…Originally started life as a fanzine: Novae Terrae. It became New Worlds in 1939 when John Carnell became editor and converted to professional publication in 1946. John, who also edited Science Fantasy as well as New Writings in Science Fiction, continued editing New Worlds until 1963. These publications helped kick-start the careers of writers such as Damien Broderick, Brian W Aldiss, James White, J.G. Ballard and Michael Moorcock.
The latter succeeded John Carnell as New Worlds editor and his letter to John set out his position: that science fiction needed: Editors who are willing to take a risk on a story and run it even though this may bring criticism on their heads. In his opinion, New Worlds should seek to publish all those writers who had become demoralised by a lack of sympathetic publishers and by baffled critics; it would attempt a cross-fertilization of popular sf, science and the work of the literary and artistic avant garde.
Moorcock’s first issue was dated May/June 1964. His editorial included a quote from William Burroughs “If writers are to describe the advanced techniques of the Space Age, they must invent writing techniques equally advanced in order properly to deal with them.”
This was a grand art project, in those terms it was a success – he had material to call on by the likes of Aldiss, Ballard, William Burroughs, Thomas M Disch, John Sladek and Roger Zelazny. It became an experimental magazine and a flag bearer for New Wave SF. Despite his literary aspirations, the magazine also printed more traditional SF including pieces by Arthur C Clarke, Bob Shaw, Vernor Vinge and early stories by Terry Pratchett.
It was however a risky experiment. Moorcock’s vision soon ran into trouble. Debates raged in the letters page on a sex scene from Langdon Jones’ I Remember Anita. Sales were holding up but by 1966 the publisher, Roberts & Vinter, had fallen into (unrelated) financial problems and it dropped New Worlds.
Moorcock stepped in and found Arts Council funding plus a backer. He aimed for a regular publishing schedule. This proved difficult. Sales dropped and soon his backer backed off. The weight of publishing fell entirely onto Moorcock. The March 1968 issue included explicit sex from Spinrad’s Bug Jack Barron. The Arts Council stalled on funding, WH Smith and John Menzies pulled it from their shelves.
Unfortunately for Moorcock, he was personally liable for the debts; he hadn’t formed a limited company. He put money in and in effect, was writing to keep the project going. It ceased regular monthly publication with the April 1970 issue. Various attempts have been made to revive it over the years. This includes editions by Sphere and Corgi in the 70’s. Later attempts were made by Gollancz, and Michael Moorcock himself. A recent web-digital offering is Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds, active over 2012 and 2013, and still accessible. It features interviews with Alan Moore, Brian Aldiss, fiction, art, reviews and to my mind is only missing a forum (yes I know these things have to be managed but they’re where you interact) anyway, back to the past…
The vision was valiant but commercially doomed. Moorcock ran out of money, and his project ran out of energy, but the baton of change was in play. Other hands such as Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions made their contribution and established authors continued the work. Its achievement was to instil the idea of larger and more complex designs in SF that the reader must work to decipher.
As a youth, I collected the Sphere and Corgi editions – variously edited by Michael Moorcock, Charles Platt and Hilary Bailey – and confess to noticing the influence of this stuff in my work.