Friday, January 26, 2018

Book Review: Stopwatch

Book Review: 'Stopwatch' edited by George Hay

2 / 5 Stars

‘Stopwatch’ (224 pp) was published by the New English Library in November 1975. The cover art is by Tim White.

In his Introduction, editor George Hay announces that the theme uniting the stories (all of which were written exclusively for this anthology) is ‘subversion.’

My capsule summaries of the contents:

The Protocols of the Elders of Britain, by John Brunner: a technician assisting with repairs to the UK Ministry of Defense super-computer makes some unsettling discoveries. One of the better entries in the anthology.

Are Your Home Grown Vegetables Radioactive ? by Kathleen Brennan: satire about governmental oversight of healthy eating.

Ash, Ash, by Robert Holdstock: a man is one of the galaxy’s most heinous mass-murderers…..or is he ? Author Holdstock tries to do ambitious things with this story, but I found it unconvincing.

All We Have on This Planet, by A. E. Van Vogt: editor Hay attempts to defuse criticism at having an entry by Van Vogt in this anthology by stating that it addresses the theme of subversion with skill and style...........?!  The story, which has something to do with a writer confronting an alien invasion, is plotless and vague.

EA 5000: Report on the Effects of a Riot Gas, by Ian Watson: in a near-future UK riven by anarchy and social strife, a team of Ministry of Defense staffers strategize a humane way to incapacitate rioters. Watson’s setting serves as a believable extrapolation of the economic turmoil gripping Britain in the mid-70s. This is another of the better entries in the anthology.

Intracom, by Ursula K. Le Guin: an overly labored satire of ‘Star Trek’; it gradually emerges that most of the crew is female, rather than male. This presumably is the ‘subversive’ element of the story. A reminder that the late Le Guin could produce some mediocre material.

A Bedtime Story, by Douglas Letts: faux-historical treatise about a UK company that designs and manufactures robots. Too dull and long-winded to be effective.

The Invisible Men, by Christopher Priest: the Prime Minister and his American minder try to converse on matters of import. Unremarkable.

Now is Forever, by Edward Allen: Neils Jorgsen becomes the world’s first man to Jack In to a supercomputer; in so doing, he receives a revelation about the Oneness of All Living Things. A slight tale, but one that perhaps deserves mention as a proto-Cyberpunk tale.

Charley, by Perry Chapdelaine: melancholy humor pervades this entry, about a boy who finds that sci-fi stories tell him as much about the human condition as his teachers and parents. Another of the better entries in ‘Stopwatch’.

When the Music’s Over, by Andrew Darlington: unremarkable tale of a conquered city which possesses some unusual audiovisual properties.

In Memoriam, Jeannie, by Josephine Saxton: a renegade team of scientists decides to conduct an illicit experiment involving the genius researcher Dr Jeannie Hardcastle. Saxton is attempting to say something ‘subversive’ with this tale, but the truth is, it’s underwhelming.

Doctor Fausta, by David I. Masson: a parallel universe theme is used to make satirical observations about how profoundly dysfunctional society is, whether located in Britain…… or in ‘Tribain’.

The verdict ? ‘Stopwatch’ is yet another all-original anthology of sci-fi stories where the majority of the contributors simply grabbed something from the top of their Unfinished Manuscripts pile, did a bit of additional work, and then mailed it in. The presence of three stories of quality really isn’t sufficient justification to recommend searching out ‘Stopwatch’.

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