" In this universe the night was falling; the shadows were lengthening towards an east that would not know another dawn. But elsewhere the stars were still young and the light of morning lingered; and along the path he once had followed, Man would one day go again"

Arthur C. Clarke Against the Fall of Night

Sunday, July 7, 2019

New Writings in SF5 edited by John Carnell (Part One)

  Sorry I have been sitting on this for months.  I was reading a post on Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations (great blog) when in the comments section Joachim Boaz had provided a review of Heinlein's Farnham’s Freehold (a truly awful book) from the New Worlds issue  for Nov. 1965.

The image included a review by Hilary Bailey of John Carnell's New Writing in SF5 which I found much more intriguing. I had the Carnell anthology and was able to find the review on my New Worlds dvd.

Cover uncredited. I read Colvin's (Michael Moorcock) "The Wrecks of Time', which was interesting, I am not sure if it will be a post.

John Carnell was a UK literary agent and anthologist. He is perhaps best know for his association with New Worlds magazine. While Michael Moorcock receives most of the credit for using New Worlds to launch science fiction's, "New Wave", the Encyclopdia of Science Fiction notes Carnell "also gave active encouragement to many of the writers who were later to become strongly associated with Michael Moorcock''s New Worlds …, including Brian W. Aldiss, J. G. Ballard, John Brunner and Moorcock himself."


In an earlier post, I tried to explain why I am attracted to some science fiction works more than others.

"Other times it is more immediate, there may be is a feeling of familiarity or comfort, like sitting in a favourite chair, that occurs the minute I read a certain passage, as in “Epilogue ” by Poul Anderson when the robot gathers his spears and sets off on his quest. Sometimes it is not the text but the feeling the work leaves, say the exuberance I felt after completing Robert Sheckly’s somewhat silly, “Specialist". Some because I recognize them as part of a continuum, Niven’s Gil Hamilton stories, for example, lead me to Linda Nagata’s "Nahiku West"."


I was reading my second story in this anthology when I realized this was going to be one of those books. Bailey seems to think five of the seven have were possibly better but none particularly memorable. As for how memorable these stories will be (for me), only time will tell, but I quite enjoyed six of the seven. I like British science fiction and these had a real range in that the settings or plots of the stories were all quite different. I am going to discuss each story, some in more detail, and I will try to warn of spoilers. Carnell does provide a one paragraph introduction to each story, which I may quote in full or in part. 

Cover unattributed. 

Potential by Donald Malcolm

The story begins with Dr. Edward Maxwell, the Director of D.R.E.A.M. who is monitoring the subjects of a dream study at a university sleep clinic. His wife Jill is expected to deliver their first child at any moment so he is a bit distracted. But not that much, as I will discuss later. The subject of the greatest interest is Gerry McLean when roused McLean begins to dictate a dream of swirling clouds or mist, sparks within the mist begin to form decimate patterns, then McLean begins to see the back of someone's head. Maxwell then lets his mind drift, so we are treated to a page and a half on information on dreams and dream research I could have done without. Then McLean begins to dream again even though two dreams in 45 minutes is unusually frequent. " There are no clouds, now, only a uniform blue-grey background that seems to extend everywhere. There are no random sparks, either. All are in some pattern or other. There's much more activity …looks purposeful, as if a stimulus were being applied… or-or supplied." and " The pattern moves…it's as if the mechanical action of a typewriter were being translated into terms of light.."(7) McLean also begins to dictate equations which neither he or Maxwell are able to understand. At present McLean is a manual labourer. He is generally unpleasant, brusque, sardonic and pushy. Intrigued by his dreams Maxwell begins to investigate McLean's background. From a former employer, he learns that McLean embezzled money, but was never charged, and impregnated, then deserted a young waitress. From his former Headmaster, he learns that McLean was often in trouble but also a mathematical genius. As the story continues McLean begins to dream more and more frequently and indeed he begins to show up at the clinic when he is not scheduled and demands to use the facility. 

There are several elements about the story I found jarring. There is a brief visit between Maxwell and his wife after the birth of the baby but it is pretty perfunctory. Indeed a day or two after the birth Maxwell is unable to supply the child's name when asked, saying he has not really thought about it that much? Really? Also, the treatment of women in science fiction is often less than stellar, as is the case here, when a young woman gives Maxwell a saucy eye, he dismisses her as a candidate for the world's older profession. This not only seems harsh in general abut also in terms of the story. Virtually every woman in the story, the matron in the hospital, female colleagues, students etc. indicates some sexual interest in Maxwell. I have no clue why the author included this element or the pregnancy of Maxwell's wife since, neither advance the plot and serve only to interrupt the story. 

Spoilers ahead.

Eventually, with the help of Jason Brown, a male colleague Maxwell realizes that McLean is somehow in telepathic communication with the university mainframe. "The computer is running ahead of itself, giving out more information than it should according to the programme." (31)  Brown the university computer expert has we are told "more degrees than a heat wave of thermometers, and he could converse intelligently on most subjects at the drop of a capacitor." (14) ( I am not sure why the author is channelling Gernsbackian science fiction at some points of the story, but you have been warned ) Maxwell and Brown realize the computer must be sending out some kind of broadcast, possibly all computers do, and if they do, can they communicate with each other? I find some stories can leave me cold for a large part of the narrative, only to be redeemed by the ending, Disch's Camp Concentration is one such work and "Potential" is another. "Then, as his signal began to fade, on a planet of a star four and a third light years away, a mind became aware, fleetingly, of an alien presence. He smiled and was content." (33)

The Liberators by Lee Harding 

from Carnell's introduction, 

"In the far distant future, the City roamed the face of the Earth, its memory banks conjuring fantasies from the minds of the unhumans storied within its vitals. Almost omnipotent, it was yet growing old and senile, and slow to meet the threat of the new life stirring upon the face of the world." 

Between the introduction and the first line, "They tumbled blindly through the endless twilight of the tunnel under the World, Pallid little creatures with faces like polished pebbles washed smooth by time, and pursued by a growing sense of guilt."(37) the plot is fairly clearly laid out. But I felt it was an enjoyable story, it conjured up memories of The Matrix and Jones' The Cybernetic Brains, but without killer frogs which I discussed here.

Takeover Bid by John Baxter

As a Canadian, I think that John Baxter (an Australian) is writing about issues of national identity, that Canada as a member of the British Commonwealth, former territories of the British Empire, is still grappling with when it comes to our national identity and role in the world. As the story begins Bill Fraser Assistant Director of Civil Aviation is travelling in a fully automated bubble car to Crosswind Headquarters. As he travels he considers a number of recent events that will give us a sense of the "New" Australia in which the story takes place. "In the fifties the idea of Australia exporting anything but the most basic raw materials-wool, wheat, steel-would have been ridiculous. Nobody had bargained for the immense expansion that would following the opening up od Australia to Asian immigrants and the impetus this would give to the development of the inland desert. Up to 1970 settlement was in most cases confined to a narrow strip of coastline seldom more than one hundred miles wide. Now, in 1994, there were market gardens far to the west where a farmer had been lucky to graze two sheep to the acre," (59)

This increase in GOP has had another consequence, "So, when it suddenly fell heir to wealth its first impulse was to strive with other countries for goals that mattered, the cure for cancer, longevity, space. And so it happened that in 1993 an Australian scientist has stumbled on the forcefield and, almost by accident, given mankind the stars." (60)

This field is a perfect reflector, capable of great acceleration. Animals experiments using the forcefield bubbles went well and eventually, Colonel Peter Chart R.A.A. F. had been sent out. "And had returned. or at least his body had. His mind seemed somehow to have been lost among the empty reaches of space. He had been taken from the bubble completely catatonic and had remained that way for three weeks. Then, on July 2-yesterday-he had quietly risen from his bed, killed a guard and run off to the desert." (60) And it is not just Chart that Fraser and his second in command Col (Colemara Talura), one of the first aborigines to hold a Ph.D. and a B.S.c. that Fraser selected for the project in part because" His combination of soppistication and allegience to the old tribal ways made him a person worth studying. (62) face. There is also the meddling/spying of the ELDO, the European Launcher/Development Organization which will use an old agreement signed by the Australian Government to take over the project and all the technology involved. I loved this story on many levels, the discussion of issues like immigration, higher education and advances in science and technology that are so relevant today. The interactions between Col and Fraser mirror our own interactions with the Canadian Native Peoples The political interactions between Crosswind Project and ELDO remind me in part to the story of the Avro Arrow and the Canadian High Tech sector, which still rankles many Canadian today. I have attached a link should you be interested. 

As you might have guessed this story engaged me on many levels. Using the ISFDB  database,  aside from it's the appearance in the editions of Carnell's anthology I only see one other appearance in "Beyond Tomorrow" edited by Lee Harding (1975). 

I have decided to break this entry into two parts. I will try to complete part two promptly. 


  1. Thank you for the kind words. I've found Carnell's collections hit or miss. But yes, I think SF Encyclopedia does is completely right in praising Carnell for introducing readers to a lot of figures who became New Wave icons -- Ballard for example (as you indicate). Yeah the magazine changes with Moorcock, and a TON of the standard Carnell writers no longer appear in the magazine, but a few continue to publish.....

  2. Hi

    Thanks for the comment. The more collections i read the more I use the ISFDB to see if stories are repunlished and what the aithors total output was like. In some cases I find stories I think could have been influencial in the direction of the genre, only to realize that they were never republished and the audience was probably pretty minimal. I have a DVD of New Worlds as well as Colin Greenland's The Entropy Exhibition: Michael Moorcock and the British "New Wave" in Science Fiction so I can experience more of the work. Ballard's The Voices of Time remains one of my all time favorite stories and Vermillion Sands one of my favorite SF communities.

    Happy Reading