Book Review: The Best SF Stories from New Worlds 2, ed. Michael Moorcock (1968)

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(Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1969 edition)

3.75/5 (Collated rating: Good)

As New Worlds issues tend to be expensive and hard to find (especially in the US), Michael Moorcock’s anthology series provides satiating morsels from the magazine’s best period.  New Worlds was instrumental in the so-called New Wave movement.  I am at home in  eclectic and genre-challenging/subversive madness.

New Worlds combined SF stories/poems with experimental art and layout that is, unfortunately, lost in the anthologies.  One of my favorite examples is Vivienne Young’s collage (below) illustrating James Sallis’ “Kazoo” (1967) (more interesting than the story!).  I will keep my eyes peeled for cheap issues from Moorcock’s tutelage.

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(New Worlds, August 1967, ed. Michael Moorcock with art direction by Charles Platt)

The Best SF Stories from New Worlds 2 (1968) maintains a high level of quality with only a few duds.  Of the three in the series I’ve read, it falls somewhere in overall quality between the first and the third (rescued from failure by Pamela Zoline’s 1967 masterpiece “The Heat Death of the Universe“).

Recommended for fans of New Wave SF.

For another perspective, check out MPorcius’ reviews of a selection of stories from the same anthology (Part I and Part II).

Brief Analysis

“Another Little Boy” (1966), short story by Brian W. Aldiss, 4/5 (Good):  A biting satire that seethes with disturbing ideas and wry humor, Aldiss creates a desensitized and overpopulated future desperate for stimulation (sexual connotations purposeful).   A world where computers decide whether women give birth (technology implanted in their wombs) and political powers wage strange warfare with orgasm preventing bombs.  “We are not an age that looks at all to the past” (10) proclaims Thora Peabright, an executive with Zadar Smith World,  as she investigates 40s/50s/60s history in a dusty archive trying to find an idea for an epic celebration of the centenary of the nuclear age.  A historical reenactment without the historical implications!  Another Little Boy…

A story about a world without compassion, where the trauma of others receives no sympathy and war is de rigueur….

“The Poets of Millgrove, Iowa” (1966) short story by John Sladek, 5/5 (Masterpiece):  Sladek has moved on and off of my radar over the years.  I read The Reproductive System (published as Mechasm in the US) (1968) but never reviewed it.  I attempted to read a few of his pastiches of famous authors in The Steam-Driven Boy and Other Strangers (1973) but moved on to something else.  This story puts him firmly back in my sights.  I must devour The Müller-Fokker Effect (1970) in preparation for my best of the 1970s list.

As with Barry N. Malzberg’s novels and stories (including 1971’s The Falling Astronauts), “The Poets of Millgrove, Iowa” deconstructs the cult of the astronaut and his wife as the perfect American family.  The Astronaut returns to his hometown where everything is on the house and the kids will read poems in his honor and the mayor will give him the keys of the city.  The Astronaut’s wife, Jeanne, with all the superficiality of the idealized magazine pictorial spreads, decks herself in commercial beauty accouterments: “Seated, wearing her patented lastex with fiberfil inserts, kolitron panels, nickel-chrome and neoprene clips, six-way stretch girdle that b-r-e-a-t-h-e-d, Jeanne read how to build her own” 16).

“So let’s give a big cheer for our Astronaut!” (21) the local druggist grins, proud of his fellow townsman.  And after the spectacle, the major scrambles for order: “Well, folks, I guess our boy was still flying too high” (21).

A satire of the highest caliber.

“The Transfinite Choice” (1966), short story by David I. Masson, 3/5 (Average):  Masson recently received a Gollancz Masterworks series volume with all ten of his short stories.   Both “A Two-Timer” (1966) and “The Transfinite Choice” leave me scratching my head.  Filled to the brim with wild ideas and linguistic experimentation (17th century lingo in the former and far future technobabble technician talk in the latter).  After an accident Naverson Builth is thrown into the future.   His knack for the scientific lands him a position of eminence in the overpopulated future where everyone lives in vast warrens…. He discovers a potential way out of the crisis, transport the masses to other dimensions!  But what happens if the other dimensions are also overpopulated?

Who enjoys abbreviated technobabble?  (not me!)  If so, get ready to swoon.  Most of the story reads as follows: “Geriatrics failed, unable increase life expectancy over 18%, active life over 12%.  Direct parameters now target.  Relevant parameters in aging show in three quasi-dimensional as variety of helix.  Organism enters at conception on broad base, spirals upward on time axis at constant gradient, and inward on a cone/dome towards literal point of death, on slope peculiar to itself” (26).  At no point is the story impossible to follow, but fetishization of scientific language never reaches the poetic possibilities of T. J. Bass’ Half Past Human (1971)…

Assessment.  Near mid-curve (pronounced kûrv),  babble tolerance, %0.

“You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe” (1966), short story by J. G. Ballard, 3.5/5 (Good):  The anatomy of the sand dune mimics Karen Novotny’s anatomies. Tallis gazes at each in a state of meditation (yantric diagrams–made of sand–and all).  The reasons for Tallis’ pondering (and wondering) and fragmentation remain illusive….  The sand metaphors (that shift over time and reconfigure) match with the the reconfiguring of Tallis’ mental state.  However, the parts never congeal into something tangible.  Like the before-mentioned yantric diagram, the connections and meanings must be metaphorically chewed.

Others have meditated far longer and with more pattern recognition—> here.  In this particular case, I am not intrigued enough to sift out Ballard’s mysteries.  I prefer the stories in Billenium (1962) and The Voice of Time and Other Stories (1962).

Tangent: Moments in “You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe” remind me of scenes (human anatomy, the curve of the sands, skin, sand particles on skin) from Hiroshi Teshigahara’s spectacular 1964 film adaptation of Kōbō Abe’s novel The Woman in the Dunes (1962).

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“The Total Experience Kick” (1966), short story by Charles Platt, 3.25/5 (Vaguely Good):  A mildly entertaining future media gone amok tale by the perpetually underwhelming Charles Platt of Garbage World (1966) infamy.  “It all happened back in that wild winter of ’82” (39)….  Pop music gets an upgrade, watch Marc Nova sing his trite tunes and get some of his “moist perfume mixed with acrid body odour” (40-41) up your waiting nostrils and you won’t be able to tear your eyes away!  But technology has already moved past “hot air” blasts and idol sweat sniffs into the realm of “Statistically Average Man,” the “guy typical of music buyers” who will know every time if you have a hit on your hands.

Fun, silly, predictable, and far less terrifying than Keith Robert’s similar exploration of future advertising, “Sub-Lim” (1965).  Still the best Platt I’ve read yet.

“The Contest” (1967), short story by Thomas M. Disch, 3/5 (Average):  A four page story that implies more than it says about two men who meet on the street in a repressive future Manhattan… In the course of back and forth banter a particularly pithy past story indicates a subversive thought and causes a violent assassination.  All Disch’s stories are characterized by skilled telling but this one is on the slight side.

“The Empty Room” (1967), short story by Thomas M. Disch, 4.5/5 (Very Good).  Clicking in at two and a half pages, “The Empty Room” generates searing discomfort with details carefully hinted at.  This  future glimpse of a world where the brains of the less fortunate are rented by the more fortunate for computing, weaves a certain power.  Diane and Thadeus look for a room to rent.  Disch is a master of the detail and as the shoddy room crumbles, hard truths are reached.

“The Descent of the West End” (1967), short story by Thomas M. Disch, 2.5/5 (Bad):  The least satisfying of Disch’s three ultra short stories… A comedy of mores (and errors) aboard a sinking ship.  As the chests with hidden lovers float by and poetry transmitting navigation officers ignore their jobs. I suspect I was supposed to laugh.

“The Singular Quest of Martin Borg” (1965), novelette by George Collyn, 2.75/5 (Vaguely Average?):  A tongue-in-cheek but all too shoddy subversion of planetary adventure (“Denebians” and “Tectonic Gulfs” and “the Asimovian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Positronic Brains”) drenched in and out with Freudian fantasies.  Martin, the son of a  dead courtesan, is raised in a rocky crevice by mother machines until the age of twenty-five.  Soon he is smothered by Deneb Mothers Against Neglect League but his powers of creation, the product of a mind uncluttered with thoughts in its youth, regenerate  his mother.  Martin becomes his mother and….  And generates himself!

“The Countenance” (1964), short story by Barrington J. Bayley (as P. F. Woods), 4/5 (Good):  One of the better stories in the collection shows Bayley’s ruminative capabilities.  In a world where knowledge is dominated by the Scientocrats, Brian dwells on the reason for the lack of windows on an interstellar transport ship.  Mercer, his childhood friend, chalks it up to Brian and his philosophical obsessions (what is the nature of knowledge?  why do we know what we know?): “what difference does it make? […] Perception is indirect anyway” (87).  But Brian’s compulsions “to know what really is” take him down back corridors in search of a way to really “see” (and know) space.  But this is not Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky (1941) where the true reaches of the world imparts meaning and shape to existence, this knowledge was hidden for a reason….

“The Pleasure Garden of Felipe Sagittarius” (1965), short story by Michael Moorcock (as James Colvin), 4.25/5 (Very Good):  In some alternate world, Minos Aquilinas, “top Metatemporal Investigator of Europe” is called to a ruined Berlin (with Bismarks and Hitlers who don’t act like their namesakes) to investigate the murder of a man with paper lungs.  His body lays in Police Chief Bismark’s garden, a vegetative locus in a ruined cityscape… Moorcock’s adept use of names with historical connotations in a ruined world where those connotations do not connect, creates the uncanny and decadent setting.  Although the mystery does not surprise, Moorcock does conjure the “languorous scents” (104) of a vividly hinted at alternate Europe.

“Sisohpromatem” (1967), short story by Kit Reed, 4/5 (Good):  First, find Kit Reed’s collection Mister Da V. (1967).  Second, read this one.  A reverse metamorphosis, a cockroach becomes a man!  “Then I realized that I was lying on my back.  At first I thought I would die there unless someone came and nudged me over, and then, as I began kicking my legs, I discovered that the forelegs clung to the edge of the washbasin and with a certain amount of manipulation I would be able to regain my belly” (113).  As he stumbles around in the bathroom he encounters his one-time brethren scurrying among the floor tiles, “bold Hugo and grumbling Arnold, with Sarah and Steve and Gloria chittering behind” (114).

“For a Breath I Tarry” (1966), novelette by Roger Zelazny, 4/5 (Good):  Zelazny’s ability to mythologize SF premises strikes gold again.  Mankind is gone, artifacts remain scattered across a globe controlled by two computers (Solcom in orbit and Divcom deep within).  The computers order their mechanical agents to create humankind’s cities (and destroy each other’s creations in a continuous contest over who is to “preserve” humankind).  Solcom’s agent Frost (created in a moment of abnormal solar flares), who controls the northern reaches, desires to become man.  He makes a deal to switch sides to “You-Who-Never-Should-Have-Been-Activated” (Divcom) if his circuits indicate “he” has lost hope in becoming man.  Zelazny weaves a poetic and archetype-heavy tale on what it means to be human.

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25 thoughts on “Book Review: The Best SF Stories from New Worlds 2, ed. Michael Moorcock (1968)”

      1. I’d got into Ballard with The Crystal World – I didn’t know anything about Conrad or Heart Of Darkness then, but this one resonated with the rebellious teenager at Torbay back in the 60’s – something really ‘far-out’ – The Terminal Beach, The Voices Of Time – especially the former, are rated as classics of British post war fiction (that’s WW2) and they capture some of that cold war vibe – so anyway You: Coma: came along and it was a kind of collage, USA, star culture, pop-art, media, medical science, evolution, all reduced to shifting sands with a helicopter arriving – what did it mean? I’ll maybe re-read it and find out!

  1. Actually, all these stories (bar maybe one or two of them) come from the paperback format issues (pre early ’67 or #173) that are far more easily obtained than the later large-size issues.
    I’d recommend Masson’s excellent debut story ‘Traveller’s Rest’. I think I may have mentioned Platt’s ‘Lone Zone’ before.
    BTW, a lot of the paperback New Worlds (#142-172) are available as scans on Archive.org, as well as some of the larger format ones (#173-201).

    1. Paul, I understand that one can find copies online via ebay etc. That said, they tend to be (I haven’t done an exhaustive search) much more expensive than other magazines. Also, I have never found one at a used book store although I frequent them often and find other magazines.

      I forgot that Archive.org might have some! Exciting!

  2. The first book of Ballard’s I read,was “The Crystal World”,the next one being “The Atrocity Exhibition”,that contains the above piece.I think I would have appreciated them all better after reading a number of his other books.It represented a shape shifting change in direction in his writing,that I wasn’t ready for at the time.

    I read “The Pleasure Garden of Felipe Sagittarius” in “The Time Dweller”.I still remember it vaguely and quite enjoyed it and most of those in the collection at the time,even though most of them haven’t proved lasting.I was pleased to be reminded of what it was about again though.Good.

    I recently read Roberts collection,”The Lordly Ones”.I was looking to read more of his stuff,since I’ve only read “Pavane”,and chose this one,because I was dubious about his other novels.It was a poor choice.”The Grain Giants” would probably have been better,but think I was misled.

    1. I am not a fan of most of the Moorcock I’ve read so far: The Warlord of the Air (1971), The Ice Schooner (1969), The Sundered Worlds (1965), even Elric of Melniboné (1972)… But, these early stories under “Colvin” are proving much more appealing! Thankfully I have a copy of The Time Dweller.

      1. Haven’t read “Warlord of the Air”,”The Ice Schooner” or “The Sundered Worlds”,and the only Elric novel I’ve read,is the “The Sleeping Sorceress”,my first ever Moorcock novel.The best of his novels to read,is probably “The Final Programme”,but I can’t say nothing,as I haven’t read it either.

        I remember the short stories in “The Time Dweller” as being dreamy and ethereal.They dealt with old science ficton themes in a quaint and elegant way.Michael Moorcock had never been a fan of pulp scence fiction.How much substance they contained though,I don’t know.I don’t own a copy now.

      2. To get the two extremes of Moorcock you should get hold of his Jerry Corneilius quartet and The Dancers at the End of Time omnibus. You can get a taster of the latter in the New Worlds anthologies (#7-10) as he wrote four novellas from that series for them. ‘Pale Roses’ and ‘White Stars’ were favourites of mine back in the day.

      3. I have a copy of An Alien Heat (1972), the first in The Dancers at the End of Time sequence. I’ll read his short story collection The Time Dwellers first as they have proved the most interesting.

      4. I’ve read a few of Kit Reed’s shorts but nothing that stayed with me. The one is this collection was OK.
        Spinrad’s Corneilius story I liked because, probably, unlike the others it has some kind of narrative arc and he plays it for laughs. The other Corneilius works are more po-faced and experimental.
        Spinrad was my kind of New Wave author; relatively conventional but happy to use any New Wave freedoms that suited: sex, bad language, stream of consciousness, etc.
        ‘Behold the Man’ was the other Moorcock title I should have mentioned. Nebula-winning novella and expanded to a short novel.

      5. “Behold the Man” impressed me greatly when I first read it.That was the novel version.I’ve said something like it before,but I think I might benefitted more by reading the original novella.

  3. Hi Joachim

    While not as appreciative of New Worlds/New Wave as you are I am interested in the work published there and will keep an eye out for this collection. I like Ballard’s early stories but the cult of celebrity he seems to embrace later left me cold. However I think the Bayley, the Zelazny and the Lehr cover would probably be enough of a reward if I can find a copy.

    Happy Reading
    Guy

    1. Barrington J. Bayley is an odd bird! At one point I compulsively read his work but struggled with the label of “New Wave” applied to him. But, his short stories, although harking back to earlier ideas, do put a new spin on things…

  4. Spinrad was a kind of post-beat hippie writer, nearer to P K D than anyone else I can think of – The Iron Dream is pretty impressive, total over the top mania from beginning to end – The Void Captains Daughter is another wild one, still The Last Hurrah has a certain concision and gets the vibe across. Bug Jack Barron did not really grab me back then, maybe a little too ‘literary’, I might like it now

    1. Yeah, I reviewed The Iron Dream a while back…

      https://sciencefictionruminations.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/book-review-the-iron-dream-norman-spinrad-1972/

      And, his short story collection The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde: https://sciencefictionruminations.wordpress.com/2014/09/28/book-review-the-last-hurrah-of-the-golden-horde-norman-spinrad-1970/

      I also read some of his early stuff, like Agent of Chaos (1967) before I had my site and thus never reviewed it. I have a signed copy of Bug Jack Barron (1969) but haven’t mustered the courage to read it yet! I know I’ll like it!

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