[Oct. 29, 1962] Treading Water (the November 1962 New Worlds)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Mark Yon

As we enter November here in England, it’s clear that Winter is definitely on the way. The nights are longer and the weather is definitely colder. We’re getting a fair bit of fog too in my home town. It means that waiting for the bus to take me to and from work is definitely chilly.

Of course, the good news from this is that this means more time for reading, watching television or going to the pictures!

Since we last spoke, of course, the news has been full of the Cuban Crisis, which I’m sure you know more about than me. When the BBC mentioned the first signs of trouble brewing a few weeks ago I felt that the British public were not too concerned about events happening elsewhere. How different things are now! Personally, I am pleased that things seem to be calming down now, though there is always the risk that with US/USSR relations being decidedly chilly (like our weather!) things could suddenly change again rather quickly.

Here, one of the effects of these international events is that in London we have seen major marches and protests against nuclear weapons, I guess much like your recent protests for Black Rights in the Mississippi. We have had hundreds of people march — peacefully, mind you — in protest at the escalation of the willingness to use nuclear weapons. Men, women and children — even if you don’t agree with their views, it is still impressive to see democracy in action.

Pop music-wise, Telstar is still at the top of the UK charts, having been in the charts for over ten weeks as I type and having had five weeks at Number 1. I suspect that it will be a contender for one of the best-selling singles of the year at this rate. It’s appropriate — the satellite bridged the Atlantic Ocean, and its namesake song soared to the top of the charts on both sides of it.

OK: to this month’s New Worlds Magazine. In this edition, the November issue, the recent changes in the covers continue. This month it is less garish than the October edition, though still underwhelming to me: a white cover but with yellow boxes and one main photograph.

The big news this month is that it is guest-edited by perhaps our most famous advocate for science fiction today, Mr. Arthur C. Clarke. The main photograph shows Mr. Clarke meeting someone he is clearly pleased to encounter — a certain Mr. Yuri Gagarin, who is, I guess, currently putting our dreams into practice.

I was quite excited by this, as Mr. Clarke is one of my own personal favourite authors. I loved his novel A Fall of Moondust, published last year. However, sadly, the New Worlds editorship does not bring us more new fiction, but merely a transcript of the speech Mr. Clarke gave on his acceptance of the 1962 Kalinga Award for the popularisation of science. It is as we expect — erudite, humorous and emotive. Clarke says that science fiction is pre-eminently “the literature of change” and therefore has a place in the future. I can’t disagree with that.

Having enjoyed Mr. Clarke’s rallying call as an editorial, I must admit that I found the rest of the magazine a disappointment. There was nothing particularly bad, but a lot that wasn’t great. It did feel a little like the magazine is marking time a bit.

We did get a Postmortem letters section, which continued the ongoing debate between different factions of fandom. Lots of discussion on the “controversial” guest editorials. As I rather suspected, Mr. John Baxter’s editorial back in August bemoaning the state of s-f and attempting to suggest that s-f should be more literary and more mainstream seems to have had a mixed response. Most noticeable here was a letter from another previous guest editor of New Worlds, Mr. Arthur Sellings, who argued that Mr. Baxter’s viewpoint reflected a “Britishers’ approach” and what is needed instead is more of a middle-ground approach which caters for a broad range of interests.

We also have Book Reviews from Mr Leslie Flood this month as well. Ms. Naomi Mitchison’s Memoirs of a Spacewoman was “superbly original and alien”, if “at times positively distasteful.” The anthology Spectrum II by Messrs. Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest was crisp and varied. Most noticeable was the comment that s-f may now be reaching the mainstream as Messrs’s Wyndham and Parkes’s The Outward Urge which was in the top 10 bestsellers in Britain in August. This was the first time a science fiction book has been in this category — hopefully a sign of good things to come.

To the stories:

Lucky Dog by Mr. Robert Presslie
This is the big novelette for this month, written by a New Worlds regular. It’s one of those “Jekyll-and-Hyde” type stories about the results of taking psychomimetic drugs to study the effects of schizophrenia. It starts well but towards the end descends into such implausibility that it nearly undoes all the good work done at the beginning. The ending is weak, which, when combined with an uninspiring connection to the title, left me very disappointed. 2 out of 5.

Just in Time by Mr. Steve Hall
Another story from a relatively new writer for New Worlds. This one was a lighter and more fun story of a group of skilled thieves and their imaginative use of a time machine that arrives in their hotel room. 3 out of 5.

Life-Force by Mr. Joseph Green
An anthropologic short story reminiscent of those of Mr. Chad Oliver, though with much less panache. It’s a story centred around telling a story, where a visitor sees a re-enactment of a tribe’s life-story and heritage. Rather unpleasant, and clearly designed to shock with its matter-of-fact depiction of child rape and cannibalism. 2 out of 5.

The Method by Mr. Philip E. High
This is Mr. High’s first story since Dictator Bait in May 1962. I had high hopes (forgive the pun!) for this story, but like Lucky Dog it started well but sadly ends on a risible pun that made me rather begrudge the time lost spent reading it. Not one of Mr. High’s best efforts. 2 out of 5.

Who Went Where? by Mr. Ross Markham
A story of planetary discovery, about explorers finding a civilised city intact yet devoid of life. The story is therefore the mystery, which in the end isn’t really. Solid yet undemanding. 2 out of 5.

The Warriors by Mr. Archie Potts
I liked this one, a science experiment gone wrong tale, of experimentation with ants and the inevitable consequences on a retired scientist. A salutary lesson, enjoyable if brief. 3 out of 5.

All in all, this was an issue that felt as if it should have been better than it actually was. Perhaps it was the mention of Mr. Clarke that got me excited. There were parts that I enjoyed whilst other stories were rather annoying. Dare I say it, the November 1962 issue of New Worlds is an issue that appears to be treading water a little. I hope that it is better next time.
And that’s it for this month. Happy Halloween, all!




2 thoughts on “[Oct. 29, 1962] Treading Water (the November 1962 New Worlds)”

  1. There seems to be a certain quality to these stories which makes them different from American SF.  Even though some of them contain violent scenes, the majority have characters who tend to be on the polite, rational side, unlike the typical American he-man.

    “Lucky Dog” — You’re exactly right.  Interesting until the unconvincing revelation near the end.

    “Just in Time” — A bit too long for its idea, but the final twist was a good one.

    “Life-Force” — A grim account of survival indeed, but that’s about all it was.

    “The Method” — Maybe the most “American” of the stories, with might making right and plenty of action.

    “Who Went Where?” — Maybe the most “British” of the stories, with all the characters pleasant and reasonable, and even the puzzle rather low-key.

    “The Warriors” — A nice little chiller.  Could make a decent episode of a television anthology series.

    1. Thanks, Victoria.

      Like you, I am noticing a real difference between the British SF and the American SF at the moment. Though the British stories are often quite polite in tone, they are generally less optimistic than those in, say, Analog or F&SF.  They seem to have a much more negative view of the Space Race. I do wonder whether this is a case of ‘sour grapes’ from our British writers, who secretly wish that the UK was more involved in exploring Space, more than we are at present.  But it does seem to be a common theme.  Perhaps we are just more cautious!

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