Friday, 26 October 2012

New Worlds Old and New

Old New Worlds - Eduardo Paolozzi's Cover for issue 174

New Worlds is born again. In the 60s, it became a locus for experimentation and iconoclasm for writers of a new generation and interested members of the old who wanted to take science fiction in new directions when Michael Moorcock took over editorship from Ted Carnell. Strongly associated with the counterculture in London, it also attracted adventurous writers from America such as Thomas Disch and John Sladek who were attracted by the freedoms it offered. And through Brian Aldiss (who had worked in the book trade) and JG Ballard, it also brought in writers from the wider literary avant garde, with experimental poetry by the likes of DM Thomas and George Macbeth (a participant in the much mythologised 1965 Albert Hall poetry Olympics). Criticism was also raised to a new literary standard, with writers like John Clute and M.John Harrison having no truck with the cosy consensus of an insular SF world. There was a general sense of wanting to sweep out the old and outmoded and introduce a new generic hybrid which took into account the influence of the visual arts (pop art and surrealism in particular) and the styles and techniques of literary modernism. William Burroughs in particular was a key influence. Art and illustration took on a greater prominence, with impressive work from artists including Eduardo Paolozzi and Mal Dean. The latter provided a distinctive New Worlds look through his covers and illustrations for Michael Moorcock and other’s Jerry Cornelius stories, and also drew a Cornelius comic strip. Paolozzi, a friend of Ballard’s, was a great supporter of the magazine, and was for a time listed as its ‘aeronautics advisor’. It was a patent absurdity, but the mere presence of such a notable name from the art world impressed members of the Arts Council, and alongside Brian Aldiss’ diplomatic negotiations, helped secure a grant and, for a time, the future of the magazine. Paolozzi also provided a cover for issue 174, making it something of an art collector’s artefact now. There was an exhibition earlier this year at Manchester Metropolitan University, curated by David Brittain, editor of the New Worlds-minded Savoy Books (much troubled by puritan police chief James Anderton in the 80s), which looked back on Paolozzi’s connections with and work for New Worlds. Moorcock also tried to encourage a greater contribution from female writers to the magazine (and by extension to the SF genre as a whole), publishing authors such as Pamela Zoline, Emma Tennant and Hilary Bailey. Zoline’s The Heat Death of the Universe is one of the finest stories published in New Worlds, and could stand as the perfect example of all that they were trying to do.

New New Worlds
It has to be said that this new New Worlds, an online venture, is a very different beast. Moorcock has lent his name to it, but it in no ways attempts to emulate the New Worlds of old, seeking instead to create its own identity. This is rather more conventionally generic in terms of its artwork (principally a selection of paintings by Jim Burns), fiction and reviews. There is an interesting selection of videos recorded at last years British Library SF exhibition Out Of This World, however. Alan Moore is interviewed by Stewart Lee, both commenting on the adventurous nature of some SF in the 60s, and the dilution of that promise that has come with the ubiquity of the fantastic genres in the present day. Both are amusing and insightful. A panel with Moorcock, Aldiss, John Clute and Norman Spinrad, moderated by Roz Kaveney, discusses the literary impulses behind the New Worlds adventure, with Aldiss shamelessly namedropping as he recalls going in to see TS Eliot, then an editor at Faber, in his office. Spinrad recalls the questions which were asked in parliament after New Worlds serialised his scabrous novel about the modern mediascape Bug Jack Barron, and seems a little disgruntled that the fulminating MPs couldn’t even recall his name. Moorcock also talks in another interview about his relationship with Mervyn Peake and his wife Maeve Gilmore. Peake, whose illness had by this time taken hold, had entered a period of critical neglect, and Moorcock (along with Langdon Jones, who worked on a corrected and definitive version of Titus Alone from the original manuscript) did much to revive his reputation by publishing stories and illustrations and including essays in New Worlds. There’s also a bit from the panel on Robert Holdstock, entitled Heartwood: Robert Holdstock and Telling The Matter of Britain, with authors Lisa Tuttle and Stephen Baxter, critic Paul Kincaid, Foundation editor Graham Sleight and Dr Donald Morse, editor of the academic essay collection The Mythic Fantasy of Robert Holdstock. They discuss the early SF novel Where The Time Winds Blow, Baxter relating its ideas of the confluence of landscape and the human psyche to the later Mythago books, through which Holdstock reconnected to his own Kentish childhood. There’s also an entertaining piece of polemic in which Iain Banks takes Ayn Rand and her ‘objectivist’ philosophy of self-interest to task, decrying its influence on a certain strata of free market proselytisers. He lets fly with the unfettered and verbose spleen of the pub philosopher, his invective reaching fiery peaks of sardonic anger as he defends the idea of altruism and fellow feeling which the Randites would do away with in the name of a self-obsessive brand of libertarianism. Stirring stuff, if essentially, by its very tone, tending to preach to the converted. Through its lack of fear of expressing a fiercely partisan view, it breathes some of the air of old New Worlds.

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