A foolish impulse: Impulse magazine Vol 1 No 1

In 1966 Science Fantasy magazine was a relatively venerable publication of 81 issues, having gone from a pretty flaky beginning to becoming an interesting, if erratic, magazine that operated at the edges of SF, fantasy and literature in general. Edited in its later days by the enigmatic, and some say lazy, Kyril Bonfiglioli (though apparently mostly by Keith Roberts) it was a successful little corner in the genre fiction landscape.  Its history is laid out in some detail in Strange Highways: Reading Science Fantasy, 1950-1967 by Damien Broderick and John Boston.

Cover of <em>Impulse</em> Vol 1 No 1.

Cover of Impulse Vol 1 No 1.  Note the coffee-cup shaped mark, the creases, and the scrawled in ’50c’; clearly this is in mint condition.

Perhaps life was too simple.  Perhaps Bonfiglioli needed a challenge, or perhaps it was just a thought bubble, but the decision was made to retitle the magazine.  To make it longer, more expensive and with a new, vague name that didn’t really tell the reader what was inside; thus was born Impulse.  The idiocy was later dulled by trying to call it ‘SF Impulse‘ but the damage was done, circulation fell, and when the distributor went under and the publisher came under pressure, Impulse had made itself vulnerable and had to go.

That is all not to say that the magazine was not interesting.  As you can see, it was in a paperback format (as was New Worlds), thus pre-empting a number of other efforts at paperback periodicals over the years, including one (Destinies) that made some claim to have invented the format even though it only came along in the late seventies…



Anyway, this ‘sort of first issue’ of Impulse makes for above average reading, though not far above, despite the big names (for the time) on the cover.  (Indeed, it is a measure of ‘the time’ that of the significant contributors only Aldiss and cover artist Judith Ann Lawrence remain with us.)  The Aldiss is more melodrama than anything else, the Anderson is a vignette about a man who has to betray Earth to save it, the Blish (‘A Hero’s Life’) is a rather nifty if overcrowded story on a similar theme, set in a ‘sufficiently advanced technology looks like magic’ mileau that would not have embarrassed Iain M. Banks; it later was reworked as ‘A Style in Treason‘.

The stories by Richard Wilson and Jack Vance are quite minor (though apparently the Vance was thought lost and even Vance was surprised when he found out  — years later! — that it had ever been published [see Strange Highways by Boston and Broderick]), and the last piece is the first instalment of Pavane by Keith Roberts, a minor classic.  It’s very atmospheric but probably does not deserve the number of pages dedicated to it.

Interesting is the Ballard, ‘You and Me and the Continuum’.  It is the first published section of what would become another classic of its kind — The Atrocity Exhibition.  This is the ‘New Wave’ in all its interesting, obtuse, experimental and pretentious glory.  In 8 pages he whips through 27 alphabetically arranged sections, ticking off a checklist of Ballardy images (lists of 20th century objects, quasars, someone called ‘Dr Nathan’, etc).  It seems to be about something — apparently a second coming that never quite came off.  There’s an extensive critical literature on this sort of thing.  I liked his slightly earlier work that was just a little more coherent, if just as fixated (‘Terminal Beach’ for example).

So we have here a volume that does one of the wonderful things that a periodical can do so much better than an anthology; we have a snapshot of the times.  The volume is poised between the new world of Ballard and the space opera of Anderson.  The Aldiss is minor but nevertheless is pushing SF away from outer space and towards inner (it is called ‘The Circulation of the Blood’), while the Harrison is a hard-nosed version of ‘The Cold Equations’ and the Roberts is lyrical alternate history, both well-established forms by the time of writing.  There is no agenda here.  Yes, Bonfiglioli did commission some of these works around a theme of ‘sacrifice’, apparently, although interestingly more of the stories would fit more snugly under ‘betrayal’.  But he had no preferred mode or style or world view.  Apparently if you want a copy it’s worth around 10 squid on Amazon, or was when I searched just now.

What can I say?  If I saw an issue of Impulse/Science Fantasy/SF Impulse/New Worlds at a car boot sale/trash & treasure/flea market/thrift store/opp shop for a dollar or two, I would probably pick it up — exactly because I would not know what to expect.

PS: Yes, I know there is little or no point ‘reviewing’ a book that nobody is going to be able to buy.


Exactly because.


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About Darren

I'm a scientist by training, based in Australia.

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