New Worlds Science Fiction June 1960
Another time warp post, for a flea market find. This isn’t, apparently, the New Worlds magazine that led the British new wave. This New Worlds was published in New York, and appears to have carried reprints from the British New Worlds. A fanzine listing including “Eustace #1” produced by a Mike Moorcock out of Surrey, England.
The first story is “Grapeliner”, a “short novel” by James White. The story is in the golden age style, with technology exploration taking center stage, and minimalist characters. The technological question here is how to build a space ship out of plastic, so as to avoid the medical effects on crew and passengers of cosmic radiation interacting with metals. The solution reached skirts the border between far-out thinking and silliness. There’s very little here that can still capture the imagination today.
Next is Robert Presslie‘s “Confession is Good”, a typical early artificial intelligence story, in which its assumed that AI will always draw perfect logical conclusions from muddled human inputs, in this case leading to the most horrible kind of error. Another story that doesn’t resonate today as it might have when written.
“Aberration” by Roy Robinson and J. A. Sones looks at a perfect computer-operated society that is threatened from within by a telepath. As in much SF (and political thought) from this time, the authors seem to assume that if government can just get more information and power, it could run the lives of its subjects to perfection. Telepathy, also seen in “Grapeliner” seems to have been in the air when this was written. In both stories, the protagonists make amazing conclusions about the abilities of telepathic opponents who in fact they know almost nothing about. Here its a flaw that’s harder to overlook, since the telepath is the central point of the story.
“Almost Obsolete” by Donald Malcolm is a short piece about a kind of epidemiological study that leads to the revelation of a coming radical trend in human evolution — women are beginning to reproduce without the help of men, and men will soon become extinct. The revelation would probably have seemed bold in 1960, and would indeed be a dramatic change for human society. This story is certainly interesting as a historical marker in the development of this sf-nal idea.
Finally comes the reason I bought the magazine, a story by J. G. Ballard; an author I’ve heard plenty about, but never read. “Waiting Grounds” appeared well before the new wave was recognized, but does show Ballard’s leadership in bringing literary themes and style to sf, especially by contrast to the other, entirely old-school, stories in the magazine. The story is about a technician sent out to monitor a radar station on a distant planet or moon. There he discovers an alien artifact that implies mankind will soon join an interplanetary society. The story presages Arthur Clarke’s 2001 in the nature of the artifact, even naming it a monollith, and somewhat in the revelatory end-sequence in which the protag is mentally transported by the object into a mind-bending dream sequence. It would be interesting to work out the relationship between this and Clarke’s work (including the even earlier “Encounter in the Dawn“, which I can’t remember reading, so I don’t know if it includes the monolith or dream sequence.) The writing is clearly a cut above the other stories here, and I’ll definitely be looking in to Ballard’s later work after reading this one.