My life in outer space

Carnell – John

New Writings in SF 6 – John Carnell (Ed) (1965)

New Writings in SF-6


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.


New Writings in SF 3 – John Carnell (Ed) (1964)

New Writings in SF-3
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.

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.


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.