The New SF – Langdon Jones (ed)
Arrow Books 1971 paperback, 224pp, ISBN 0 09 003890 8
This collection is a fingers up to both the literary establishment and the normal reading public. There’s so little SF, that the back cover blurb:
From the world of Science Fiction writing there has come a totally new literature, a Space Age fiction…
is nonsense. The Trade Descriptions Act might not apply here but only just. Few of its pieces flow well and its originality lies in ad hoc additions of extraneous material eg a shopping list, a business report, a maintenance schedule, notes on the process of writing, extracts from a dictionary. In a well ordered narrative these might make sense but they only serve to break the flow of what are already disconnected narratives.
• note to the author of The Communicants (John Sladek) which takes up a full third of this collection, just as a story has structure, management is a process with a purpose, with 40 years in industry and finance under my belt, I want to see The Communicants as more than oddments pasted onto paper, but I can’t.
There’s an awful lot of inner narrative from which one may deduce that the real objective of that long ago fad was to take some of the worst excesses of English Fiction eg navel gazing, and amplify them. The reader may be forgiven for feeling that he or she has been served little more than a pointless collection of randomly generated paragraphs.
• Michael Moorcock’s The Peking Junction is yet another disorderly, Jerry Cornelius fragment –Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius always left me feeling that writers’ polemic was centre stage. Once I detected it, the affection of ‘writer talks at his readers’ became evident, even in his fantasy output, and Michael Moorcock fell off my radar.
• The Anxiety in the Eyes of the Cricket by James Sallis sits in the shared world of Jerry Cornelius, demonstrating that the continuous antihero is merely a symbol of literary tourettes.
• So Far from Prague by Brian Aldiss is a fractured, contradictory narrative of the times. A couple of archaisms come over as clumsy eg ‘Indian Languages’. Aldiss’s early work, could be direct and entertaining; this wasn’t.
• Seeking a Suitable Donor by DM Thomas is reminiscent of the many (risible) exercises in poetic expression, so common in writing groups.
• The Holland of the Mind by Pamela Zoline is a jumble of random interjections, definitions, instructions, plotless expressionism. To those with an interest in that 60s / 70s zeitgeist, the discussion:
• JG Ballard & George MacBeth – The New Science Fiction is probably the most important part of the book.
The following extract (pp 108-109) suggests a peek into the author’s head (in this case Maxim Jakubowski).
How easily stories date.
The New SF may appeal to those wondering where New Wave SF went wrong, or those with an retro interest in disconnected narratives. Equally those involved in preparing business reports may find some nostalgic amusement here. This book was first published in 1969, it shows its age. Best considered as something to jar the senses or perhaps a humourless university prank.
Impressions from that time
Though keenly interested in the genre, at the first time of reading (circa 1976) I confess to finding most of this offering impenetrable. The following reflects my impressions from that time.
Giles Gordon – Fourteen Stations on the Northern Line Grotesque
Michael Moorcock – the Peking Junction Cliquey, smug, talking at the reader, trying to shock, trying to get (the writer some) attention
George MacBeth – Fast Car Wash Pedestrian
James Sallis – The Anxiety in the Eyes of the Cricket A good deal of scene setting
JG Ballard & George MacBeth – The New Science Fiction Takes itself very seriously.
Brian W Aldiss – So Far From Prague Dreary
Charles Platt – Direction It was round about here that I realised a) SF wasn’t on the agenda and b) meaningful fiction wasn’t on the agenda either, there is however an awful lot of inner narrative
Michael Butterworth – Postatomic in principle this qualifies as SF though no story develops just scattershot scenes, quirky impressions, dispassionate / distant pov
Michael Moorcock – For Thomas Thompion A poem?? a poem for goodness sake!
Maxim Jakubowski – A Science Fiction Story for Joni Mitchell A lot of inner narrative posing as story
John Sladek – The Communicants An adventure in junior management, random nonsense
DM Thomas – Seeking a Suitable Donor Dire
Pamela Zoline – The Holland of the Mind Drivel
Thomas M Disch – Quincunx By this time I was thinking: was reading any of this worth the effort?
How many books do I have by each of the above?
for the stattos 🙂
Michael Moorcock – 50
Michael Butterworth – 2 (1 co-written with Moorcock, the as editor of The Savoy Book)
John Sladek – 3
James Sallis – 1 (as editor of The War Book)
JG Ballard – 7
Charles Platt – 2 (including co-editing New Worlds 7 with Hilary Bailey)
Brian W Aldiss – 33 (including 7 co-edited with Harry Harrison – The Year’s Best SF 2, 5, 8, Nebula Award Stories 2, Hell’s Cartographers, The Astounding Analog Reader 1 & 2)
Maxim Jakubowski -1 (as editor of Travelling Towards Epsilon)
Thomas M Disch – 2
New Wave SF in Retrospect
Looking back is easy. All you need is wisdom after the event and a message. When I first read this work I was frustrated – not at being short changed but at the arrogance and conceit that delivered the work. Its message was: you’re reading clap-trap and what you should read is this. That might have won plaudits from some in the Arts Council of England, but the reality this was a poor reading experience. Though I rarely found New Wave Science Fiction an entertaining read, I accepted the view that much could be better. It’s now fifty years on; there’s been plenty of time to reflect on what was achieved and what went wrong. Using its own tools I’d call New Wave SF a fail. It was a dream of betterment that produced unedifying works. A key outcome was to actually keep the genre on the fringes. With the benefit of hindsight, they should have known better.
You can’t go back and deliver a sharp literary cuff about the ears but at least the record can be set straight. Read more here.
This post forms part of a series looking at the state of SF: