TT: Two Faces of New Worlds

JANE: You promised to tell me about New Worlds magazine.

ALAN: New Worlds was a British SF magazine edited by John Carnell. Because it was British, I assume it must have been sold by the big book chain W. H. Smith, but distribution must have been erratic because I don’t recall ever seeing it there. However, copies did turn up in the magic box every so often.

Amazing Magic Box

JANE: Wait!  Why would that have happened?  I thought the magic box was full of magazines taken from the holds of merchant ships where they were used for ballast.  Surely a British magazine would not travel around Britain in a ship?

ALAN: Yes and no…

New Worlds was distributed throughout the Commonwealth. In one sense, that was quite a good idea because it encouraged Commonwealth writers to submit stories, and the magazine did indeed publish stories by Australian, Canadian and South African writers. But I strongly suspect that the copies that turned up in my magic box had originally been sent out to (say) Australia where they didn’t sell, and so they were returned to Britain as unsold copies used for ballast, thus becoming eligible for the magic box. It’s all quite ironic, really.

JANE: That is weird.  So, what did you think of New Worlds?

ALAN: I didn’t like it very much. I thought of it as a poor imitation of Astounding/Analog. John Carnell was cast very much in the mould of John Campbell and he liked the same kind of stories that Campbell did (though, to be fair, Carnell did not share the weird and sometimes distasteful ideas that Campbell promulgated in his eccentric editorials).

The magazine published mainly British and Commonwealth writers and at the time I had a vague feeling that proper SF was American, and that British SF was, almost by definition, inferior in some way that I couldn’t quite pin down.

JANE:  Wait a minute!  What about Arthur C. Clarke, Brian Aldiss, John Brunner, and even Eric Frank Russell?

ALAN: Oh, I agree.  My opinion that proper SF was American didn’t make any sense at all. In my defense though, I must point out that British SF Writers of the time included E. C. Tubb, John Russell Fearn, Volsted Gridban and Vargo Statten. These last two were also the first two (they shared many, many pseudonyms). But no matter what names they attached to their stories, none of them ever set the SF world on fire – and all of them had stories published in New Worlds.

JANE: What time period are we talking about?

ALAN: This would be the late 1950s and early to mid-1960s.

JANE: Above you said: “to be fair, Carnell did not share the weird and sometimes distasteful ideas that Campbell promulgated in his eccentric editorials.”  Do you remember what any of these were?

ALAN: Campbell’s obsession with the perpetual motion machine he referred to as “The Dean Drive” was scientifically embarrassing. He was also extremely racist and sexist in his opinions. After Campbell died, Harry Harrison edited a book that put together a selection of Campbell’s editorials from Astounding. I have a copy, but I’m afraid that I find the political and social opinions expressed in the editorials so annoying that I simply can’t read it.

JANE: That’s interesting.  It’s not what first comes up when I think of Campbell.

Did Commonwealth SF have any qualities that made it distinct from American SF?

ALAN: Not really. It sometimes felt a little “old fashioned” in the sense that many of the stories would happily have fitted into Astounding magazine a decade before it turned into Analog. But I suspect that this was more a reflection of Carnell’s personal taste than it was a description of Commonwealth SF as a whole.

After Carnell left the editorial helm of New Worlds, he went on to edit a series of books generically called New Writings In SF which had the same feel to it. But to be fair, Carnell was responsible for publishing James White’s Hospital Station stories which were very popular in both Britain and America. So he must have been doing something right! I’m sure he had other editorial successes as well.

JANE: What happened to New Worlds when John Carnell stopped editing it?

ALAN: Michael Moorcock took over the editorial chair and he very quickly turned the magazine into an avant-garde literary publication with science fictional leanings. It was the beginning of the so-called New Wave of science fiction. Moorcock also seemed to do something to the distribution mechanism because I regularly saw the magazine on the shelves of W. H. Smiths.

Then, in 1967, Moorcock published Norman Spinrad’s novel Bug Jack Barron which had (gasp!) dirty words in it. W. H. Smiths decided they no longer wanted to be associated with such filth and they refused to distribute it any more.

JANE: Did the magazine survive the loss of its major distributor?

ALAN: After W. H. Smiths stopped selling it, New Worlds had to make use of alternative distribution channels. It was often to be found on the shelves of sex shops. Presumably the proprietors of these shops were fooled by its reputation for publishing dirty words and felt that it would appeal to a certain class of customer. I often wonder what the New Wave SF fans felt as they browsed among shelves of magazines dedicated to hobbies even more esoteric than their own…

JANE: Indeed!

ALAN: But the writing was on the wall for New Worlds. In 1971 a final “Good Taste” issue was published, and that was the end. Moorcock did resurrect it a couple of times in later years as a series of original anthologies, but the magazine itself never reappeared.

JANE: What I’ve found interesting about this discussion is how the same name may be attached to what are, essentially, very different magazines, and how the interests of an editor shape the  magazine’s identity.

That brings me to a new question, but one I’ll save for next time!

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4 Responses to “TT: Two Faces of New Worlds”

  1. Louis Robinson Says:

    I’m not sure that New Worlds _was_ widely distributed in Canada, although I can’t swear to that because I wasn’t looking when it was at it’s height. I did find both anthologies and New Writings in the library, and they were among my favourites. Odd that WH Smith would have objected to Bug Jack Barron, as they had a substantial contingent of Anonymouses in the A’s of the general fiction section. In the Winnipeg store, anyway. Toronto was still The Good in those days, so they may well not have been stocked there, and such works wouldn’t have gotten a look-in in Montreal, where genuine Adult Fiction was a mainstay of the Simpsons and Eatons racks [Quebec, back in the day, had a very strange attitude to the sale of reading material. I recall one major bookseller commenting “I can sell you pornography anytime of the day or night, but I can’t sell a hardcover on Sunday” He had to block off access to that part of his store.]

    I can’t say that Campbell’s editorials bothered me all that much: I just said ‘Americans are like that’ [sorry, Jane, but you are. it hasn’t improved any, either] and read them for the entertainment value, just like the rest of Analog. After all, speculative fiction is delusional anyway.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Not sure what you’re saying about Americans, Louis, but we’re not all alike. In fact, given that there are a lot more and lot more varied Americans, I’d say the chance we’re not alike each other is more true than could be said of Canadians…

      But then we’re all Americans, so maybe you’re putting yourself in the herd, of Brother of the New World Nations.

      • Louis Robinson Says:

        Much less similar that you may think, and many similarities can be put down to the effect of the Cultural Juggernaut rumbling northwards – they really only appear over the last 40 years or so. Beads on a string is a very good metaphor for this country, both in terms of population and culture. With pretty big gaps between the beads. And, since there’s never been much of a melting pot attitude, the larger cities have been noted [by outsiders] as the most culturally diverse in the world. Not necessarily a good thing. We have, over the last century and a half, burned a great deal of [metaphorical] powder over the question of what it is to be Canadian, while Americans just go ahead and _do_ it.

      • janelindskold Says:

        Interesting… I’m a result of the United States melting pot: 1/4 Russian, 1/4 Italian, 1/8 Swedish, a bit of French, and other things, including, probably, Black. Culturally, I’ve been heavily influenced by living in the Southwest for over a third of my life, and before that in two culturally diverse cities (D.C. and N.Y.). I’m more defined by difference than by homogeneity.

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