to survive. He is kept within an isolation unit and we see the world through his eyes, via the doctors and helpers who come into contact with him, as the virus destroys society.
Well-written, and from an unusual perspective.

The Oort Crowd – Ken MacLeod

This is a prequel of sorts to MacLeod’s ‘Dark Light’ books, and is one of two tales here dealing with the concept of intelligent bacteria.

The Thing About Benny – M Shayne Bell

An unusual tale, set in the aftermath of climate change, or at least an ecological disaster, where a savante of sorts – who is also an obsessive Abba Fan – hunts through office blocks in search of rare plants which unwitting workers may have been keeping in a plant pot. His aim is to discover a new species and name it after Agnetha.
Very original and readable.

The Last Supper – Brian Stableford

A celebration of genetically-modified food in this gloriously politically incorrect story set in the restaurant of a renowned chef whose dishes are all genetically modified, and some ingredients are not what one might call strictly legal.
Elegant, satirical and memorable

Tuberculosis Bacteria Join UN – Joan Slonczewski

Another millennium tale from ‘Nature’, this time told as a news report in which a civilisation of bacteria join the UN.

Our Mortal Span – Howard Waldrop

I have a problem with Waldrop. As a writer he is good, descriptive, poetic, emotive, and pushes all the right buttons, but there is always something I don’t quite get.
This a tale set in a near future Fairy Tale Theme Park where a mechanised troll goes on the rampage, accusing the other characters of not being true to the original scripts, or so it seemed to me. It might be a little more complicated than that.

Different Kinds of Darkness – David Langford

This is what I would term a ‘real’ SF story, the sort of thing one used to get in SF monthly. It’s full of meat and character and fascinating concepts, such as pictures designed to drive the viewer insane and schools where the pupils have their perceptions altered.

New Ice Age, or Just Cold Feet? – Norman Spinrad

A short satirical tale from Spinrad in which a future Earth is struggling to reverse the effects of Global Cooling

The Devotee – Stephen Dedman

An interesting noir-esque tale featuring a hard-boiled private eye and covering issues such as amputee fetishes, porn and cloning. Despite what some people may find to be distasteful subject matter, this is an excellent tale, stylishly written and conveying a sense of verisimilitude to a complex near future society

The Marriage of Sky & Sea – Chris Beckett

A clever story which exploits our current obsession with media celebrities, one of whom is the hero – if that is the right word – of this short gem. He is an author, travelling the galaxy in a sentient ship, each time landing on a primitive world and writing about his experiences with the natives, despite the fact he is well aware of what the effect of his intrusion – along with his advanced technology – has on the cultures he visits.
On this occasion, however, he may have underestimated both the natives and his own feelings.

In The Days of the Comet – John M Ford

And yet another tale featuring the microcellular, or smaller, particles of the universe, in this case, infectious proteins or prions, which have been seeded in comets. Extraordinarily well-written for such a short piece.

The Birthday of the World – Ursula K LeGuin

A beautiful and poetic work from Le Guin, who never fails to marry the base human and the exotic into a powerful piece of work. Here, a race which has, as the basis of its culture, hereditary gods who foresee the future, is thrown into turmoil by the failure of the system and the power of ambition and greed working within the family.
It’s a haunting and mysterious piece, but one which seems firmly grounded in its own reality.

Oracle – Greg Egan

Although not made that clear in the text, Egan here fictionalises a rivalry in the late Nineteen Forties between two characters based on Alan Turing and CS Lewis, and sets up a battle of essentially, science versus religion.
‘Turing’, trapped by the police into admitting a gay relationship, is blackmailed into working for an unscrupulous government scientist, but is rescued by a mysterious woman who turns out to be an AI, one of the descendants of his research.
Following a series of brilliant scientific developments on ‘Turing’s part, ‘Lewis’ believes ‘Turing’ to be in league with The Devil, and sets out to expose and discredit him.

To Cuddle Amy – Nancy Kress

Another tale that features children, which seems to be a popular subject in this volume, although this is a short and quite chilling tale, examining what morality we may eventually ascribe to producing children if it becomes a simple matter of ordering another one if the first one doesn’t work out.

Steppenpferd – Brian W Aldiss

In a strangely parallel story to Alistair Reynolds’ ‘Century Rain’ Aldiss takes us to a strange system where copies of the earth are trapped inside Dyson Spheres. On one of these worlds, in a pre-industrial Scandinavia, a priest is tormented between his faith and the reality he sees around him, doubting whether his fellow priests are real, or merely the transient bodies of the shape-changing asymmetrical aliens who have created these worlds.

Sheena 5 – Stephen Baxter

Baxter examines the ethics and possible consequences of genetic experimentation in this tale in which a tailored squid is sent out to the asteroids to set up a mining operation. The squid however, was pregnant and gives birth en-route to other equally intelligent offspring.
An alternate history of Sheena can also be found as part of Baxter’s 1999 novel, ‘Time – Manifold 1’ where the pregnant squid is diverted to Cruithne, Earth’s other ‘moon’ and the destiny of her children changed.

The Fire Eggs – Darrell Schweitzer

An odd and borderline surreal tale of luminescent eggs which appear all over the world, hovering slightly above the ground. Impervious to any form of force, and seemingly inert, they are eventually relegated to the status of inexplicable curiosities by most of the population. There are a few however, who claim that they can hear the eggs singing.

The New Horla – Robert Sheckley

A reworking of the classic tale ‘The Horla’ by Guy Du Maupassant.
I’ve never really ‘got’ Sheckley, and this fairly recent piece of his didn’t help me to get him any further.

Madame Bovary, C’est Moi – Dan Simmons

It is discovered that works of literature generate their own universes in which, more often than not, the central figures do not realise that they are the central figures. This is probably the best of the ‘Nature’ stories, conveying a tremendous amount in its brief number of words.

Grandma’s Jumpman – Robert Reed

Reed as a writer is very much at home in America’s rural backwaters, and before he began his recent style of vast post-vanvogtian space opera with planet-sized ships and immortal post-humans, his work was more redolent of Clifford Simak, as here, where a young boy visiting his aunt’s farm discovers the true nature of her relationship with the alien farmhand.
As with much of Reed’s work, there is a bittersweet undertone to the piece, where idyllic surroundings are the background to a coming of age and a loss of innocence.

Bordeaux Mixture – Charles Dexter Ward

The subject of GM crops (and other foods) seems to have inspired many writers, here, Charles Dexter Ward foresees vegetation which emits pheromones to make one want to grow and eat it.

The Dryad’s Wedding – Robert Charles Wilson

On a colony world a woman has an accident and lies in a river with half her brain missing before she is found, When she is awoken after a regeneration procedure she finds the empathic flora and fauna around her trying to make contact, and has unaccountable memories of Brussels, which she has never visited.
Apparently a prequel to a Wilson novel, this is a deep and complex, highly detailed piece of work, rich with scientific ideas and the atmosphere of an alien planet.

Built Upon The Sands of Time – Michael Flynn

A very literary and Irish piece set in a bar in which scientists and others discuss matters of scientific import over a Guinness or two, and in the course of things hear a tale of alternate worlds and altered history.

Seventy-Two Letters – Ted Chiang

This is a strange novella set in an alternate Victorian world where golems can be brought to life by placing a sequence of seventy-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet under their tongue.
Also, it is discovered, each individual male sperm, when examined, contains a complete foetus. How these two scientific discoveries relate to each other is at the core of this tale of weird science, murder, espionage and the very future of the human race.

Advertisements

Year’s Best Science Fiction No 6 – Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss (Eds) (1973)

The Year's Best Science Fiction 6

In the Matter of the Assassin Merefirs – Ken W Purdy (Analog 1972)
As for Our Fatal Continuity… – Brian W Aldiss (New Worlds 3 1971)
The Old Folks – James E Gunn (Nova 2 1972)
From Sea to Shining Sea – Jonathan Ela (Sierra Club Bulletin 1972)
Weihnachtabend – Keith Roberts (New Worlds 4 1972)
The Years – Robert F Young (Galaxy 1972)
Darkness – Andre Carneiro – trans by Leo L Barrow (Nova 2 1972)
Cymbal Player – Lawrence Sail (Cornudo 1972)
Report from the Planet Proteus – Lawrence Sail (Cornudo 1972)
Columbus on St Domenica – John Cotton (Sceptre Press 1972)
After Death – Patricia Beer (New Statesman 1972)
Faex Delenda Est – Theodore R Cogswell (Cornudo 1972)
Words of Warning – Alex Hamilton (Flies on the Wall 1972)
Out, Wit! – Howard L Myers (Analog 1972)
An Imaginary Journey to the Moon – Victor Sabah (1972)
The Head and The Hand – Christopher Priest (New Worlds 3 1971)
Hero – Joe W Haldeman (Analog 1972)

Brian Aldiss’ afterword is, as always, a masterclass in the examination of the nature of SF. Here he is examining the possible consequences of the plethora of books about to be released which deal (in one way or another) with the history of SF. One of them (‘Billion Year Spree’) is his own. It was later expanded and revised as ‘Trillion Year Spree’
Perhaps mischievously, Aldiss moves on to briefly examine the history of SF and celebrate the new diversity of the genre which seems to be in direct conflict with what Harrison says in the preface. He is merely making the point, however, that these many and various SF histories of varying length and quality should all be welcomed since they open up the debate about what SF was, what it is and into what it may evolve. In the thirty-five years since this book was published the ‘SF is dead’ brigade have been proven wrong since SF continues to evolve and innovate and often produce brilliant work, if not masterpieces.
Theodore Sturgeon was right when he said ‘90% of everything is rubbish’ (or words to that effect) and ninety percent of SF has always been rubbish. It still is, but there is always that ten percent of pure quality cream and brilliance which floats to the top. To be fair, fifty percent of the ninety percent is usually fairly entertaining hokum and I have never had a problem with that.
Long live SF! Long live the cream! Long live the hokum!

The Assassin Merefirs – Ken W Purdy

It is shame that Purdy did not write more SF. His short stories are amazingly inventive, peopled with extraordinary characters that seem to leap fully-rounded from the pen. Here we have a dramatisation of a court case, from spme period in the future, although the bureaucracy and cronyism of the court environment does not seem to have advanced much.

As to Our Fatal Continuity – Brian Aldiss

Spookily prescient, this Aldiss piece is the introduction to a fictitious book about Art, concentrating on the work of an artist born in 1972. The titles of the artist’s work are last words of various public figures, as in the title of the piece.
It’s a very erudite study of the art world and predicts, to a certain extent, today’s conceptual art and installation work.

The Old Folks – James E Gunn

Another prescient tale – albeit somewhat in the style of The Twilight Zone – in which a young couple and their son visit the wife’s parents who have retired to a senior citizen’s community (come to think of it, the community could have been called The Twilight Zone).
While the grandparents are at a town meeting the young child is – apparently deliberately – run down by an elderly lady in her car who drives away.
The couple drive the child to the town hall, ostensibly to find a doctor – where they discover that the old people have an agenda, and a burning resentment against the young.
It reflects the growing politicisation of the over-sixties in America at the time, a movement which has grown in strength ever since although it is not clear if the movement’s policies include the hatred and disenfranchisement of one’s own children.

From Sea to Shining Sea – Jonathan Ela

Rather like Orson Welles’ ‘War of The Worlds’ this tongue-in-cheek proposal for a coast-to-coast US canal, utilising nuclear explosions as part of the construction and advocating the removal of some of the ‘less aesthetic’ parts of the Rocky Mountains was taken seriously by many readers and apparently one irate congressman. Is it SF? I suspect it is, and a very original and entertaining piece, redolent of the satirical SF of Sheckley and Vonnegut.

Weinachtabend – Keith Roberts

This is how one writes a short story. Roberts sets his in a Britain under Nazi rule (or ‘The Two Empires’ as it is now called). Martin is a trusted aide to the Minister and is invited to his country house for Christmas talking along a young Aryan lady with him. In his room he finds a book, a banned publication of Jewish/American propaganda and gets a call from an American reporter.
It’s a very clever story. The hero is continually running through his thoughts and doubts on the page as though reviewing ‘alternate actions’. This is a device often used on TV and film but is not often seen in literature. In this story it is also entirely appropriate since this is a view of an alternate history. The reader soon gets the idea of what is going on, but Roberts is careful not to flood the piece with historical information. The setting is important but is secondary to the story which is about motivation and manipulation. Just who is pulling the strings?

The Years – Robert F Young

Rather like the time-travel tale in SF4 this has dated badly. An old man manages to bribe his way into a time-travel machine and returns to see his dead wife as she was when he first met her. however the teenage version of his wife gets the wrong impression when she sees him staring at her and calls him a dirty old man. This sours his memories of her.

Darkness – Andre Carneiro

An example of Brazilian SF which is very good and very memorable, reminiscent of Wells’ tale of the man who visits the country of the blind. When an odd darkness falls across the world, flamesbecome cool and then non-existent, the sun disappears and the narrator is taken in by a group of blind people who have their own farm. Idiosyncratic, atmospheric and poetic.

Poetry:-

Cymbal Player – Lawrence Sail
Report from the Planet Proteus – Lawrence Sail
Columbus on St Domenica – John Cotton
After Death – Patricia Beer
Faex Delenda Est – Theodore R Cogswell

Words of Warning – Alex Hamilton

A well-written and humourous piece set in the world of academia where words are unaccountably escaping from books and running away.

Out, Wit! – Howard L Myers

A very cleverly written piece, composed in a series of letters between a scientist and the editor of a scientific journal. A promising young student, Jonathan Wallis, is the subject of the initial discourse. The paper he intends to present is entitled ‘Backward to Alchemy’, apparently detailing a method by which elements may be transmuted and leading the way to a cold fusion nuclear process. The student’s presentation, however, is seen as disrespectful which leads to an almost inevitable sequence of events. It’s a tale which takes a sideswipe at the scientific community itself, regularly criticised and indeed lampooned in fiction by various authors from Fred Hoyle to Stanislaw Lem to Connie Willis. The moral of the tale ultimately is that it’s the science that’s important, not the reputations of the individual scientists.

An Imaginary Journey to the Moon – Victor Sabah

I am often impressed by surprising and heartwarming events. The private passions and enthusiasms of ordinary people can sometimes have the most extraordinary consequences, as in the case of Elaine and Larry Elbert who spent two years in Ghana teaching for the American Peace Corps at the curiously named Hohoe Secondary School. Due to a chronic shortage of books there they appealed (not to any church organisation who would doubtless have sent truckloads of Bibles) but to the Science Fiction Writers of America, who supplied copious reading matter for the students’ edification. As a result Victor Sabah wrote this story as part of a school exercise. The passion that the Elberts (and the SFWA) instilled in him clearly shows through. One wishes that there were Elberts at every school.

The Head and The Hand – Christopher Priest

A Ballard-esque piece from Priest, who never fails to impress with work of depth and subtlety, often with disturbing undertones. This is the tale of an artist whose performances consist of amputation. Now an old man confined to a wheelchair, wheeled about by his old friend and collaborator, he is called upon to perform his final work. As is often with stories in this series, there is an odd prescience here which anticipates some of the more bizarre reality shows such as ‘Jackass’ or ‘Dirty Sanchez’ where acts of self-mutilation are encouraged and celebrated.
Central to this story however is the relationship between the artist, his minder and his wife.
Like Ballard, Priest produces work which has both a poetic element and has a haunting quality which keeps the story in one’s mind.

Hero – Joe W Haldeman

This story eventually became part of the classic novel ‘The Forever War’.


The Year’s Best Science Fiction 1 – Harry Harrison / Brian Aldiss (Eds) (1968)

The Year's Best Science Fiction 1

This is the first volume in what was a very important and influential series of Year’s Best SF collections. Edited by Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison these annuals pushed the boundaries and helped to redefine not only what could be classed as SF, but what format it should adopt. Later volumes include poetry and other more experimental writing. The series was also known for its opinionated articles, the first issue’s dealing with the definition of SF.
Kit Reed’s story ‘The Vine’ is included in this volume. Is it SF? I would label it as allegorical fantasy personally, and as James Blish has written a part introduction to this book in which he questions what is labelled as SF, it needs to be pointed out. Aldiss, however, in his afterword, has a more liberal point of view.
Some forty years plus after this volume was written we can see that Aldiss’ argument holds more water than Blish’s. Blish seems to be implying that SF is only SF if it works within the rules he has set out. Within this volume, perhaps as a perverse response to Blish we have ‘The Vine’ and Ballard’s ‘The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race’. Within Blish’s rules we would not have included these pieces or evolved such writers as M John Harrison, China Mieville, Ballard himself and countless others.

This volume comprises of:-

Hawksbill Station – Robert Silverberg

An excellent concept, predating Julian May’s Exiles Saga in which political dissidents and misfits are sent back to the Palaeozoic Era. This is, however, more of a character study of what might happen to men under such circumstances, and one man in particular. Novelised subsequently under the same title.

1937 A.D.! – John T Sladek (New Worlds 1967)

John Sladek shows early promise with this tale of how the future could influence the present, when a young inventor, from Kiowa in the United States of Columbia, creates a time engine powered by a bicycle and travels to 1937, where Julius Doppler explains his ‘Doppler Effect’ to him.

Fifteen Miles – Ben Bova

Bova chooses the moon for this story, where a priest (one of three astronauts on the moon during the current mission) gets himself trapped in a crater while looking for water and has to be rescued. It is not clear why a priest was on the moon in the first place, although it is a rather cumbersomely inserted device to explore the story’s theme of redemption

The Vine – Kit Reed (F & SF 1967)

This could be seen as a metaphor for any business whose survival comes to mean more than the lives of the individuals who toil for it. A family has spent generations tending a vast grapevine, during which time other dependent industries have evolved around it, catering to the tourists who come to visit The Vine. Some of the family are having second thoughts about their hereditary roles as tenders of The Vine, but the Vine is not prepared to let them leave.

Interview With a Lemming – James Thurber (My World and Welcome To It – 1942)

A satirical short from humourist Thurber, which transcribes a philosophical discussion between human and lemming.

The Left Hand Way – A Bertram Chandler (Australian Science Fiction Review 1967)

A colonist ship crashlands, and the only survivor is a Buddhist priest who, when finding a cargo full of trainable humanoid robots, activates them and begins training them as Buddhist monks.

The Wreck of The Ship John B – Frank M Robinson (Playboy 1967)

In one of the better stories in this volume, Robinson looks at the effects of space travel on humans. Several young men on a three year flight to a colony world find a series of space-suited corpses in space, and then their abandoned ship.
The Captain, studying records from the ship, realises that his own crew is showing early signs of the same psychoses which led to the deaths of the other astronauts, and determines to find a solution before it is too late.

The Forest of Zil – Kris Neville

Earth has sent spaceborne arcologies out to try and find habitable worlds. One world, discovered after countless lifeless stars, is covered by a forest, the trees of which seem to be the only life-form, and seem to whisper the word ‘Zil’ when wind blows through their leaves.

The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race – JG Ballard (Ambit 1967)

One of Ballard’s more memorable and controversial creations, heralding an obsession with the President, and indeed with other media icons, who turn up in later stories and novels.

Answering Service – Fritz Leiber (Galaxy 1967)

An interesting piece here about a rich hypochondriac who rings and abuses what she supposes to be an answering service comprised of automated tapes.
Character driven and compelling.

The Last Command – Keith Laumer (Analog Jan 1967)

During construction of a new shopping mall on a colony planet a supposedly decommissioned automated warfare unit is awakened. A retired soldier is the only one who recognises the unit and remembers how to shut it down.

Mirror of Ice – Gary Wright (Galaxy 1967)

Interesting in that it explores a potential future sport, indeed presages the current fascination with dangerous sports. Here, a sled has to be specially designed to to ride the course which has been constructed to wind around a mountain and which has brought glory to some and death to others.

Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes – Harlan Ellison (Knight Magazine 1967)

Harlan Ellison, in a suitably Chandler-esque mode, tells the tale of the femme-fatale Maggie, whose man Nuncio, done her wrong. Now Maggie’s spirit possesses a Las Vegas fruit machine, looking for a man who can be true to her. Again, this is not SF. I am not sure what it is. It somehow deserves its place here though.


The Year’s Best Science Fiction 3 – Brian W Aldiss (Ed) Harry Harrison (Ed) (1970)

Best SF 1969

This features the brightest and best work published during 1969 with the usual round-up of the year from Harrison as a prologue, and an afterword from Brian Aldiss. It’s interesting to look at this from a historical perspective. John W Campbell, for instance, was still the editor of Analog at the time and sharing the genre with such revolutionary publications as New Worlds.
In Brian Aldiss’s afterword he gives us his thoughts on SF in general and has a sideswipe at the Tolkien clones of the time before trying to convince us all that SF doesn’t actually exist. If one has a serious interest in the history of SF this series is worth getting just for Harrison’s and Aldiss’s overviews of the contemporary SF world.

The Muse – Anthony Burgess (The Hudson Review, 1968)

A very memorable and somewhat grotesque piece from Burgess in which a researcher travels back in time to find Shakespeare. Burgess writes so well that this piece (which in many other writer’s hands would have been labelled ‘predictable’) becomes original, compelling, fascinating, haunting and in some places darkly amusing.

Working in the Spaceship Yards – Brian W Aldiss (Punch, 1969)

Another stylist, Aldiss provides this intelligent and witty account of a young worker, part of a team that works on the FTL engines for Q-class starships. Despite the narrator’s good humour and obvious intelligence and education, there is a bleakness pervading the environment. The starships are sent out and never heard from again, created by artificial intelligences which give amusing answers to questions due to their rather literal interpretation of the language.
Obsolete androids beg on the street and are beaten up if discovered by their newer-model brethren.
Suicide is rife, and the narrator begins his tale by recounting his pleasure in the well-written nature of some of the suicide notes he’s found lying around the shipyard.
It’s a brilliant piece of work, especially considering that nothing much really happens and yet, cleverly, Aldiss manages to cram more background and depth into these few pages than many others do in entire novels.

The Schematic Man – Frederik Pohl (Playboy 1969)

The idea of recording one’s consciousness is a theme Pohl picked up later in his Heechee novels. A mathematician begins to construct a mathematical model of himself within a computer, and then starts to forget things. Like ‘The Muse’, this is a ‘predictable’ piece which is raised to a far higher level by Pohl’s gift seemingly effortless prose and characterisation.

The Snows Are Melted, The Snows Are Gone – James Tiptree Jr (Venture Science Fiction magazine 1969)

A post-apocalyptic tale, set in a future Ethiopia where technologically advanced humans (but presumably descended from those affected by radiation and deprived of limbs) kidnap healthy humans living a more primitive existence, presumably for breeding purposes or their clean genes. Like many of the stories in this anthology there is a polished poetic edge to the vision.

The Hospital of Transplanted Hearts – DM Thomas (New Worlds 1969)

The poet has constructed a grid in which the heart of a certain category of patient on one axis can be read against the body of another category of person on another axis. Thus, one can look up the heart of a sadist in the body of a whore and find an apt or witty description inserted therein.

Eco-Catastrophe – Dr Paul, Ehrlich (Ramparts 1969)

A chillingly prophetic future history seen from the perspective of 1969 where mass use of pest killers and fertilisers and the pollution pumped out by world industry sees the beginnings of a process which leads to the death of all life in the oceans. It is perhaps the most relevant and important piece in this book and although Dr Ehrlich’s nightmare scenario has not come to fruition as quickly as he imagined or in exactly the same way much of what he envisages is already taking place. This short but effective piece neatly encapsulates the greed of big business and the stupidity and shortsightedness of governments who fail to address issues such as pollution and population control.

The Castle on The Crag – P. g. Wyal (Fantastic, 1969)

An interesting and poetic tale which makes the same point as that of Ozymandias, the forgotten ruler on whose crumbled works we mighty should look and despair, its moral being that everything eventually will be gone and forgotten.

Nine Lives – Ursula K Leguin (Playboy 1969)

The Welsh Pugh and his colleague Martin have been posted alone on the bleak planet Libra to make a geological survey. After they discover a rich vein of uranium, a ten-part clone, John Chow (five male and five female) arrive to set up a process for extracting the uranium. However, an earthquake leaves nine dead and the surviving clone member has to learn (with the help of Pugh) how to live as a single human being.
It’s a story of extraordinary depth and feeling, rich with background detail and characterisation and still reads, as one or two in this collection do not, as fresh and new.

Progression of The Species – Brian W Aldiss (Holding Your Eight Hands 1969)

A poem from the poetry anthology ‘Holding Your Eight Hands’ (Ed. Edward Lucie-Smith) examining gentic engineering and the modification of human DNA.

Report Back – John Cotton (Holding Your Eight Hands 1969)

A poem, again from the poetry anthology ‘Holding Your Eight Hands’. This is a report back from a distant star in the form of a poem with two distinct voices.

The Killing Ground – JG Ballard (New Worlds 1969)

In this Ballard dystopian nightmare, we follow a group of English rebels in a world where the Vietnam War has spread around the globe. The US is battling with guerilla forces everywhere. Like practically all of Ballard’s work there is far more going on than a first reading might indicate.

The Dannold Cheque – Ken W Purdy (Playboy 1969)

A beautifully written, somewhat whimsical piece by the then editor of Playboy. Cleverly structured, it introduces the characters and the setting with a wealth of poetic, almost incidental detail. From there, the story unfolds like origami gift-wrap.
An artist wishes to collaborate with a politician in the latest of a series of collages which each preserve an object, a photograph and a personal piece of text. Mr Dannold, the politician, who is the latest subject, agrees to write a letter (to be part of the collage) detailing the events of the day in the photograph (where he is caught on camera thwarting the assassination of the Prime Minister). The object to be included is a voided cheque for £250,000.
Thus there is a story within the story in which Mr Dannold’s letter explains how the cheque and the photograph are connected.
Is it SF? One could argue otherwise but I for one am happy for such a well-written piece to be included as part of the canon.

Womb to Tomb – Joseph Wesley (Analog 1969)

Harry Harrison’s short blurb makes the point that this story, which harks back to the days of vast fleets of mile-long ‘planet-blaster’ ships, looks at the effects of battle on individual soldiers.
Earth is at war with the Kwartah, a race which has invaded a large number of human worlds.
Admiral Burkens runs a rehabilitation centre for soldiers sent back from the front. Senator Grimes arrives to check up on his son, recently admitted, and learns the awful truth about what price Humanity is paying for victory.
There is an unstated connection here with the Vietnam War, a connection which Ballard broadcasts all too clearly in his story.

Like Father – John Hartridge (New Worlds 1969)

Fingest, a time-traveller, returns to a few million years ago to plant his sperm in the womb of an early hominid, out of a sense of ‘because I can’ it would appear, as much as out of a desire to piss off his scientific colleagues. travelling forward through time he traces the progress of this sadly rather predictable tale.
By 1969 one would have thought the Birth of Man concept had been pretty much mined out. Having said that, Julian May did it far better later – and at great length – in the Pliocene Exiles Saga. It’s the basis for Quatermass and The Pit, at least two Doctor Who stories, ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’ and countless other earlier tales. One is at a loss to see why this rather weak piece was included here, or published in ‘New Worlds’ of all places.

The Electric Ant – Philip K Dick (Fantasy & Science Fiction 1969)

We’re in familiar Dick territory here with a man who discovers he is an ‘electric ant’, i.e. an artificial human with a tape in his chest which is feeding him all his sensory input. When he interferes with the tape he finds his perception of the world changed. What will happen, he wonders, if the tape breaks or runs out. Despite the familiar theme, there is much food for philosophical thought provided by its limited number of pages.

The Man Inside – Bruce McAllister (Galaxy Magazine 1969)

A very short and very clever story which deals with a young child’s viewpoint of his schizophrenic catatonic father.
Dr Plankt has developed a device which may be able to print out his father’s thoughts. Over a mere two and a half pages McAllister produces one of the best short stories I’ve come across with an ending that is tragic, poetic, symbolic and probably quite a number of other –ics that I haven’t thought of yet.

Now Hear The Word of The Lord – Algis Budrys (Galaxy Magazine 1969)

Budrys is one of the serious masters of SF and seldom disappoints. This is a complex tale which begins with a man who types letters all day in a spartan office and then goes back to an even more spartan hotel. When you begin to think you know what’s going on, you find you don’t.


New Writings in SF 1 – John Carnell (Ed) (1964)

New Writings in SF-1

‘New Writings in SF’ was an experiment of sorts, in that the hardback/paperback would take over the role of SF magazines, publishing original short SF on a quarterly basis, but in book format. The aim of the series, as stated by original Editor John Carnell, was to be “a new departure in the science fiction field,”. The first volume was hardly that, featuring, with perhaps one exception, a fairly dated selection. Nevertheless, the series was fairly popular and kick-started a limited trend for anthology series of new work. This series ran until 1977 under three editors with an intermittent publishing schedule.

Contents

Key to Chaos – Edward Mackin
Two’s Company – John Rankine
Man on Bridge – Brian Aldiss
Haggard Honeymoon – Joseph Green & James Webbert
The Sea’s Furthest End – Damien Broderick

Key to Chaos – Edward Mackin

A low-key comic piece featuring a wise-cracking opportunist and a cowardly con-man who, in an attempt to fleece a wealthy businessman, unwittingly create a device which mass-produces portable rejuvenation machines. It reads rather more like an unstructured and rambling first draft than a polished final piece and in style is very traditional.

Two’s Company – John Rankine

A variation on the theme of Tom Godwin’s ‘The Cold Equations’ in that two scientists on a planet which is in the process of being terraformed find themselves stranded and have to use the male’s ingenuity and the female’s mathematical prowess in order to return to their base before their oxygen runs out. The romantic element comes over as stilted and unrealistic, leaving the story itself with little of interest other than the terraforming details.

Man on Bridge – Brian Aldiss

This tale, in comparison to its fellows in this collection, stands out like a sharp and polished gem. In a future totalitarian world, Cerebrals (ie, intellectuals or naturally intelligent humans) are segregated in concentration camps but allowed to engage in scientific research. It is a testament of Aldiss’ skill as a writer that this rather improbable scenario is made chillingly plausible. One of their experiments features Adam (a name chosen possibly for both its biblical connotations and its connection with Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, a book which Aldiss was later to explore in more depth.)
Adam has had half his brain removed and has become the ultimate Cerebral, the future of Humanity, an intellect driven only by logic and devoid of emotion.

Haggard Honeymoon – Joseph Green & James Webbert

At the lowest end of the quality spectrum in this anthology we have this story of a Uranium mine on Canopus 37.
Miners sent to work here began having nightmares and became psychotic unless it was discovered that not only are women immune to this malady, but newly-wed men are far less susceptible. Subsequently only young newly married couples are sent to Canopus 37 for six month stints. It obviously begs the question why they didn’t employ only female miners. As it turns out, the devolved race of aliens living on the planet are beaming visions of their racial memory into the miner’s heads. The solution: Kill the aliens responsible for the broadcasting. Happy ending, apparently.
A story with no redeeming features whatsoever.

The Sea’s Furthest End – Damien Broderick

A competent but otherwise unremarkable Shaggy God Story (as Brian Aldiss might put it). The heir to the throne of a Feudal Galactic Empire challenges his father’s claim in order to usher in Galactic Federation & Democracy, although it’s not quite as simple as that and things are not what they might at first appear. An immortal figure is at work behind the scenes.
It’s too short a piece to do justice to the basic premise and Broderick does not explore (as many writers do not) the mechanics of running a Galactic Empire.
Of the six writers in this book, Aldiss and Broderick are the only ones whose names might be recognised by today’s readers, although John Rankine did go on to produce many novels.
As the first book of a series which ran to some twenty-odd volumes it’s a weak start, and apart from the Aldiss piece, of dubious quality.


Vanguard from Alpha – Brian W Aldiss (1959)

vanguard

‘The spy team from Earth knew they were looking for trouble when they secretly landed in Luna Area 101 – dangerous Rosk territory. But the fearless trio got more than they bargained for at the hands of the hostile guests of Earth.
Tyne and Murray escaped with their lives. The third man was dead, and Tyne suspected that Murray had murdered him in cold blood.
Ready to confront him with his charge, Tyne discovered that Murray had disappeared somewhere in the banned area. But when he followed him, he discovered something vastly more dangerous than Murray’s guilt or innocence – the Rosks threatened imminent invasion of Earth. And only Tyne now held the secret that could deflect their hordes of death.
Yet he dared trust no one with it – not even himself.

Cast of Characters

Tyne Leslie – Were his captors his enemies? Or really his friends?

Murray Mumford – Everyone knew he was a spy; no one knew who for.

Benda Ittai – She was a woman of the Rosks, but her love was very human.

Ap II Dowl – Like any guest, he wanted to make himself at home.

Charles Dickens – He carried a famous name and an infamous secret.

Tawdell Co Barr – Did he represent the Rosks… or misrepresent them?’

Blurb from the 1959 Ace Doubles Edition D-369

In the 22nd century a giant ship approaches Earth, claiming to be a generation ship from Alpha Centauri. The Alphans are dark-skinned humanoids, not to dissimilar to ourselves. They set up a base on the moon and (after playing a masterful game of interstellar chess) land their ship in Sumatra.
Tyne Leslie, Murray Mumford and another colleague are sent on a secret mission to the moon to check a report that the Alphans were building a mysterious device near their base.
They are detected however, Tyne is rendered unconscious and the next thing he knows, he is on board ship with Murray, with their colleague apparently dead. Then Murray goes missing and Tyne embarks on a ‘thirty-nine steps’ style search for the truth.
This is not easy since Tyne very soon discovers that he can trust no one, and may be the only human who knows that an Alphan invasion fleet is on its way to take over the Earth.
As would be expected with Aldiss, this is an above-average quality piece of work to be found in an Ace Double (although several major authors, including Dick and Delaney had some novels published this way).
Aldiss, I suspect, spent some time in Sumatra during his army days and has masterfully used this to provide some fascinating background detail.
It’s also fascinating structurally, since Tyne is ultimately seen to have been manipulated by almost everyone into a specific course of action, although to be fair Aldiss overcomplicates things toward the end and one does get a tad confused as to who was working with whom; who knew what and when, and why they made their plans so complicated?
The noir style works though and is especially effective in such a realistic setting. Aldiss even provides a Sydney Greenstreet character in the form of a secret agent called Stobart. There’s a femme-fatale, another secret agent called Charles Dickens, and some action sequences that wouldn’t look out of place in a James Bond movie, such as when Tyne escapes from a Hindu temple in a helicopter or when he gets trapped in a giant cafetiere-type contraption in a plankton plant and has to shoot his way out to avoid being squished and filtered.
It’s very enjoyable hokum and one feels churlish offering any criticism given that it’s a better than average Ace Double novel.
I suspect that Aldiss had a great deal of enjoyment writing this. I certainly enjoyed reading it.


Moreau’s Other Island – Brian W Aldiss (1980)

Moreau's Other Island

‘New Master, New Man…

He stands very tall, long prosthetic limbs glistening in the harsh sun, withered body swaying, carbine and whip clasped in artificial hands. Man-beasts cower on the sand as he brandishes his gun in the air…

He is Dr Moreau, ruler of a fabulous, grotesque island, where humans are as brutes and brutes as humans, where the future of the entire human race is being reprogrammed. The place of untold horrors. The place of the New Man….’

Blurb from the 1982 Triad Granada paperback edition.

Aldiss wrote three (at least) of these posthumous sequels one of which, ‘Frankenstein Unbound’ was filmed with John Hurt in the title role.
This is an updating of the HG Wells ‘Island of Dr Moreau’ and set in the then near future of the Nineteen Eighties. A World War is underway, Man has a base on the moon, the Soviets have invaded Japan and a US Undersecretary of State has escaped from a plane which crashed in the Pacific and ends up on an unknown island which has a giant letter M carved into the cliffs.
The castaway, Calvert Roberts, is picked up in a boat by the surly South African, Hans Maastricht and his strange companion George and taken to the island.
There he first meets the odd natives of the island, strange beast people with a grasp of language but a low IQ.
The ‘Master’ of the island is one Mortimer Dart, who has inherited the legacy of the legendary Dr Moreau (in actuality a Dr McMoreau, with whom Wells, so Dart tells us, was acquainted and used as the model for his legendary novel.)
Dart, it transpires, is a thalidomide victim, having only rudimentary arms and legs and ‘a penile deformity’. This has led him to create prosthetic arms and legs, some of which have tools or weapons instead of hands.
Roberts, initially disturbed and horrified by both the hybrid creatures who have been living on the island since Moreau’s time, and the way Dart treats them, is desperate to get away. Fate seems to taunt him since his actions bring about only chaos and death. It appears that Roberts is losing his own humanity as the beast people are gaining theirs, as when, in leaping from a cliff to avoid being killed by the animal mob, he ends up with a group of thalidomide Japanese ‘seal’ people and their normal human four year old daughter. Roberts is seduced into a group orgy with the entire family, actions which seem perfectly acceptable to him in that context. The seal-people, as Dart’s assistant Hans has already told him, were humans who had been made into seal-like flippered creatures by the effects of thalidomide and perhaps moving back to an innocent state of animal-like grace.
It is interesting that the action takes place in isolation while a World War rages across the rest of the planet. Roberts then discovers that not only does the government know about the island, but that his own department has sanctioned and supported Dart’s work.
Dart’s true work is to produce a ‘replacement’ race that can survive the fall out from a nuclear war.


The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction – George Mann (Ed) – (2007)

The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction

In His Sights – Jeffrey Thomas
Bioship – Neal Asher
C-Rock City – Jay Lake & Greg van Eekhout
The Bowdler Strain – James Lovegrove
Personal Jesus – Paul Di Filippo
If at First… – Peter F Hamilton
A Distillation of Grace – Adam Roberts
Last Contact – Stephen Baxter
Cages – Ian Watson
Jellyfish – Mike Resnick & David Gerrold
Zora and The Land Ethic Nomads – Mary A Turzillo
Four Ladies of The Apocalypse – Brian Aldiss
The Accord – Keith Brooke
The Wedding Party – Simon Ings
Third Person – Tony Ballantyne
The Farewell Party – Eric Brown

Solaris is a new SF imprint, making an enterprising splash with an anthology of newly commissioned material from the great and good of the SF world.

In His Sights – Jeffrey Thomas

Jeffrey Thomas starts us off with a story from Punktown featuring a character who also features in a novel shortly to be published by Solaris. Bearing this in mind, I was setting myself up to be disappointed, but was genuinely impressed by this story of a shapeshifter war veteran whose face has frozen as one of his victims from his time in the war (with blue-skinned people from an alternate reality).
Very dark. Quite Gothic. China Mieville likes it.

Bioship – Neal Asher

A rather weak tale from Asher about sexual rivalry on board a sentient ship (a sea-vessel not a spaceship).
It features the genetically modified lip-tentacled humans (I presume) that we met in the novel ‘Brass Man.’

C-Rock City – Jay Lake & Greg van Eekhout

One of the crew of a trading vessel docks at a city composed of three linked asteroids where he has a regular date with a security guard. However, the man is also on a pilgrimage to find his mother; one of the blind slaves who built the station for The Proctor.
Very moving. Well-paced. Atmospheric.

The Bowdler Strain – James Lovegrove

An excellent tale from Lovegrove about an escaped logovirus which alters the speech centres of the brain. This particular virus, the Bowdler strain, makes it impossible for people to swear. It comes out as gibberish. It is up to the scientist in charge and the military to get the situation resolved.
See also ‘The Isolinguals’

Personal Jesus – Paul Di Filippo

Set in a world where on can have one’s own personal Jesus, rather like an i-pod, giving one advice in one’s ear. Is it all just too good to be true?
The voice of God was discovered when the first quantum computers went online and now everyone has their own godPod through which they can talk to Jesus whenever they wish. The world is a peaceful and contented place.
Our hero, however, has his doubts as to how happy he actually is.

If at First… – Peter F Hamilton

Hamilton’s story, in contrast to the previous two, is a fairly simple idea, but told ingeniously. Narrated by the policeman who investigated the original case, it slowly becomes clear to us that his history is a different one to our own.
It turns out that a man has been stalking a multi-millionaire businessman because he suspects that he has a time-machine and has been passing information to his younger self.
Things, however, are not quite as simple as that.

A Distillation of Grace – Adam Roberts

A religious cult (Roberts seems keen on his religious fanatics) settles on a world 2700 light years from Earth and, following the teachings of Shad, are composed of two thousand and forty-eight people, half male, half female, who will pair off and produce one child per couple in every generation until the birth of the final child; The Unique, and thus install Grace into the Universe.
Grace, the cult believes, travels backwards through time and will therefore reach Earth at the time of Christ’s birth.
It’s no more bonkers than any other religious theories, and Roberts writes so damn well that the characters’ convictions come across startlingly powerfully.

Last Contact – Stephen Baxter

What does one do when one knows that the world will end on a specific date, and ironically, just when SETI is beginning to receive messages from the stars?
A mother and her daughter come to terms with the discovery of the Big Rip, which is destroying the universe by degrees and will deal with the earth on October 14. Perversely, SETI – with which the mother is involved – has begun receiving messages from super-civilisations across the cosmos. The mother has her own ideas as to what these messages may be.

Cages – Ian Watson

Watson has made a name for himself by taking absurd premises and carving exquisite short pieces from them, like beautifully wrought ivory figures.
Here, earth has been invaded by Hoops, which hang in the air and disgorge giant bee-like aliens (The Harrow) who attach irremovable cages to various parts of people’s bodies. An intelligence agent is sent to a festival where some musical reactionaries are planning to transmit some of the bees’ remixed sounds back through the hoops in order to provoke them into some kind of dialogue.
As with all Watson’s work, it’s a brilliantly dense piece of writing, full of complex ‘stuff’ and surely deserves a larger format to explore more global and personal ramifications.
The concept of ‘cages’ of course, works on different levels in this story, some obvious, some more subtle.

Jellyfish – Mike Resnick & David Gerrold

In this post-modern parody, Resnick and Gerrold show us the life of a writer based on an amalgam I suspect, of PK Dick, Kurt Vonnegut and William Burroughs. A tale full of SF devices, clichés and in-jokes and featuring an attack on a whole plethora of SF writers, thinly disguised, including the two authors themselves. They even manage to sneak in AE van Vogt’s famous Sevagram.

Zora and The Land Ethic Nomads – Mary A Turzillo

A brilliant bit of character-driven drama in which an African couple and their young son, working on mars, have to temporarily take in some Land Ethic Nomads. They believe that Man should live nowhere but Earth and are trying to persuade Mars settlers to return.
When they leave, it appears that one of them, Valkini, has sabotaged their nuclear plant since their radiation monitors are showing high levels.

Four Ladies of The Apocalypse – Brian Aldiss

A prose-poem-ish piece from Aldiss in which four ladies (and a fifth) visit a dictator. The horsemen are, it appears, too exhausted by their labours to appear at this juncture.

The Accord – Keith Brooke

Tish and her husband run a bar on a strange and beautiful world. They are happy until a mysterious stranger turns up, pursued by three other mysterious strangers, intent on his capture. She becomes infatuated with the stranger and is determined to discover who or what he is.

The Wedding Party – Simon Ings

Simon Ings often reads like Ian Watson a serious acid downer.
In a future Europe, a man goes to extraordinary and somewhat surgical lengths to smuggle his African lovers into the UK.
Beautifully written. Very poetic. Very dark.

Third Person – Tony Ballantyne

The British Army are in Spain, fighting the S.E.A., and have to pillage what they need to get back to Britain. It’s a tale about military ethics and who or what one might sacrifice for the greater good.

The Farewell Party – Eric Brown

A surprise story, which starts in the real world where a group of friends who meet at a village pub are curious about a new arrival, a writer. Then we are hammered by the news that first contact has already been made, and that the aliens, the Kethani, can resurrect humans who have been implanted with one of their chips.
The narrator has already been resurrected but his recollections of the Kethani world are vague. The writer’s latest book is about a group of friends who commit joint suicide in order to be resurrected and travel the Universe together.
So who or what is the writer, and should the group be tempted by the idea?
It’s one of the most intriguing stories in this volume since its theme is Faith and conviction, and although the fact of resurrection has been proven here, the details of the ‘afterlife’ are unclear, perhaps necessarily so, or perhaps there is a more sinister purpose in the Kethani’s plans.


Barefoot in The Head – Brian W Aldiss (1969)

Barefoot in the Head (Corgi SF Collector's Library)

‘BAREFOOT IN THE HEAD

is set in a strange and elemental era. The world had died – or what was good in it had died – and all that was left was confusion and disorder.
Colin Charteris had been an ordinary young man – once. But in a drug-distorted society he became a saviour – a hero who was to lead a doomed crusade into bomb-scarred Europe – a Europe that was to prove everything and nothing to the man who went Barefoot in the Head…’

Blurb from the 1974 Corgi SF Collector’s Edition

This is not an easy read since following the first chapter which introduces the central character, Colin Charteris, the novel devolves into a variation of English which those affected by the Acid Head wars are now using.
Charteris is a Serbian travelling through Europe in the aftermath of the Acid Head wars and we meet up with him in Paris. He calls himself Charteris because he is a fan of the British author and has a romantic view of British life.
Eventually he arrives in London and meets Burton, the manager of a band, and later his friend Phil who is a prophet of sorts. Charteris, however, with contradictory Ouspenskian and Gurdjieffian views, gains a following of his own and becomes something of a Messiah.
The novel, assembled from various sequential stories in New Worlds and elsewhere, is also dotted with poems and song lyrics from the characters.

See also ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and ‘Riddley Walker’.


Now Begins Tomorrow – Damon Knight (Ed) (1963)

Now Begins Tomorrow

This fascinating paperback presents the first printed stories from some of the most famous names in the genre. The majority of them appeared in John W Campbell’s ‘Astounding ‘ with the exception of the Merrill & Aldiss stories which were published in ‘Space Science Fiction’ and ‘Nebula Science Fiction’ respectively.
Knight has arranged the stories chronologically so that we see not only the chosen author’s first published story but also a rough overview of the development of the SF short form (in particular the Astounding story) and the growing level of depth and sophistication over almost twenty years. Unsurprisingly, there is only one woman represented, since the sexism which was immanent within the publishing houses and the literary texts themselves did not begin to break down until the Nineteen Fifties and Sixties, at least in the US.
Many of the stories feature no females at all, and of those that do, they appear as only minor characters, such as Mrs Garfinkle in ‘The Isolinguals’ or the doomed young wife in ‘Life Line’.

‘The Isolinguals’ – L Sprague de Camp (Astounding 1937)
‘The Faithful’ – Lester Del Rey (Astounding 1938)
‘Black Destroyer’ – AE Van Vogt (Astounding 1939)
‘Life-Line’ – Robert E Heinlein (Astounding 1939)
‘Ether Breather’ – Theodore Sturgeon (Astounding 1939)
‘Loophole’ – Arthur C Clarke (Astounding 1946)
‘Tomorrow’s Children’ – Poul Anderson (Astounding 1947)
‘That Only A Mother’ – Judith Merrill (Astounding 1948)
‘Walk To The World’ – Algys Budris (Space Science Fiction 1952)
‘T’ – Brian Aldiss (Nebula Science Fiction 1956)

‘The Isolinguals’ – L Sprague de Camp (Astounding 1937) is a compact and humourous tale of an outbreak of genetic race memory. The people of New York are unaccountably struck with a strange malaise in that they begin to be possessed by the memories of their ancestors. An engineering officer of the XXXIInd legion of Rome finds himself in the body of a fruit vendor, a package dispatcher becomes a sergeant in Cromwell’s army, Mrs Garfinkle – a new York native, suddenly starts talking in the language of the ancient Goths, and the numbers of the affected are rising dramatically.
The logical thing happens of course in that people from the same era who speak the same language begin to band together into gangs of isolinguals.
Professor Lindsley and his son-in-law Pierre solve the mystery, which turns out to be a dastardly scheme by an extreme right-wing would-be dictator, which, in 1937 would have been a bit of a topical element.

The Faithful’ – Lester Del Rey (Astounding 1938) is a pastoral, somewhat romantic tale redolent of the work of Clifford D Simak who published stories based on a similar premise in Astounding which were fixed up as ‘City’.
Men have surgically and biologically modified dogs, increasing their intelligence and awareness, but shortly afterwards have destroyed themselves with war and biological weaponry.
Hungor Beowulf XIV sets out to collect the dogs together and they embark on a quest to find any men that remain. The last human, who is fighting off the plague with the help of longevity drugs, is discovered and leads the dogs to Africa where they find similarly engineered apes who become the hands of the dogs and ultimately, the dogs hope, will replace Man as their masters.

Black Destroyer’ – AE Van Vogt (Astounding 1939) is probably Van Vogt’s best-known short story and is often touted as the original inspiration behind ‘Alien’.
On the barren single planet of a star nine-hundred light years from its nearest neighbour, an Earth scientific expedition is discovered by one of the last remnants of an intelligent race, the Coeurl.
The Coeurl – desperate for the scarce and life-giving phosphorus which it drains from its victims – pretends to be harmless, but betrays itself as an intelligent being.
The most interesting aspect of this story is the discussion between the scientists in which they pool their expertise in order to deduce the nature of the beast.
By logical deduction (the rational man of logic is a frequent protagonist in Van Vogt novels) they deduce that the creature is not a descendant of the builders of the abandoned city, but one of its former residents, and therefore highly intelligent and practically immortal.
The story was later revised and expanded in order to comprise the first few chapters of Van Vogt’s fix-up novel ‘Voyage of The Space Beagle’. The rather inhuman ending of the original story, in which the crew plan to return and exterminate the Coeurl race is amended to a decision where the creatures are left to their own fate, presumably to die out from lack of essential phosphorus. It was not, however, a humane decision as much as one which presumably allowed the ship to continue its journey to other worlds unimpeded.

In ‘Life-Line’ – Robert E Heinlein (Astounding 1939) Heinlein grasps the opportunity to take a side-swipe at the scientific community who refuse to believe that Dr Pinero has developed a process by which he can measure a man’s lifeline, i.e. the length of his existence in the temporal dimension, and thus predict the date of his death. Heinlein explores the logical extrapolation of this, in that insurance companies, whose existence depends on statistical probabilities of mortality rather than certainties, would go out of business.
The actual science or mechanics of the process in unimportant, and indeed, Pinero refuses to discuss the nature of his invention. The notion forces one to ask oneself questions, such as ‘Do you really want to know the exact date and time of your death?’

Ether Breather’ – Theodore Sturgeon (Astounding 1939) is a slight but humourous tale in which mentalities who can perceive and manipulate wavelengths begin to interfere with experimental colour TV transmissions. Although the story, seen from our perspective in an age where Colour TV is a reality, seems somewhat dated, the characterisation and dialogue is excellent and even today says a lot about the attitude of Americans regarding what they find acceptable for broadcast.

Arthur C Clarke’s ‘Loophole’ (Astounding 1946) is an interesting example of a story written in the form of communications between individuals, in this case between High Level Martian officials, concerned as to Humanity’s recent developments in atomic power.
Unusually for Clarke, the solution is one of decisive military action which destroys the Martian civilisation threatening the Earth and seems at odds with his later, more pacifist work.
Another example of this literary technique (with a much cleverer twist ending) is AE Van Vogt’s ‘Dear Pen Pal’

Poul Anderson’s ‘Tomorrow’s Children’ (Astounding 1947) is the first of two consecutive stories which reflects America’s then paranoia of the consequences of Nuclear war and the ethics of dealing with Human Mutation. It is interesting to contrast this story – which is a male-perspective overview of the possible future of society as a whole – with the following story by Judith Merrill which focuses on one woman’s experience of pregnancy and childbirth in a world suffering from radiation poisoning, although both stories pose the question of whether mutation affects the integrity of the Human Race.

Judith Merrill’s ‘That Only A Mother’ (Astounding 1948) gives us a very personal and moving account of a mother’s story from late pregnancy (in a time of atomic radiation) through to childbirth and beyond, interspersed with correspondence to her husband, on active service in the Armed Services.
The daughter is a prodigy and learns to talk at an early age but it is only when the father eventually arrives home on leave that the true state of affairs is discovered.
It is refreshing to finally see a female perspective, and indeed a main female character, and particularly within the pages of ‘Astounding’.
Interestingly, Merrill seems to imply that fathers would not be so accepting of their mutant children as Anderson suggests, rather optimistically, in his tale.

Walk To The World – Algis Budrys (Space Science Fiction 1952) is another pastoral tale, this time of wanderlust, told by a the son of a retired Space Captain, now running a farm on a colony world.
It’s notable for its vivid and detailed descriptions of the characters involved, and though superficially a simple tale, is actually a fairly complex portrait of a man’s relationship with his wife, his son and his home as well as ultimately questioning the American way of doing things. It’s a subtle piece, well-written and again redolent of the work of Simak.

Brian Aldiss’ ‘T’ (Nebula Science Fiction 1956) is, surprisingly, rather weak in its premise, although very creatively constructed and well-written.
The denizens of another galaxy have seen Man spread out to colonise our own galaxy and now are invading theirs, so they create a fleet of twelve ships containing genetically-engineered beings (composed of merely an arm and a simple brain) which are sent off on a path back through Time and Space to destroy Earth before Man has even evolved.
Due to an elementary error on the part of the aliens, the wrong planet is destroyed and Earth is left to evolve as destined.
Although simplistic, the concept of the ships and their guiding hands are creatively and ingeniously conceived and described and foretell some of the brilliance and originality of Aldiss’ later work.