A New Literature for the Space Age

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by Michael Moorcock

An Editorial for the First Moorcock-Edited Issue of New Worlds (1964)

In a recent BBC broadcast, William Burroughs, controversial American author of Dead Fingers Talk, said something like this: “If writers are to describe the advanced techniques of the Space Age, they must invent writing techniques equally as advanced in order properly to deal with them.”

New Worlds 142Burroughs’ own writing techniques are as exciting — and as relevant to our present situation — as the latest discovery in nuclear physics. His techniques are science fiction in themselves, and many of the subjects which he treats, the terms and images that he uses, are immediately familiar to the SF reader. His anti-Utopian states where citizens are controlled by fantastic brain-washing methods, his references to Terminal Police, the City of Interzone, Ministry of Mental Hygiene, etc., the last lines of The Ticket that Exploded (Olympia Press): “Mountain wind of Saturn in the morning sky — From the death trauma weary goodbye then,” the title of his forthcoming book, Nova Express, all give some idea of his work’s affinity with the SF of such varied writers as George Orwell, AE van Vogt and JG Ballard. And in a sense his work is the SF we’ve all been waiting for — it is highly readable, combines satire with splendid imagery, discusses the philosophy of science, has insight into human experience, uses advanced and effective literary techniques, and so on.

Many who have been crying out for a novel which combines all this won’t accept Burroughs. They are disturbed, maybe, by his description of sexual aberration and drug addiction, the frequent use of obscenities in the text, are not prepared to read his books from a different viewpoint than that from which they read most other fiction. He is condemned for being obscure.

Burroughs has often stated that it is the job of the writer not to be obscure and, indeed, he is rarely obscure; his work abounds with explicit notes which tell the reader exactly what he is doing and why. Apart from this, his comic writing is equalled only by Joseph Heller’s in Catch-22. His images are stimulating and thought-provoking. The desperate and cynical mood of his work mirrors exactly the mood of our ad-saturated, Bomb-dominated, power-corrupted times.

If you like, he is the first SF writer to explore all the form’s potentialities and develop a new mythology — a new literature for the Space Age. Certain British writers are going in the same direction, producing a kind of SF which is unconventional in every sense and which must soon be recognised as an important revitalisation of the literary mainstream. More and more people are turning away from the fast-stagnating pool of the conventional novel — and they are turning to science fiction (or speculative fantasy). This is a sign, among others, that a popular literary renaissance is around the corner. Together, we can accelerate that renaissance.

This is not to say that we don’t appreciate the entertainment value of SF — you’ll find, we hope, a great many entertaining ideas and stories in this and future issues. The SF reader is an intelligent reader, dissatisfied, perhaps, with other forms of literary entertainment, who looks to SF for something more relevant to his own life and times. Also he wants variety of ideas, style, mood and plot. We intend to keep the contents of New Worlds both varied and stimulating.

John Carnell, who edited New Worlds and Science Fantasy since their start, is a man who has done most for British SF since the War. He has been responsible for discovering and encouraging many of our most popular modern SF writers. He is a man whom many people, including myself, respect and admire. Of late, the demands on his time have been almost overwhelming and it was with great regret that he decided his other commitments in the field would not allow him to continue as editor. I wish him the very best of success with his new ventures, and look forward to seeing the first issue of New Writing in SF which he is now editing.

Written by Michael Moorcock and published in New Worlds 142, May/June 1964, the first issue edited by Moorcock. The editorial will appear in Savoy Books‘ forthcoming anthology of Moorcock’s non-fiction, Into the Media Web. Published by RealityStudio on 8 December 2008. Reproduced with the kind permission of Michael Moorcock and Savoy Books.

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