Archive for December, 2011

”It was an apocalyptic sector. Out of the red-black curtain of the forward sight-barrier, which at this distance from the Frontier shut down a mere twenty metres north, came every sort of metioric horror: fission and fusion explosions, chemical detonations, a super-hail of projectiles of all sizes and basic velocities, sprays of nerve-paralysants and thalamic dopes.”

– David I. Masson, ”Traveller’s Rest” (1965)

David Irvine Masson (1915–2007) wrote very little fiction but each of the stories he did write are classics of their kind. Each story reflects his deep knowlegde and interests in literature, linguistics and perception.

Masson came from an academic family and gained a degree in English language and literature from Oxford; aside from his stint in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the World War II, he was an academic librarian for most of his life. He also published articles on the funtions and effects of phonetic sound-patterning in the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, William Shakespeare and W. B. Yeats.

Masson came rather late to writing fiction and was almost 50 when he published his first short story. He was curator of the Brotherton collection at Leeds from 1956, and it was while there that he began to write, beginning with ”Travellers Rest” (1965), which was published in the British science fiction magazine New Worlds, then edited by Michael Moorcock. Six more stories were to follow, Masson became a leading figure in the nascent New Wave movement of the Sixties.

The Caltraps of Time (1968) collected all seven of Masson’s stories for New Worlds; it was reissued in 1976 as part of New English Library’s SF Master Series where it featured an introduction by series editor Harry Harrison; and again in 2003, expanded to include the three further stories he had written since 1970. It will be reissued again in Febraury 2012 as part of the Gollancz SF Masterworks series.

”Lost Ground” (first published in New Worlds 169, December 1966) introduces us to a world where waves of emotion act like weather-fronts, before moving off into a less interesting tangent about time anomolies.

”Not So Certain” (New Worlds 173, July 1967) is a densely written exploration of alien phonology in which a linguist explains a misunderstanding which is hindering their interaction with the indiginous population; the story is slight but it is an important contribution to science fiction and linguistics and the Shm’qh tongue is a notable constructed language.

”Mouth of Hell” (New Worlds 158, January 1966) tells of the exploration of a vast, gaping and enigmatic hole in the surface of the Earth. Less interested in revealing the origin of the hole Masson concentrates on its effects upon those who explore it.

In ”A Two-Timer” (New Worlds 159, February 1966) is an amusing tale in which a protagonist from the Restoration period stumbles upon a time machine from the future and journey’s to the 1960s. The story is told entirely in the English language of the 17th Century and contains a great deal of satire.

In ”The Transfinite Choice” (New Worlds 165, August 1966) a linear-accelerator accident transports a scientist from the ’60s to an overpopulated, highly regimented 24th Century. Linguistic concerns are again to the fore.

”Psychosmosis” (New Worlds 160, March 1966) is a tale about reincarnation.

”Travellers Rest” (New Worlds 154, September 1965) refelects Masson’s experiences during the Second World War and uses the distorted experience of time as a metaphor for alienation; in many ways prefiguring similar uses in Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War (1974) and Alan Moore‘s The Ballad of Halo Jones Book III.

Sources