Monday, September 9, 2019

Book Review: New Writings in SF2

Book Review: 'New Writings in SF2' 
Edited by John Carnell

3 / 5 Stars

'New Writings in SF2' first was published by Dobson Books in the UK in 1964; this Bantam Books paperback edition (150 pp) was published in October 1966. Most of the stories in this anthology were published in 1964, and were written exclusively for this volume.

The eccentric cover, which would seem to be more apropos for a book on entomology, is designed to signal that this is New Wave SF. So how well does 'SF2' reflect the New Wave ethos ? 

Reasonably well, in my opinion. My capsule reviews of the contents are as follows:

Foreward, by John Carnell: Carnell takes pains here to remark that he is an editor of 'Speculative Fiction', signalling to the world that the genre of science fiction has achieved sufficient maturity to be regarded as Literature. 

Hell-Planet, by John Rankine (pseudonym of Douglas R. Mason): when a damaged Fah' een spacecraft is forced to enter Earth's orbit, the enlightened, Thoroughly Woke aliens aboard are appalled at the content of the radio and television transmissions emanating from the planet. 

This novelette is one of the better examples of an early 60s effort to imbue SF with some type of Message. In this case, there is a note of redemption at the story's conclusion.

The Night-Flame, by Colin Kapp: in a near-future UK, the international arms race comes very close to home. A downbeat, well-crafted tale from Kapp, who in my opinion was one of Britain's best SF authors throughout the 60s and 70s.

The Creators, by Joseph Green: a multiracial coalition investigates mysterious artifacts on a deserted planet. The ending is unconvincing.

Rogue Leonardo, by G. L. Lack: when robots can create legal forgeries of masterpieces by Da Vinci, what, then, is Art ? A slight tale that editor Carnell probably included because it uses SF to say Something Profound abut the Human Condition.

Maiden Voyage, by John Rankine (pseudonym of Douglas R. Mason): yet another novelette from Mason, who seems to have been held in high regard by editor Carnell..........perhaps because Mason always met deadlines. Whatever. 

This story features Rankine's recurring character 'Dag' Fletcher, who is more than a little skeptical that the new spaceship Nova is all that the Space Project's bureaucrats seem to think it to be. When the eponymous voyage goes wrong, Fletcher has to mount a rescue mission on a hazardous planet. This is another of the better stories in the collection.

Odd Boy Out, by Dennis Etchison: published in 1961 in Escapade magazine ('Pleasure for Every Man'), this was one of Etchison's first short stories to see print. It deals with a trio of young people who are obliged to do unpleasant things in order to survive. 

While the story's concept is interesting, as usual, Etchison's tangential prose style makes it a labored read. However, the ending avoids the ambiguity typical of this author's later works, so I regard 'Odd Boy Out' as a success.

The Eternal Machines, by William Spencer: on the junkyard planet of Chaos, the caretaker, a poetic introvert named Rosco, preserves Humanism in age when it has long since been forgotten.

A Round Billiard Table, by Steve Hall: a scientist has perfected a method for conferring invisibility on objects..........and  it's totally useless. Or is it ? This is the type of story that Isaac Asimov routinely published in the SF magazines of the 50s and early 60s, stories mixing an element of hard science with wry humor. With the advent of the New Wave movement, this type of story rapidly went out of style.

Summing up, ''New Writings in SF2' serves its purpose as a snapshot of how the genre stood at the beginnings of the New Wave movement. it has enough entries of quality to make it worth picking up if you should see it on the shelves of a used bookstore.

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