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Close To My Heart

Many of us have made simple decisions which changed our lives. It could be as simple as turning right instead of left at an intersection or saying "Yes" rather than "No" to an invitiation. For many of us, that change happened after reading a book. Things weren't quite the same. We saw things differently, we found ourselves wondering different thoughts, we made decisions for different reasons. We were imbued with a sense of wonder. This series takes a look at the books that had such an impact.

[Editor's Note: Here you will find the other titles in the Close To My Heart series.

New Worlds: An Anthology
edited by Michael Moorcock
Fontana (1983), Thunder's Mouth Press (2004)
Michael Moorcock

New Worlds: An Anthology
Michael Moorcock has published over 70 novels in all genres. These include several series that share, to different extents, a common multiverse: the Cornelius Chronicles, The Dancers at the End of Time, Erekose, The Books of Corum, Hawkmoon: The Chronicles of Castle Brass, Hawkmoon: The History of the Runestaff and the classic Elric of Melnibone Saga. He has also edited an anthology of late Victorian science fiction, Before Armageddon. Under the pen name E.P. Bradbury, he published a series of novel-length pastiches of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom novels.

Moorcock was born in London in 1939 and began writing, illustrating, editing and printing fanzines under the MJM Publications imprint at a young age. He became the editor of Tarzan Adventures at 16 (some sources say 17), and later the Sexton Blake Library. In 1964 he became the radical editor of the experimental and frequently controversial British SF magazine New Worlds.

A multiple winner of the British Fantasy Award, Moorcock is also a World Fantasy Award and John W. Campbell Memorial Award winner for his novel Gloriana. He won the 1967 Nebula Award for his novella "Behold the Man." He has twice won the Derleth Award for Fantasy (for The Sword and the Stallion, and The Hollow Lands), and the Guardian Fiction Prize (1977) for The Condition of Muzak. He has been shortlisted for both the Booker and Whitbread prizes, Britain's most prestigious literary awards. Moorcock currently lives in London, Spain and Texas. Moorcock has also recorded music, both solo and with the progressive rock group, Hawkwind.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The White Wolf's Son
SF Site Review: The Dreamthief's Daughter
SF Site Review: Gloriana or the Unfulfilled Queen
SF Site Review: Behold the Man
SF Site Review: Michael Moorcock's Multiverse
SF Site Review: The War Amongst the Angels
SF Site Review: The Dancers at the End of Time
SF Site Review: Kane of Old Mars
SF Site Review: Sailing to Utopia

A review by Martin Lewis

"Captain Webster studied the documents laid out on Dr. Lancaster's demonstration table. These were: (1) a spectroheliogram of the sun; (2) tarmac and take-off checks for the B29 Superfortress Enola Gay; (3) electroencephalogram of Albert Einstein; (4) transverse section through a Pre-Cambrian Trilobite; (5) photograph taken at noon, 7th August, 1945, of the sand-sea, Quattara Depression; (6) Max Ernst's Garden Airplane Traps. He turned to Dr. Lancaster. 'You say these constitute an assassination weapon?'"
J.G. Ballard, "The Assassination Weapon"
I'm still not entirely sure what this book was doing in my school library. That was the original 1983 edition, of course, already ten years old by the time I came to read it. Presumably it was part of some job lot of paperbacks donated to the school because I can't imagine our librarian actively acquiring it. However it got there though, it was far more attractive than the books that surrounded it. Weaned on my dad's small science fiction library that consisted entirely of Isaac Asimov, J.G. Ballard and Ursula K. Le Guin -- and already preferring Ballard by some margin -- it jumped out at me. I ended up reading it several times and it had a profound impact on my taste in literature. (Which is not to say I understood, or even liked, all the stories it contained.) When it was time for me to leave the school I offered to buy it but was rebuffed. I should have just stolen it.

I don't have worry about that now though, because it has been reissued by Thunder's Mouth Press (albeit in an edition that has been typeset in a rather rough and ready fashion.) It takes its title from New Worlds, the famous magazine Michael Moorcock edited, that became synonymous with New Wave SF. Despite this Moorcock admits in his (overly long) introduction that it cannot be considered a best of the magazine. Several of the pieces are extremely slight, little more than vignettes; of these only Charles Platt's acute deconstruction of the disaster story and Joel Zoss's "The Value Transcript" are worth the space. The longer stories are an equally mixed bunch.

One of the things New Worlds most distinguished itself by was its promotion of experimental literary technique. The first substantial story in the collection, Barrington Bailey's "The Four-Colour Problem," gives a good example of this. It mixes a hard SF idea about the topology of the Earth with counter-culture sentiment and wilfully post-modern literary touches, such as:

"The president went through the stock motions that link together dialogue in novels lit a cigarette, bit an apple, stroked his chin and drummed his fingers on the table." (p. 27)
Bailey even inserts an eight page lecture on the mathematics behind the Four-Colour Problem with the warning -- or is it a promise? -- that "readers who are uninterested in mathematics may omit this section without much loss." This may be bold but the end result is messy and unsatisfying. Some experiments are more successful though. Langdon Jones's opaque "The Eye Of The Lens" is better written but in the end not much more intelligible, unlike the best of the experimental pieces, Pamela Zoline's "The Heat Death Of The Universe". This story of isolation and mental illness anticipates Nicholson Baker's chronicles of minutia in its form but is given an additional sharpness by a sense of domestic despair that you suspect Baker has never experienced.

Ultimately such experimentation failed to take root in the genre. On the forum of this website Moorcock bemoaned this fact and that the science fiction community has "little serious interest in confronting modern issues or of developing literary techniques able to reflect contemporary reality." The problem with this is that the literary techniques Moorcock favours have not flourished anywhere and the anthology itself suggests that such techniques are unnecessary. Reading M. John Harrison's "Running Down" it is striking how strongly it is in tune with modern literary fantasy. Recently reprinted in his much acclaimed collection, Stranger Things Happen, it stands out in the anthology for both the conventional nature of its telling and its quality.

And what of Ballard, the man who first drew me to the book? His own story is one of his compressed novels, which would go on to form part of his infamous The Atrocity Exhibition. The experience of reading The Atrocity Exhibition is somewhat gruelling; compression is more appealing when it is concise and over the course of a book it becomes strained. Something similar is true of New Worlds: An Anthology. In his review, Matthew Cheney suggests that: "Read from the first page to the last, the book is numbing and soporific." I wouldn't choose the word "soporific" but there is certainly something overwhelming and deadening about the anthology. Nonetheless dipping into the anthology should stimulate a strong response -- positive or negative -- in all readers and if you read it at the right time it might just change your view of what the genre can be.

Copyright © 2005 Martin Lewis

Martin Lewis reviews for The Telegraph And Argus, The Alien Online and Matrix, the newsletter of the British Science Fiction Association. He lives in North London.


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