Review Date: 27 May 1998. This review first appeared in Tangent, issue 20/21, and is copyright 1998 by Richard R. Horton. Visit Tangent Online.
New Worlds (New Anthology Series number 1), edited by David Garnett
White Wolf, 1997, Large Format Paperback, $12.99
New Worlds is almost legendary among SF magazines/anthologies by now: its history stretches back to 1946, when it began as a fairly conventional SF magazine edited by Ted Carnell. In its various incarnations, it was the main British source of short SF pretty much until Interzone came along, but it often struggled for survival. Its most famous incarnation followed Michael Moorcock's assumption of the editorial reins in 1964, after which New Worlds was perhaps the center of the so-called "New Wave" movement in SF. Under Moorcock the magazine became a series of paperback anthologies, including some large-sized paperbacks in the '70s, but it eventually died. David Garnett then edited a follow-on series of four anthologies in the '80s, but that series died out as well. This is the latest attempt to revive the title: a very nice-looking large format paperback published in the US by White Wolf, with no issue number. (There is a whole number, 222, on the copyright page, apparently a continuation of the numbering system which began with the magazine.)
The fiction is very solid, consistently entertaining and with plenty of nice SFnal ideas. None of the stories quite bowled me over, but several were near-misses. For the most part the stories aren't particularly "experimental", and on the whole the anthology feels more like Interzone than the later incarnations of Moorcock's New Worlds, with a similar "British" flavour.
That said, my favorite story is by an American, Howard Waldrop, albeit set in London. "Heart of Whitenesse" takes the Conrad story as a model, transposing it to an ice-bound England in the 1590's. The Marlow character is of course playwright/secret agent Christopher Marlowe, and the Kurtz character is Johan Faust (as in Marlowe's play Dr. Faustus.) Waldrop is enormously good at this sort of cock-eyed alternate history, and this story is a delight as Marlowe travels up the ice-covered river into the Heart of Whitenesse to confront the mysterious Faust. (A small knowledge of Marlowe's biography helps to understand the story a bit, and I suspect that even more knowledge than I have would have helped understand it even more.)
Another strong alternate historical piece is "Great Western" by Kim Newman. Newman's alternate history features an England where feudal organizations have continued into the present day. A young girl lives with the widow of a man murdered by the local squire, and the two try to resist the land grabbing of said villain, who is aided by the corrupt local law enforcement. A mysterious stranger on a motorcycle rides into town, and helps them in their struggle. The fun is in the explicit parallels with Westerns (especially Shane) and how the material of the traditional Western is transposed to fit this alternate England (called, naturally enough, "Wessex" (after Hardy).)
William Gibson contributes the one overtly experimental story. "Thirteen Views of a Cardboard City" is just that: a description of thirteen still shots of a strange Japanese building, full cardboard boxes adapted for living and working space. It didn't quite work for me: it was evocative enough, and well-written, but not evocative of anything sufficiently interesting or moving.
Perhaps the most provocative "idea" is that at the core of Ian Watson's "A Day Without Dad". Cath is a sort of future yuppie, with a less than perfect marriage and an obligatory child. The twist is, her father lives within her: his personality has been captured and can be hosted by any of his direct ancestors. So guilt (as well as real love for her father) obliges her to carry his consciousness along with hers for six hours a day. But every so often her daughter agrees to host him for a day to give Cath some free time. The central idea is really neat, but the story is quite routine, following Cath's fairly predictable use of her "free time", and the extremely predictable discovery she makes about her husband at the same time.
Eric Brown's "Ferryman" also deals with a twist on the life-after-death theme. The lead character's job involves taking newly dead people and transmitting their bodies to an alien planet, where they are resurrected. This practice seems to have lead to an increase in suicides, and to the living being increasingly detached from here-and-now concerns. The story concerns the protagonist's strained relationship with his daughter and his late wife, who had been an opponent of the resurrection process. It's well done, and original, and it nicely covers some of the implications of this rather implausible setup, but it's a bit underwhelming.
As with many of Brian Aldiss' more recent stories, I didn't fully understand what was going on in "Death, Shit, Love, Transfiguration", but I did enjoy the ride. It opens in what seems to be a post-apocalypse future of some sort, with a grimy band of people journeying to ritually bury their "President", and another grimy band trying to steal the corpse. There follows a brief description of the discoverer of a new physical theory which, it seems, may have driven the world to the decayed state of the opening. But all that, it appears, is a story: and the closing several sections detail intriguingly the history of this story, called "Transfiguration", as it is originated, modified, and passed down through several generations of the "Aldiss" family. The history of the story is filled with, well, images of death, shit, love, and even transfiguration. As I said, I can't claim to "get it", but the story is still very interesting, at times oddly funny, always intriguing.
"The White Stuff" by Peter Hamilton and Graham Joyce tells the story of one Nigel Finchley, a rather slimy denizen of London's City. Nigel's greed leads him to a relationship with a woman, and into buying a new product which ends up undermining the capitalist economy. The story, of course, is about Nigel's comeuppance, and as such it's not wholly satisfying: Nigel is too unlikeable and unremarkable for me to care for or even have much fun rooting against, and the central idea is pure wish-fulfillment.
Noel K. Hannan's "A Night on the Town" is an overfamiliar type of story: macho rich guy blunders into the wrong part of town and pays for it. There isn't really enough new here: the SFnal elements are neither necessary to the story nor terribly interesting: the writing is competent, but the story left me flat.
When I read what might be called "feminist revenge" stories I involuntarily cross my legs, and Christine Manby's "For Life" is no exception. But this story of a future where a disease has killed off most of the dogs and men, and a rich status-seeking woman decides to get a man of her own, is witty enough to be worth the occasional uncomfortable feeling. It's just a trifle, but enjoyable.
Michael Moorcock's "London Bone" is a somewhat rambling but enjoyable tale of Raymond Gold, a "cultural speculator" who gets in on the ground floor of a boom in "London Bone", an ivory-like substance apparently produced by the ancient inhabitants of London. The eventual realization of what London Bone really is causes Gold some uneasiness, though ... The story didn't really cohere for me, but it was still a nice read, with a strong metaphor about the nature of history underlying it all.
An aging businessman, Sir Henry Gypter, investigates a real estate offer from an even older lady, in Andrew Stephenson's "The Pact". Gypter is sure there's an angle he can play, but he an encounter with what appears to be a literal dryad clues him that "things are not what they seem" at the old lady's estate. The ultimate revelations are interesting, and Sir Henry finds that the "angle" for him to play isn't at all what he first expected. A solid story.
Another ravaged cyberpunkish future is the setting for Graham Charnock's "A Night on Bare Mountain". Venn is an old mercenary type, contacting Gance, a whore he once knew, on the night a comet is supposed to hit the Earth. He has something valuable, and Gance is the only person he thinks is crazy enough to come to him to get it. The details of the future technology, familiar enough in general outline (nanotech, "scramblegened" animals, killer algae, plug-in sockets used for enhanced sex, etc.), are nicely and originally depicted, and the two central characters, if rather familiar as types, are still believable and worth following.
"Attack of the Charlie Chaplins", by Garry Kilworth, is a decent satirical alien invasion story. This time the aliens all dress up as Charlie Chaplin, but the US is ready, because secretly the Army has been behind Hollywood all along, and all those alien invasion movies are really dry runs for the real thing. Well done, clever and funny.
The central idea of Pat Cadigan's "The Emperor's New Reality" is announced by the title, and Cadigan plays out the concept pretty well. The emperor, in this case, is into VR, the more realistic the better. Well, what could be more realistic than real life? Easy to see where it's going, but a nicely executed take on the idea.
This a very strong original anthology, with only two stories which really disappointed me, and three or four really impressive stories. None quite knocked my socks off, so to speak, but the overall quality is very high. We can hope that White Wolf will continue to publish this venerable title.
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