Thursday, 29 April 2021

Classic SF: KEITH ROBERTS 'The Furies'



Across the bridge from the sixties into the seventies, 
 the times were a-changin’, and KEITH ROBERTS 
was not only writing stories to reflect those changes, 
but he was illustrating them too, for magazines 
‘Science Fantasy’, ‘Impulse’ and ‘New Worlds’
ANDREW DARLINGTON maps the transition… 

 ‘One day, beyond doubt, man will reach the stars’ 
(‘Alistair Bevan’ in ‘Impulse no.12’, p.147) 

Someone recently posed the question ‘is SF an atheist genre?’ And of course, yes, the best of it is, with certain honourable exceptions – such as CS Lewis. Keith Roberts’ contribution to the dialogue is equivocal. There’s a beautifully poetic sequence in his first ‘Pavane’ story, “The Signaller” (1966). As young Rafe Bigland is caught up in fever-dreams from the wounds his supernatural nurse is tending, he’s gifted a startling vision – nothing less than the tale of Earth itself, of the Norns who spin the threads of fate beneath Yggdrasil, the World Tree, of Time and the Old Ones, the Giants of Frost and Fire and Mountain, all the eternal truths that are banished by Mother Church, yet which survive in hidden pockets, the Fairies, the Haunters of the Heath, the People of the Stones. The Church – by contrast, is the drab repressive totalitarianism that suppresses wonder and closes down minds. 

Meanwhile, the SETI project works on the basic assumption that sentient life conforms to certain patterns. That the eventual appearance of a technological society must be the inevitable outcome of intelligent awareness. Yet human beings muddled messily through some ten-thousand years of history without remotely venturing anywhere near the technosphere. It was the advent of the free market economy that first intimated the novel concept that – once implemented, machines could be more efficient and cost-effective than slaves. 

Keith Roberts’ ‘Pavane’ alternate history poses a neat reversal of the regular SF premise. Here, the fantastical element lies not in the introduction of a novel new science, but in the removal of science. Allied to the inference that the course of history pivots not around the SETI assumption, but through capriciously random events. There’s nothing recognizably SF about these stories. Any innovation in its society is subject to scrutiny by the Church for conformity to its moral precepts, if eventual grudging approval is granted, there are crippling tithes to be paid. So religion is the hobbling brake applied to progress. Hence the fascinating steampunk level of this world’s meticulously eccentric machines. Although coined by writer K W Jeter as late as 1987, the ‘Pavane’ stories certainly qualify as Steampunk by ‘colonizing the past so we can dream the future.’ 

While elsewhere, in a lighter more playful mood, Keith Roberts ‘Anita’ stories also insinuate magical supernatural past-remnants into a more dour and drably conformist present. Where narrow-minded religion also cramps and inhibits perception of a truer broader spirituality. If Science Fiction could ever be described as charming, these magically enticing stories certainly qualify. 

His debut novel, ‘The Furies’, is a further strange nexus of old and new, continuity and upgrade. The freak effects of atomic testing were very much a 1950s preoccupation. The idea of simultaneous thermo-nuclear explosions detonated by the USA and the Soviet Union had already resulted in catastrophic global shock-events in the 1961 movie ‘The Day The Earth Caught Fire’. Now Roberts’ ‘Neptune Project’ – a five-hundred megaton bomb detonated in the Pacific depths, cracks the ocean-bed and sets up a world-wide chain-reaction of seismic shocks that devastate cities. Survivors in a landscape of vast dereliction, especially in the English Home Counties, is the central theme of what Brian Aldiss termed ‘The School Of Cosy Catastrophe’, inhabited by writers as luminous as John Wyndham and John Christopher, carried over into the even more extreme strangeness of JG Ballard. 

In addition, there are the Furies themselves, the plague of giant wasps who descend upon the wounded world. After all, there had been giant radiation-mutated ants as early as ‘Them!’ (1954). Later, James Herbert would kick off a cycle of novels of nature out of kilter with ‘The Rats’ (1974), with Guy N Smith methodically working his way through the mutant animal biota starting with ‘Night Of The Crabs’ (1976) – ‘crabs the size of beach donkeys’, before extending into locusts, bats, snakes and alligators. So why not monstrous wasps? Their origins are uncertain, although the prologue speculates they were generated by the Keepers, ‘energy knot’ space-things left over from the very dawn of time. But as precursors of eco-horror, named after the mythic Furies, these are the ‘creatures in the story that tormented the poor souls for their sins.’

The cover-art on the 1975 Pan paperback edition is a very literal photo-montage of a man lying with a rifle aimed at the superimposed image of a very large wasp, seen from the perspective of what appears to be the inside of a barn or derelict farm outbuilding. The blurb quote howls of ‘cosmic retribution – giant wasps, monstrous and deadly, directed by a supernal intelligence, invade a reeling world.’ 

But ‘this is my book and I reckon I can start it any way I want’ the narrator insists. And in many ways it’s a straightforward adventure novel set in the ruins of this post-apocalypse landscape, as aftershocks provide further hazards. It falls easily into a number of sequences. Bill Sampson lives in the Wiltshire village of Brockledean, with Sek – his Great Dane. He meets and befriends attractive Jane Felicity Beddoes-Smythe. Only fifteen or sixteen year-old, she’s the daughter of a wealthy local family, dressed-down in teenage blue jeans and check shirt. As the ‘Science Fantasy’ magazine-recap explains ‘Bill’s house is besieged and destroyed. He escapes with Jane and joins forces with Neil Connor, an army lieutenant in charge of a platoon of armoured vehicles. Attacked again by the wasps, Bill loses contact with Neil.’ With Jane and Sek, he fights his way through to the south Dorset coast where they are separated, and she appears to escape across to the Isle of Wight in a commandeered cabin cruiser. 

Caught in a channel gale Bill himself is driven back to the mainland, where he despairingly makes himself at home in the wrecked pub of a deserted village. He’s picked up and incarcerated in a kind of prisoner-of-war camp run by the Furies, where there are elements of perhaps the National Service call-up days, or World War II POW movies. Here he meets ex art-teacher and amateur speleologist (caver) Greg, and Pete – a facially disfigured psychologically-damaged Cockney girl traumatized by witnessing her family being killed during a Furies-attack. Once assembled, the group bust out and travel cross-country for the Mendips where they establish a resistance movement based in the deep and only partially-explored Chill Leer cave complex, from where they periodically emerge to raid the Furies’ dome-nests that are proliferating across the countryside. The fact that the Wasps are using human slaves – the symbos, does not deter them from launching lethal incendiary attacks on the nests.

Keith was also an illustrator. In that capacity he did much to shift the appearance of British SF magazines – especially ‘Science Fantasy’, a title for which his talents were uniquely suited, and for which he designed all but seven of the covers from January 1965 until its demise as ‘SF Impulse’ in February 1967, as well as for ‘New Worlds’ during 1966. Usually uncredited, but signed and dated ‘K.Roberts.65’ in the lower right corner, his boldly expressionist line-orientated covers, parallel the shift in content of these magazines away from the space-suited planetary vistas of strict genre SF and fantasy towards a more free-form impressionistic speculative brand of fiction. When ‘The Furies’ was serialized in three parts from July 1965, the cover-art of ‘Science Fantasy no.74’ shows exactly the way he envisaged his monster wasps. Anatomically accurate, but with supernatural menace. He later did covers and interior illustrations for the book-editions of ‘New Worlds Quarterly’ edited by Michael Moorcock, for whom he also designed covers for novels. 

Like Bill Sampson, the narrator of ‘The Furies’, ‘I used to draw funny faces for a living.’ Born in Kettering, Northamptonshire 20 September 1935, Keith John Kingston Roberts studied art, and worked as an illustrator on cartoon films and advertising visuals, from which he graduated into freelance advertising work. His first stories – “Anita” and “Escapism” appeared in ‘Science Fantasy’ during 1964. ‘We were pleased to be the first to spot Keith Roberts as a winner and to print his first story’ gloats editor Kyril Bonfiglioli. On the departure of art-dealer and comic novelist Bonfiglioli as editor – after he had reconfigured the magazine into ‘Impulse’, Roberts went on to briefly co-edit the title between October 1966 and February 1967. Other stories from his pen appear in John Carnell’s ‘New Writings In SF’ anthology series, beginning with “Boulter’s Canaries” (published under the alias ‘Alex Boulter’) in 1965, and under the pseudonym ‘Alistair Bevan’. 

He seems to use the ‘Bevan’ guise for his more SF-orientated tales and some – such as “The Door” (in ‘Science Fantasy no.74’), which appear to be almost old adolescent manuscripts revived to meet the new demand for material. There’s a long-standing trope for stories concerning cultures hiding in subterranean bunkers to sit out some global catastrophe, most frequently nuclear war, who subsequently forget about the ‘world above’. Brian Aldiss had contributed a perfectly good example in “Breathing Space” to ‘Science Fantasy no.12’ as long ago as February 1955. The shock ending now is that – for Bevan, the courageous Naylor who defies repressive convention to escape, emerges onto the airless surface of Mars, just as Aldiss’ character Osa opens the sealed door onto an equally lethal Luna aridity. 

Yet Keith Roberts can write beautiful prose. As Bevan he also produced detailed tales of auto-mechanic Bill Fredericks, who owns Turnpike Garage in the little town of King’s Warrington, voicing a nostalgic respect for the craftsmanship that is being overtaken by the drudgery of simple parts-replacement. He’s called out to repair what he refrains from calling an alien spaceship, ‘it was a machine all right. It was a machine like half a thousand great watches all ticking and whirring one inside the other. It was a machine that quivered and trembled and maybe sang a little; I don’t know, my ears were buzzing anyway. It was a machine made of gold and steel and rubies and pulsing light… there were ingots and rods, crystals and carved shapes, lumps and chunks of preciousness.’ This is ornate poetic phrasing of dazzling invention.

‘Now that he has the bit between his teeth as a writer of growing reputation’ travelogues Bonfiglioli, ‘we are more than pleased to be able to print his first novel…’ Which is the post-catastrophe romp ‘The Furies’ (1966), described by SF academic Brian Ash as ‘harrowing, but pertinent to the enduring human condition’ (in ‘Who’s Who In Science Fiction’, Sphere, 1976). Although it could be argued that Roberts really comes into his own with his second book, which gathers his ‘Pavane’ tales (1968, the US edition includes the additional “The White Boat”), into a series that was hailed as one of the major SF alternative histories, moody, eloquent, elegiac and thoroughly convincing. It conjures a vision of present-day Britain assuming Elizabeth I had been assassinated, the Spanish Armada had been successful, there had been no Reformation, and the less-advanced society that results is still under the heel of the ‘soul-saving’ psychopaths of ‘the Inquisition’. There’s a rare explication in the form of a ‘Letter To The Editor’ (in ‘SF Impulse’ no.9) in which he admits that ‘the origins of ‘Pavane’ lie in the surreal disparity between the primeval Wessex landscape and the excess of the modern tourist trade. My butterfly cars tangling with the hooves of Henry’s cavalry are no more bizarre than the girl in a bikini ogling the great barbicans of Corfe. I think it was images like this rather than an urge to warp history that led me to write the book.’

His next venture ‘The Inner Wheel’ (1970) deals powerfully, if occasionally with uneasy sentimentality, with the kind of gestalt superman theme familiar from Theodore Sturgeon’s ‘More Than Human’ (1953). It, and ‘The Chalk Giants’ (1974) are what John Clute describes as ‘assemblages of shorter units, usually written for eventual publication under a single title but nevertheless showing their separate origins.’ His more scattered short stories are collected into the magical whimsical ‘Anita’ (USA, 1970), ‘Machines And Men’ (1973) and ‘The Grain Kings’ (1976). 

But his writing, even within a straightforward narrative such as ‘The Furies’, displays sparkling flares of invention, in ‘the jazzing light of the torch’, then inside the cave ‘the noise woke a choir of echoes’ where stalactites are ‘the glassy fossils of time itself’. The same imaginative use of language – as well as the extended passages of dialect dialogue, are there as early as his first-published story, “Anita” in which the girl was ‘scrinching her toes in the leaf-mould under the trees.’ A girl with sixth, seventh and eighth senses, she meets a grass snake, but ‘his thoughts were too long and wriggly,’ while the TV-studio camera ‘loomed like a Thing from Mars, the red light on its forehead glowing like an angry castemark.’ The ‘Anita’ tales operate as a gateway between SF and fantasy, with hyperspace and a Parallel Universe coexisting in the same continuum as ‘sooty spirits from Tartarus’. Editor Bonfiglioli suggests that Robert’s technique is as a ‘taker-out’, ‘his astringent little tale in this issue would have spread, in the hands of many other writers, over three times as many pages, yet every necessary word is there and the background, though only suggested, is as real as though he had lavished description on it’ (in ‘Science Fantasy’ no.69). Yet each phrase is honed and polished, poised and balanced against each other with a watchmaker’s precision. 

He fictionalizes the south of England in which he was living, as plot locations. For ‘The Furies’, the Mendips and the Chill Leer caves are within foraging distance of Wells, Bristol and Bath (which reverts to its Latin name Aquis Sulis in the ‘Pavane’ tales). Here, there’s a kind of nuanced eulogy as he writes that ‘this was happening in England. Maybe there wasn’t much of it left to be proud of. Not so many green fields to babble over… We’d developed it, raped it, built it damn near out of existence. But it was still our own place, it was all we had...’ As the novel reaches its final sequences, despite the guerilla war they wage against the Furies, the cave complex is eventually overrun, the survivors are captured and taken into the dome-nests. Only to learn from the Symbo in charge that their monster antagonists have already exceeded their evolutionary limitations, and are dying out – ‘we’d won back our birthright by default.’ 

There’s a disjuncture when, after spending the whole novel anticipating his reunion with Jane, when he eventually arrives at the Rehabilitation Centre on Jersey and finds her abandoned cabin-cruiser the ‘Enchantress’ there, he learns that she’s gone missing. Maybe her being there would have complicated his developing relationship with Pete? And why switch the destination to the Channel Islands? Maybe because John Wyndham had already established his survivor-colony on the Isle of Wight in ‘The Day Of The Triffids’ (1951) a decade earlier? 

Is SF an atheist genre? The ‘Pavane’ story “Brother John” sets up the immaculate equation. The Adhelmians are a mild monastic ‘order of artisans and craftsmen,’ in which the titular Brother John operates the lithographic presses. The son of cobblers in Durnovaria (Dorchester), he’s resigned to his work, until his artistic talents are recognized, and he’s designated to record the vile tortures of the Court Of Spiritual Welfare… previously known as the Inquisition. Roberts weaves his way expertly around the complex spiritual dialogues that damn the innocent to excruciating torment. But what Brother John witnesses tilts him askew, his eyes ‘bright and mad as those of birds,’ and he flees as a heretic inspiring subversive rebellion against the established church. Following his despair at the death of a blind stonemason he witnesses a cosmic vision, part Blake… part sundog, with writing so intense it teeters on the brink of inspirational faith. 

While in “Corfe Gate” there’s an eloquent argument that by applying a braking effect to technology the church was allowing society time to adjust to innovations that would otherwise prove disruptive, not only the Industrial Revolution, but nuclear fission too. While time itself is cyclic, that ‘once, beyond our Time, there was a great civilization. There was a Coming, a Death and a Resurrection; a Conquest, a reformation, an Armada… and a burning, an Armageddon.’ What he means by this is dubious. Is the former civilization he alludes to the classical world of Greece, Troy and Rome? Or something more related to his repeated references to the Old Ones? The Atlantis or Lemuria of a lost mythic past? Or maybe simply a poetic flight of fancy? 

Distinctive, and as beyond genre SF as SF is from conventional religion, Keith Roberts – who died 5 October 2000, leaves a rich seam of fiction awaiting rediscovery.



1964 – ‘SCIENCE FANTASY no.67’ (September-October 1964, Roberts & Vinter Ltd) edited by Kyril Bonfiglioli who notes ‘a professional style and verve to his (Keith Roberts) writing which should have taken him long years to develop’ and expresses a wish that ‘we shall have more of his work in ‘Science Fantasy’ before success carries him off – as it inevitably will, to realms where our budget cannot follow him.’ Keith Roberts makes a splash with novelette “Escapism”, where the Coliseum – a two-bit cinema in Wickenford, is used by jive-talking chronoshifting future-men to screen a Solido of the Battle of Sedgemoor, and projectionist Dave Curtis escapes into time. It is later collected into his ‘Machines And Men’ (1973). There is also a short story “Anita” which actually consists of ‘two early episodes from the hellish career of – ANITA’, stories that will be reprinted as separate pieces – “Anita” and “The Witch”, the first is a magical entrancing tale where Anita finds a friend in Ruth, a suicided girl by the lake, and Romany Jem, in the collection ‘Anita’ (Ace Books, 1970). Plus “Anita”, in which the teenage witch is sent out into the world by her Granny Thompson – and ends in the jokey punchline ‘I turned a perfectly lovely motor-car straight into a lay-by’, is also republished in ‘SF Reprise 3’ also edited by Bonfiglioli (Compact Books, 1966) 

1964 – ‘SCIENCE FANTASY no.68’ (December 1964-January 1965) with an ‘Anita’ story – “The Charm”, snared by magic-writer Sir John Carpenter she must interpret a time-charm from Thibet, with the help of Granny Thompson, it transports them back through past ages to the brown void of the first stars, to discover that time is cyclic before it returns them to now. They are the tiny figures trapped inside the charm. Plus more-conventional SF short story “The Madman” published as by ‘Alistair Bevan’, 100-year-old Roger Morrison wants ‘beer and books and trees’ in a phoney plastic twenty-first century, but finds only the Sector Asylum, because ‘dreaming is important now; in Utopia.’ Both are republished in ‘SF Reprise 3’, then “The Charm” in the ‘Anita’ collection 

1965 – ‘SCIENCE FANTASY no.69’ (January-February 1965), blue-tint Keith Roberts cover-art of a swimmer approaching a Loch Ness-style monster (anticipating story ‘The Jennifer’), with a page-&-a-half post-apocalypse vignette “Flight Of Fancy” plus ‘Alaistair Bevan’ (sic) tale “The Typewriter”, in which inoffensive writer Henry Albert Tailor lives out the fictional exploits of spoof James Bond agent ‘Flush Hardman’, until his typewriter takes over and completes ‘Esprit de Corpsé’ for him 

1965 – ‘SCIENCE FANTASY no.70’ (March 1965), a third ‘Anita’ story, “The Jennifer” both written and illustrated by a Keith line-drawing. Granny Thompson wins on the Football Pools so they go to the seaside. In a cave Anita meets a mermaid. In gentle innocent eroticism she creates a sandgirl to fool Gran, so the world’s only Sea Serpent can take her down beneath the ocean, ‘falling into a hugeness of light’. Collected into ‘SF Reprise 4’ (1966) then ‘Anita’

1965 – ‘NEW WRITINGS IN SF no.3’ (Dobson Books, Corgi Paperback) edited by John Carnell, with Keith Roberts ‘Boulter’s Canaries’, as by ‘Alex Boulter’, a routine energy-form poltergeist tale, and as ‘John Kingston’ (‘Manipulation’), its tight impressionistic prose recreates the inner thought-process of a telekineticist 

1965 – ‘SCIENCE FANTASY no.71’ (April 1965) includes another ‘Anita’ story – “The War At Foxhanger”, in which two witches, Granny ‘Maude’ and Aggie Everett feud, only pooling resources in order to rescue trapped Anita with a broomstick, collected into ‘Anita’, plus “Susan” as by ‘Alistair Bevan’ with another beguiling adolescent girl with strange powers who causes both teacher and mother to ask ‘who are you?’, both stories in ‘SF Reprise 4’ (1966) 

1965 – ‘SCIENCE FANTASY no.72’ (May 1965) with cover-art by ‘K Roberts’, plus ‘Anita’ story “The Middle Earth” in which she meets ghost-boy David Fox-Gardiner by the Fyne-brook stream, she offers herself to ease his sadness, then seeks out the Controller who ‘looks after all the Dark Things in the county’ in his beautifully-written Heath-Robinson office, they set David up with recently-deceased Susan Martin and they happily transition together to the Parallel Universe,’ collected into ‘SF Reprise 6’ then ‘Anita’ 

1965 – ‘NEW WRITINGS IN SF no.4’ (Dobson Books, Corgi Paperback) edited by John Carnell, Keith Roberts’ “Sub-Lim” is ‘a lot of fun in the movie industry when a new system for making people like films is discovered’, and as by ‘David Stringer’ “High Eight” which has an X-Filed ‘Thing’ in the wires, a murderous sentient evolution in the power-grid 

1965 – ‘SCIENCE FANTASY no.73’ (June 1965) with surreal cover-art ‘K Roberts’ which perhaps justifies his cover-billing, because the issue only includes page.66 ‘Alistair Bevan’ – ‘whom we consider one of our best ‘finds’’ with story “Deterrent” where primitive Valley Folk community seek the cave predicted by the Tellers which will provide the defensive weapon against invaders, only to find a ‘United States Navy’ missile silo 

1965 – ‘SCIENCE FANTASY no.74’ (July 1965) with ‘K Roberts’ cover-art for part one of his serial “The Furies”, plus short story “The Door” as by ‘Alistair Bevan’ with ‘Ventman’ Naylor escaping the colour-coded Levels to blow his way through the sealed Door to the exterior, ‘then he took his first and last breath of the deadly air of Mars’ 

1965 – ‘SCIENCE FANTASY no.75’ (August 1965) with cover-art by ‘K Roberts’, ‘Anita’ story “Idiot’s Lantern” – initially cover-blurbed for no.73 but not included, ‘the fact that Keith Roberts’ novel is running in this issue does not, we feel, entitle us to disappoint Anita-fans.’ Against Granny’s wishes Anita (‘daughter of a third cousin on her Mother’s side’) insists on having a TV installed, only its emissions play havoc with her thoughtstream senses. Then the two become contestants on a TV quiz show, causing magical chaos and confusion! later collected into ‘Anita’ (1970), plus part two of serial ‘The Furies’ 

1965 – ‘NEW WRITINGS IN SF no.5’ (Dobson Books, Corgi Paperback) edited by John Carnell, with Keith Roberts as ‘David Stringer’ (‘Acclimatization’), on the psychological side-effects of long-haul solar system travel, must be the last SF story to feature an orbitally-locked Mercury of temperate extremes

1965 – ‘SCIENCE FANTASY no.76’ (September 1965) with part three of three-part “The Furies” 

1965 – ‘NEW WRITINGS IN SF no.6’ (Dobson Books, Corgi Paperback) edited by John Carnell, Keith Roberts returns to lead off no.6 with the self-consciously poetic novelette “The Inner Wheel”, its prose straining for profundity, and almost achieving it as its troubled visitor discovers the too-perfect town of Harwell is controlled by a gestalt homo-superior hive-mind 

1965 – ‘SCIENCE FANTASY no.78’ (November 1965), K Roberts cover-art illustrates Brian Aldiss ‘The Day Of The Doomed King’

1966 – ‘THE FURIES’ (Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd) ISBN 0-330-02392-6, previously serialised in ‘Science Fantasy’ nos. 74, 75 and 76. It was adapted into a six-part BBC Radio Four serial from May 1970 

1966 – ‘NEW WRITINGS IN SF no.7’ (Dobson Books, Corgi Paperback) edited by John Carnell, Roberts’ “Manscarer” is a playful counter-culture nonsense of disconnected weirdness set in a multi-level country-wide twenty-second-century London in which boho artist-colonies provide a ‘therapeutic force’ by erecting huge mobile sculptures. There are characters named Jed, Roley Stratford, the Witch of Endor, Whore Nonpareil, Bil-Bil, Oberon & Puck – names that could just as easily slot into Michael’s Moorcock’s ‘Dancers At The End Of Time’ mythology, caught up in a narrative that might just as easily have appeared in the ‘Oz’ counter-culture journal 

1966 – ‘SCIENCE FANTASY: IMPULSE no.81’ (February 1966), K Roberts cover-art for High Simmonds ‘Ballad From A Bottle’. Keith Roberts also assumes contents-page billing as ‘Associate Editor’ 

March 1966 – ‘IMPULSE no.1’ (March 1966, billed as ‘The NEW Science Fantasy’) edited by Kyril Bonfiglioli, Associate Editor: Keith Roberts, includes the beautifully-detailed ‘Pavane’ story “The Signaller”. Rafe Bigland of Avebury – village of the Stone Circle, defies family tradition and determines to join the Guild of Signallers in the alternate-history England where magical elements survive in hidden pockets. In the freezing winter of his first solo posting to a station in the southern corner of Dorset, he’s attacked and savaged by a catamount (wildcat), hauling himself back into the signal tower his wounds are tended by magical fairy-girl, in a leaked supernatural world-history sequence. He escapes with her ‘gaining strength with every step. Behind him, the signal hut stood forlorn.’ Two Guildsmen rescuers later discover his dead body 

April 1966 – ‘IMPULSE no.2’ (April 1966) with Keith Roberts cover-art illustrating his novelette “Pavane: The Lady Anne”. In subsequent republishing, the steam land-train ‘Anne’ became ‘Margaret’. The original story in ‘Impulse’ includes a prologue detailing the assassination of the Faery Queen Elizabeth the First and the subsequent imposition of restrictive Papal power and tithes across the land, a prologue used in at least one version of the collected ‘Pavane’ edition (1968, Hart-Davis). The date is also switched from 1965 to 1968, but it’s a parallel universe so that might not be significant. Again the steampunk detail of the locomotive is impressive (he thanks Bob and Cath Curtis of Kettering for help with technical detail) as haulier Jesse Strange drives out from Durnovaria with his cargo, to Poole via the Purbeck hills, wary of highwaymen routiers. There is no SF content. Encouraged by rakish former friend Col de la Haye, he proposes marriage to Anne at the ‘Mermaid’, she turns him down. Col later turns out to be working with routiers, but the final truck of the land-train is booby-trapped with explosives and puts paid to their attack

May 1966 – ‘IMPULSE no.3’ (May 1966) with cover-art signed ‘K Roberts’ illustrating John Rankine’s ‘The Seventh Moon’, includes the ‘Pavane’ novelette “Brother John”, and “The Pace That Kills” (as by Alistair Bevan) where the imposition of the 70mph limit prompts ‘this bitter prediction of a day when the dead hand of the Traffic Warden will shadow every mile of English road’ 

June 1966 – ‘IMPULSE no.4’ (June 1966) with ‘Pavane’ story “Lords And Ladies” a return to haulier Jesse Strange, who is on his deathbed as his niece Anne Belinda Strange experiences memory flashbacks of her life – ‘she could hear the voice grind on but she herself was a million miles away, out among the cold burning of the stars’ 

July 1966 – ‘IMPULSE no.5’ (June 1966) with Keith Roberts cover-art illustrating the ‘fifth and last story – for a while, at least’ in the ‘Pavane’ cycle, following the fortunes of the Strange family, where the Guild of Signallers still operate, although they also use a kind of forbidden ‘manifestation of the electric fluid’ in a kind of Morse code that Lady Eleanor fears is ‘necromancy’. There’s a flash-forward to ‘our democratic twenty-second century,’ then a return to when Lady Eleanor’s resistance to Pope John’s taxes that keep Britain as ‘a scrappy little nation living just above the famine line,’ leads to insurrection. King Charles is away on a visit to the American colonies, so she faces the punitive Papal forces from Londinium led by Henry of Rye & Deal in her Corfe fortress located between Bourne Mouth and Swanage. Although she fails, is imprisoned and eventually assassinated, her example leads to a weakening of Papal power around the world 

August 1966 – ‘SF IMPULSE no.6’ (August 1966), Alistair Bevan (Keith Roberts) ‘The Scarlet Lady’, ‘a motoring fantasy to follow up his ‘Pace That Kills’’, anticipating Stephen King’s 1983 novel/movie ‘Christine’, Bill Fredericks wonders if the accident-prone car is sentient. A story that lovingly details the restoration and internal workings of vintage cars 

1966 – ‘SF IMPULSE no.7’ (September 1966) with cover-art for Chris Boyce novelette ‘The Rig’, plus ‘Anita’ story “Timothy”, ‘to placate the people who continually write demanding more ‘Anita’ stories’, another charming fantasy in which a bored Anita animates a scarecrow Worzel Gummidge-style, at first playfully answering his questions, but when he becomes amorous she’s forced to flee, breaking him until his parts tumble over the handrail of Fynebrook bridge. Through the night ‘she could hear Timothy thinking old mouldy thoughts about rooks and winds, and worms in the thick red ground.’ Collected into Terry Carr’s ‘New Worlds Of Fantasy’ (1967), and Peter Haining’s ‘The Witchcraft Reader’ 

1966 – ‘NEW WORLDS no.166’ (September 1966), cover-art for Michael Moorcock’s ‘Behold The Man’. See also p.151 

1966 – ‘SF IMPULSE no.8’ (October 1966), surreal cover-art for Frederik Pohl’s “Day Million”, and the Alistair Bevan story “Breakdown”, a return to Bill Frederick’s garage in King’s Warrington, with a curious reprise of Daphne Castell’s story in the previous issue, in which he’s called out to repair a damaged alien space vehicle, ‘when they want to fly they don’t set to and build a plane, they make a wish. And the wish gets cladded in metal and jewels, and it flies’ 

1966 – ‘SF IMPULSE no.9’ (November 1966) with cover and interior-art for Michael Moorcock’s ‘The Ice Schooner’ plus art for the Brian Aldiss story ‘The Eyes Of The Blind King’. Keith also contributes a letter, and an ‘Anita’ story “The Simple For Love” collected into ‘Anita’, when Anita imagines she’s in love with Roger Morrison who drives a red MG and lives in Hampstead, she tries to change, ‘I’m going to Hampstead and I’m going to get a job, and that’s that. And I’m going to be married. Properly married, in Church…’ She defies Granny Thompson, catches the train with Roger and confides the secret of her abilities, until he starts to plan her visits from the Catholic priest, and the psychiatrist. She pulls the communication cord and escapes. Walking home to Foxhanger she meets a Farmer’s Boy… 

1966 – ‘NEW WRITINGS IN SF no.8’ (Dobson Books, Corgi Paperback) edited by John Carnell, Roberts’ “Synth” approaches Carnell’s critique through a ‘type of plot’ that ‘even a few years ago would not have been published’, featuring a divorce trial in which portrait-artist Henry Aloysius Davenport is sued for his supposed adultery with Megan M.E.G. 19/02, a synthetic woman. Behind its comedic touches and sly innuendo – describing her being plugged into the power-sphincter for recharging!, the case hinges on the capacity of an AI-construct to become the object of the conflicting human emotions of desire and jealousy, and to feel emotion itself. To Carnell, this content is evidence of ‘the SF story at last becoming humanised’

1966 – ‘SF IMPULSE no.10’ (December 1966), edited by Harry Harrison, with ‘Anita’ story “The Familiar” (with his own cat heading art), when Granny Thompson’s mischievous cat, Vortigern becomes invisible, Anita chases it through the rain, then ensures its visibility by tinting it technicoloured, ‘done up a treat.’ Collected into ‘Anita’ 

1966 – ‘NEW WORLDS no.169’ (December 1966), edited by Michael Moorcock, includes “Pavane: The White Boat” 

January 1967 – ‘NEW WORLDS no.170’ (January 1967) features “Coranda” (p.48), based on the glacial world of Michael Moorcock’s ‘The Ice Schooner’ as a homage. Collected into ‘Best SF Stories From New Worlds 3’ edited by Michael Moorcock (Panther, 1968), and into ‘The Passing Of The Dragons: The Short Fiction Of Keith Roberts’ (Berkley/Medallion, 1977) 

1967 – ‘SF IMPULSE no.11’ (January 1967), Managing Editor: Keith Roberts, who also paints the cover and inner-art for Chris Boyce ‘Mantis’, Judith Merril ‘The Shrine Of Temptation’, and Moorcock’s ‘The Ice Schooner’

1967 – ‘SF IMPULSE no.12’ (February 1967), Editor in Chief: Harry Harrison. Managing Editor: Keith Roberts. Keith Roberts ‘Editorial’ (Mr Harrison is at present unavailable, having made tracks for Philadelphia’), plus interior art for his feature ‘Keith Roberts re-reads the ‘True History’ of Lucian Of Samosatos’ (with his own art), drawing attention to ‘something horribly familiar’ about ‘a giant cobweb between the Moon and Lucifer’ – ‘it almost reminded me of a book I read once’, likely Brian Aldiss ‘Hothouse’. Also ‘Alistair Bevan’ (Keith Roberts) Book Fare, reviews DF Jones (‘Colossus’), editor Douglas Hill (‘Window On The Future’ anthology, with Aldiss ‘Circulation Of The Blood’), and praises Ray Bradbury (‘The Machineries Of Joy’), ‘these are beautiful stories; there’s not much else for a reviewer to say’ 

1968 – ‘NEW WRITINGS IN SF no.15’ (Dobson Books, Corgi Paperback) edited by John Carnell, Keith Roberts’ (‘Therapy 2000’), beautifully ironic, in the yammering din of perpetual city-sound, noise annoys. In this 2000 there’s no 24-7 multichannel Trivee, and he still physically cuts-and-pastes newssheet small-ads, but Travers seeks escape from noise using ear-plugs and finally voluntary deafness, which dumbs Deidre, his fantasy other-dimensional lover. Kathryn Buckley, reviewing the book in ‘Vision Of Tomorrow no.5’ says ‘this sense of loss of identity is well conveyed, as also is the disorientation of the individual and the shifting of the pattern of the norm. Those who cannot conform to society as it is, must be regarded as sick – an insidious deprivation of personal freedom’

1968 – ‘PAVANE’ (Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd), with a prologue, divided into ‘measures’, with an added coda, it collects ‘The Lady Margaret’, ‘The Signaller’, ‘The White Boat’, ‘Brother John’, ‘Lords And Ladies, ‘Corfe Gate’, and the Coda set some years after the events of the final stories, which centres on the son of the seneschal to the female aristocrat from ‘Corfe Gate’ 

1970 ‘ANITA’ (Ace Books) includes short stories “Anita”, “Outpatient”, “The Simple For Love”, “The Charm”, “The Familiar”, “The Jennifer”, “The Middle Earth”, “The War At Foxhanger”, “Idiot’s Lantern”, “Timothy” plus “The Witch” (part of “Anita”), “Outpatient”, “Cousin Ella Mae”, “Sandpiper”, “The Mayday” (later in ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & SF no.234’, November 1970) and “Junior Partner” (later in ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & SF no.235’, December 1970) 

1971 – ‘THE BOAT OF FATE’ (Hutchinson, republished by Borgo Press, 2001) Non-SF novel set during the death-throes of the Roman Empire, an age of violence and disintegration, when the old values of Imperial Rome are under attack from all sides, from Goths and Vandals without, and from the followers of a fanatical new Eastern Christos sect within. Sergius Paullus is a young Roman as troubled as the Empire as he tries to cope with his changing world. From childhood he dreams of the glory of being a soldier, but instead must be content with schooling and the games of children. Finally, his impetuous nature prods him to an act of rebellion that changes his life. Forced to leave home, he embarks on a trail of adventure that leads from the tenements of Rome to a series of military escapades in Hispania, Rome, and Gaul, and ultimately to a climactic battle in Britannia, where Sergius leads a doomed resistance against the barbarians 

January 1972 – ‘NEW WORLDS QUARTERLY 3’ edited by Michael Moorcock (Sphere Books), in which Keith writes and illustrates “I Lose Medea” (as by ‘Alistair Becan), and “The Grain Kings” which ‘fascinatingly describes life on giant hotel-like grain harvesters in a world of vast farms’ (John Clute). Pages 25 and 76 

1972 – ‘NEW WRITINGS IN SF no.21’ (Sidgwick & Jackson August 1972, Corgi Paperback September 1973) Keith Roberts’ (‘The Passing Of The Dragons’) the dragons are dying on Epsilon Cygnus VI, an irascible narrator antagonises Pilot (First Class) Scott-Braithwaite, darkly humorous yet touching tale 

1972 – ‘NEW WORLDS QUARTERLY 4’ (Sphere Books) “Weihnachtabend”, an alternate history in which the Britain of Edward VIII is allied with Nazi Germany as the Two Empires. As in ‘Man In A High Castle’ there is a Freedom Front and a banned subversive book, ‘Towards Humanity’ by Geissler. During a meticulously and painstakingly detailed snow-bound weekend in the Wilton Great House, the unfortunately named Richard Mainwaring (‘Dad’s Army’?) arrives with Miss Diane Hunter. When she disappears, with increasing tension, he suspects she was used as the ‘quarry’ in the Hunt. In a final interview with the Minister he’s offered a way out, but shoots him dead and escapes to the snowy roof where he awaits death in a shoot-out. Republished in ‘Stars Of Albion’ (1979, Pan Books) edited by Robert Holdstock & Christopher Priest 

March 1973 – ‘MACHINES AND MEN’ (Hutchinson, 0-09-115180-5), collects ‘Escapism’ (1964), ‘Therapy 2000’ (1969), ‘Manscarer’ (1966), ‘Boulter’s Canaries’ (1965), ‘Sub-Lim’ (1965), ‘Synth’ (1966), ‘The Deeps’ (1966), ‘Breakdown’ (1966), ‘The Pace That Kills’ (1966) and ‘Manipulation’ (1965) 

1973 – ‘NEW WRITINGS IN SF no.23’ (Sidgwick & Jackson November 1973, Corgi Paperback 1975) Keith Roberts’ (‘The Lake Of Tuonela’), poetically wistful, elements of Aldiss ‘Greybeard’ and Ballard’s ‘Drowned World’ as the Kalti boatmen of Xerxes face slow culture-shock extinction, and Mathis defies orders to travel their ancient silted-up canal-system to Hy Antiel, hauntingly beautiful 

February 1974 – ‘THE CHALK GIANTS’ (Hutchinson, ISBN 0-09-117880-0, and Panther paperback September 1975) collection made up of: ‘The God House’ (1971), ‘The Beautiful One’ (1973), ‘Monkey And Pru And Sal’ (1971), ‘Rand, Rat And The Dancing Man’ (1974), ‘Usk The Jokeman’ (1974), ‘Fragments’ (1974) and ‘The Sun Over A Low Hill’ (1974). Acclaimed as his most ‘ambitious assemblage to date’, which ‘uses its separate tales elegantly to embody the cyclical shape of the book. The protagonist of the framing narrative (in the English edition only – the American edition is abridged), after driving to the south coast of England to escape what may be a terminal though un-clarified disaster, goes into a kind of hiding and either cycles the rest of the book through his head, or can be seen as himself emblematic of what those stories portend: they depict a movement from post-holocaust through god-ridden savagery back to a state premonitory of the protagonist’s own condition; his concerns and sexual obsessions are replicated variously throughout the book’ (John Clute) 

1977 – ‘NEW WRITINGS IN SF no.30’ (Corgi Paperback September 1977) Keith Roberts’ (‘The Shack At Great Cross Halt’), touching dialogue between ‘American Visitor’ coaxing ‘Rural’ girl who lives on motorway salvage, there’s background talk of the Sterling Crash, the First People’s War and a Trucker-led insurrection that seems doomed to failure, but what’s central is the growing trust between the two women


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