Monday, 22 May 2017

New Writings in SF 2

John Carnell (editor) New Writings in SF 2 (1964)
It seems oddly fitting that I should come to this directly after reading Ask the Dust wherein Fante's Arturo Bandini acquires sufficient literary stock as to attract the attention of a hopeful:

It was a manuscript of some sort. I took it from her hands. It was a short story by Samuel Wiggins, general delivery, San Juan, California. It was called Coldwater Gatling, and it began like this: 'Coldwater Gatling wasn't looking for trouble but you never can tell about those Arizona rustlers. Pack your cannon high on the hip and lay low when you see one of them babies. The trouble with trouble was that trouble was looking for Coldwater Gatling. They don't like Texas rangers down in Arizona, consequently Coldwater Gatling figured shoot first and find out who you killed afterwards. That's how they did it in the Lone Star State where men were men and women didn't mind cooking for hard-riding straight-shooting people like Coldwater Gatling, the toughest man in leather they had down there.'

That was the first paragraph.

'Hogwash,' I said.

I somehow had one of these myself a couple of years ago, a guy who worked with my wife and sent me the first chapter of his fantasy novel.

Mental concentration and discipline are important attributes for a wizard. They are requirements if one wishes to be a successful and long-living wizard. Such was the case for Hailaden, whose eyes and mind were focused on the soft white glow before him. The crystal orb, roughly a foot in length but looking like a large odd-shaped egg, sat in its small wooden pedestal in front of him. In its light, the lines on his face and the gray in his beard diminished, and his countenance took on an almost youthful appearance.

It wasn't so much that it lacked ideas of any value, but that the grammar was often just so fucking weird and crap as to render the thing almost incomprehensible. The author didn't seem like a bad guy, and I felt he might be able to tell a decent - if admittedly not wildly original - story if he could just get hold of his sentences; so I spent a couple of days going through the thing, pointing out what didn't work, which passages were too long, unnecessary, or lacking clear purpose, which sentences read as though translated into Japanese, then Swahili, then back into English. He thanked me for the time I spent then explained to my wife that I simply hadn't understood because I'm a science-fiction writer and therefore unfamiliar with the conventions of his chosen genre.

All this crap belongs - in my mind - to a genre I have labelled dinnerpunk. The label now seems ridiculous and crappy, which in turn probably makes it entirely fitting. It refers to fiction written by a person who shouldn't be writing fiction, usually an Alan Partridge level bore who has noticed how all those arty farty types and fairies seem to get published and has therefore decided that it can't be all that hard. He comes up with a story whilst smoking his pipe in the garden as a long-suffering wife prepares dinner, and it will usually be a load of half-assed and oddly parochial espionage bollocks, and there will almost always be a character identified only as the Colonel. People will look at other people and ask 'you can't mean,' their question curtailed by an ominous 'yes! I'm rather afraid that is exactly the situation, old top.'

New Writings in SF, of which I gather there were a couple of volumes, boldly published original short science-fiction tales which hadn't already seen in print in the usual magazines. Of the eight stories here, the first five are the worst kind of creaking dinnerpunk, G.L. Lack's Rogue Leonardo for one example.

Trafford smiled at the young curator. With her severe straight smock and short tightly curled hair she was typical of the rising generation of women, many in positions of responsibility by the age of twenty-five, giving their husbands time for research.

...or John Rankine's Maiden Voyage for another:

He liked the way her bottom moved in the tight blue-grey cheongsam and he was wondering if he ought to pinch it, when the debate was cut short by their arrival at the bronze doors which filled the end of the white passage.


Where Dag was tall and lanky, he was short and inclined to be spherical. In fact in a spacesuit he looked rather like an old time advert for Michelin Tyres.

Do you see what I mean?

To be fair the last three stories are decent, notably Steve Hall's faintly peculiar and experimental A Round Billiard Table, but otherwise this is the stuff which people who don't read science-fiction think science-fiction is like, which is why they don't read it and which is quite understandable.

This felt like a fucking route march for the first hundred or so pages. John Carnell used to edit New Worlds, so I expected better.

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