[May 21, 1962] Old AND New (UK’s New Worlds Magazine)


By Ashley R. Pollard

Here, as I sit writing in May 1962, I’m contemplating change.  The change that occurs when the old is phased out, and new things are built that replace the familiar.  What spurred this moment of reflection was the news of the last trolley bus run in London which, as fate would have it, happened on the eighth of May in my manor—London slang for my local area.  The irony is that the trolley buses were built to replace the old trams, but have now themselves fallen to the same fate of being old, and no longer appreciated for the modern convenience they once were.

Science fiction is arguably about change, hopefully not in the didactic way of, say, the classroom lecture, but rather through exploring the changes that comes from the introduction of the new.  While I’m sure that some of the Galactic Journey’s readers may consider American SF stories to be the wellspring of all that the future holds, Britain does have magazines of its own to bring stories to aficionados of the genre on this side of the Atlantic.

One of them is called New Worlds.

I will say that the history of this magazine is rather complex, and presented me with a Gordian Knot to unravel; unlike Alexander the Great, I’m not able to slice through it with a sword as the popular legend has it.  Instead I shall unravel the story by starting at the beginning, and work through to the end.  As an aside, I understand this is a better fit for what Alexander actually did, which was to pull pole pin out of the knot and unravel the loose ends, but I digress.

The roots of New Worlds lies in science fiction fandom, which in 1934 was being actively promoted by Hugo Gernsback and Charles D. Hornig at Wonder Stories, who had created the Science Fiction League as an association to further the growth of fandom.  People from around the world could apply to form an SFL chapter, and in 1935 Maurice K. Hanson and Dennis A. Jacques formed Chapter 22 of the SFL in Nuneaton, near Leicester for those who’ve never heard of the place.


Hanson, in 1937

Chapter 22 was the third of five SFL chapters formed on this side of the Atlantic: the other four being in Leeds, Belfast, Glasgow, and Barnsley.  And while they may have been the third chapter, Hanson and Jacques produced in 1936 the first fanzine published in the United Kingdom called Novae Terrae.

A total of twenty-nine issues of this British fanzine were produced between 1936 and January 1939.  I understand the workload associated with producing it eventually became too much for Hanson, and he handed it over to John Carnell, who renamed it New Worlds: a translation of the Latin title into plain English.  However, Carnell only produced four issues before the war started in 1939 and paper rationing came into effect.


Carnell, in 1936

But, when production started again in 1946, New Worlds had been transformed into a professional magazine produced by Pendulum Publications.  The first issue didn’t sell very well, but the second did, which was attributed to the cover art being very eye catching.  As a result, Carnell had all the covers stripped off the unsold copies of issue one, and reissued the magazine with the same cover art as issue two, but without the content lettering—see the illustrations for comparison.  With the new cover issue one also sold well, and things looked promising.  Unfortunately, as luck would have it, the publisher went bankrupt.

However, a group of passionate science fiction fans came together and formed Nova Publications Limited to keep New Worlds on the newsstands.  The publication schedule was what I would describe as irregular, some might say sporadic, but New Worlds thrived and went from two issues in 1949, rising to three in 1950 and four in 1951, up to six issues in 1952 before falling back to three in 1953.  Then there was a nine month hiatus, due to problems with the printer, but regular monthly issues in a new digest format appeared after Nova Publications was taken over by Maclaren & Sons.

Ever since then New Worlds has graced the newsstands across the country, and for a short time even America.  The magazine provides a source of science fiction to British readers who may not have easy access to the American magazines that Galactic Journey reviews each month.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to read May’s issue, which contains the following stories: Terminal by Lee Harding; Think of a Number by Steve Hall; Dictator Bait by Philip E. High; The Analyser by Bill Spencer; and the concluding part of a serial called The Dawson Diaries by John Rackham.  However, I will say that I’ve enjoyed most things I’ve read by Philip E. High and the tease for the story is intriguing, “Finding an alien who could change shape at will would be harder than finding the proverbial needle. There is one way, however, of flushing him out of hiding, given time and the necessary will-power.” Colour me interested.

In addition, this month’s issue of New Worlds features section has a guest editorial by J. G. Ballard, in addition to the regular readers letters page called Postmortem, a section called The Literary Line-Up, and Book Reviews by Leslie Flood.

And to end this month’s column, I would like to point to something new.  In a few days time the Coventry Cathedral will be consecrated.  The old one was destroyed by the German Luftwaffe during the second world war.  The design for the replacement building was the winner of a competition held in 1950, but the foundation stone wasn’t laid until 1956.  Now the building is finished the consecration of the cathedral will take place on May the 25th and is remarkable for being so modern—dare I say a science fictional church for a better tomorrow?

5 thoughts on “[May 21, 1962] Old AND New (UK’s New Worlds Magazine)”

  1. As I understand it (I never got my hands on one of the American versions), the stories in New Worlds tend to be more of the literary sort, maybe even more so than the way F&SF has been lately. Is that really the case or is that just old guard American fans grousing about things changing?

    1. Overall, New Worlds is not more literary than the US magazines, though its best material in recent years has been by Brian W. Aldiss and J.G. Ballard, who are among the most literate and literary in the field anywhere (and who are now both appearing with increasing frequency in the US).  NW is noticeably more restrained; there is less slam-bang action and certainly less bloodshed than in much US SF.  There is no counterpart to Poul Anderson there.  The middle range in NW tends to be gimmicky stories whose gimmicks are slight or don’t gel very well, and the bottom level tends to be completely inane.  Much of the writing is a bit stuffy.  NW’s serialized novels have mostly proceeded directly to Ace Doublehood and are not among the rare gems in that line.  The best novels it has published in recent years were US publications that did not get serialization in the US (Sturgeon’s Venus Plus X and Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint).

  2. I’d buy issue 118, just from the author names on the cover.

    It’s too bad it’s so hard to get hold of back issues, particularly of foreign magazines.  Though they’re fairly new authors, I’ve become quite fond of John Rackham and Philip E. High.  I’m sure not all of their work has made it into print on this side of the pond, but there’s no real way to tell.

  3. …and I knew you were probably not kidding when I saw Hugo Gernsback mentioned.  While he did a a huge amount for promoting science fiction, anything he touched seemed to turn into a bag of snakes, at least for his writers and business partners.

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