Review: New Worlds Quarterly #2

Time for a little history lesson. In the early days of science fiction, from its murky pre-1900 past to around 1960, most of what was written in the genre was pulpy in nature. This is not always a bad thing, but it has its limitations. It tends toward formulaic action plots with ideas given the short end of the stick. The prose is at best competent, never experimental, and at worst unreadable. Two-fisted manly men dominate the genre along with swooning damsels, moustache-twirling villains, and wacky ethnic sidekicks. This is the era of Asimov—there was a lot of good work being done, but its value is tightly circumscribed.

For a variety of reasons, this began to change in the 1960s. This era is sometimes called the “New Wave” of science fiction. We began to see a more diverse array of writers with more interesting things to say: people like Ursula K. Le Guin, Harlan Ellison, Avram Davidson, and numerous others. The term is often applied more narrowly to a group of authors associated with the British magazine New Worlds, which at that time was under the editorship of Michael Moorcock. These authors include Norman Spinrad, Brian Aldiss, J. G. Ballard, and Thomas M. Disch.

This more narrow “New Wave” had a very distinct style. The plots became stranger and harder to figure out. Prose grew almost defiantly complex. The stories were politically conscious and tended toward the radical left (where 50s SF was rather overtly right-wing and to this day has an obscenely powerful influence on right-wing thought). The influence of drugs was never far away. It was an angry refutation of SF’s past, and like all angry refutations it had a real point that was sometimes obscured by all the bile. At its best the New Wave breathed new life into a genre that was growing stale. At its worst it was miserable and nihilistic.

After the New Worlds magazine ended due to financial difficulties, Moorcock revived it in several different forms. The first one was as a series of quarterly paperback anthologies. The present review considers the second of these anthologies, published in 1971. Continue reading