Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The Wonder Effect

C.M. Kornbluth & Frederik Pohl The Wonder Effect (1962)
I bought this collection on the assumption that I'd probably already read it all in His Share of Glory, a car battery sized compendium of every short story Kornbluth ever wrote. I'd dedicated myself to His Share of Glory from start to finish over the course of a week, then concluded that most of the material, for all its wonderful qualities, would probably have been better digested in smaller doses; so I picked this up, it being just nine shorts and an introduction, and because I liked the cover. Happily, closer inspection revealed that due to these being collaborative works written with Frederick Pohl, I hadn't already read them after all. I'm familiar with a couple of the novels the two wrote together, and they're pretty great, leaving me with just the mystery of the title, The Wonder Effect, which doesn't actually refer to any of the stories within. I suppose it might be something to do with the sense of wonder instilled by the best sort of science-fiction short story but, to make the obvious joke for which I apologise in advance, it might just as well refer to the reader wondering why the hell these stories in particular should have been chosen.

Okay. That's unfair - a comment made mainly because the title was giving it away, and there's nothing here I'd describe as terrible. Unfortunately nor is there anything I would necessarily describe as amazing.

It's a mystery, as Toyah memorably observed. Kornbluth and Pohl were great together for Wolfbane, Search the Sky, and presumably the other collaborative novels which I haven't yet read. The same magic is evident here in lively, talkative, witty prose of a kind you don't often find in books with either a spaceship or an alien on the cover. It's intelligent and literate, and Nightmare With Zeppelins and The World of Myrion Flowers - an early and convincing indictment of segregation and racism in America - both hint at how great this collection really should have been. It's difficult to say what the problem could be or why. I assume it's some side effect of a collaborative process either failing to work as it should, or which is simply a poor fit for the short form despite having yielded great novels, resulting in stories which simply seem to go on about nothing for far too long, and narratives which slip the mind even as you're reading them. Paragraphs studied in isolation appear fine, but it is difficult to square the bland porridge of the whole with the author of The Marching Morons and the like.

Unless it was just me.

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