** BARRINGTON BAYLEY RETROSPECTIVE **
The legacy of those days (THE KNIGHTS OF THE LIMITS, Barrington Bayley, Fontana-Collins, 95p.) makes astonishing reading. It reminds one that the power of British New Wave was not due to its decalcifying treatment of sex or the fact that much of its readership was stoned. Those ephemera blew away with the hash fumes over Ladbroke Grove. What is left is sheer visionary intensity, which Bayley has always had and displays today even more vigorously.
"The Ur-Plant" is Bayley's latest story, in INTERZONE, which is NEW WORLDS' successor in British SF's valiant struggle for Arts Council grants. Bayley's story stands out in this somewhat precious magazine like a cactus among balloons.
Bayley writes science fiction with the natural fluency of a man who can't help it. He has the ineffable, unfakeable genius of a true SF visionary: of Wells, Stapledon, and Ballard; of Bester, Dick, and Farmer.
Small things do not content this man. He is tooling along in second gear if he does not blow your mind ten times in eighteen pages. He is at home re-inventing the nature of space-time, stretching the limits of consciousness, reassembling reality. He leaps past the jugular and deep into the frontal lobes.
Bayley is the Zen master of modern space opera. He has the wild power of E. E. Smith, without Smith's pathetic illiteracy or gross provincialism. The magazines of the '30's might have been titled to describe Bayley's work: Amazing, Startling, Fantastic, Weird. This tie to traditionalism may explain why his novels have been published by DAW: THE PILLARS OF ETERNITY, THE FALL OF CHRONOPOLIS, THE GRAND WHEEL, STAR WINDS, THE GARMENTS OF CAEAN, COLLISION COURSE.
Yet Bayley's elemental energy, his mastery of the sense of wonder, cannot be denied. His work is the very antithesis of tired hackdom. To invent an entire self-consistent cosmology and physics for a $2.50 DAW paperback (THE ZEN GUN, 1983) is one of those noble acts of selfless altruism that keep SF alive. There seems no limit to the man's inventiveness, his pyrotechnic bursts of fresh ideas. To these natural gifts, enough to sustain a dozen lesser writers, he adds an intense dedication to craft that gives his best work its eerie sense of dark complexity. To read a work like "The Cabinet of Oliver Naylor" is to be simultaneously enlightened and bewildered, to receive a Zen knock on the head; it is the literary equivalent of psilocybin. It is, in fact, why science fiction was invented.
It was not a historical accident that science fiction first entered mass consciousness in a welter of garish colors and howling verbal excess. SF is the enemy of normality, the antidote to bored sophistication and know-it-all over-refinement. If SF, in outgrowing its native vulgarity, also loses its ability to stun, it will have sold its birthright for a mess of pottage.
At this point SF can commit any literary crime but boredom; any crime, that is, except the one that is now killing the mainstream. In all respects, Barrington Bayley's hands are clean."