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Vintage Treasures: Machines & Men by Keith Roberts

Thursday, August 1st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Men & Machines Keith Roberts-small Men & Machines Keith Roberts-back-small

Cover by Anthony Roberts

I love discovering British vintage SF paperbacks. There’s a lot to discover, they’re relatively inexpensive, and they’re virtually unknown here in the US. Recently I’ve been accumulating British short story collections by John Wyndham and Keith Roberts, and they’ve been well worth tracking down. I admit I enjoy the covers as well — especially the ones featuring exotic spaceships.

My latest discovery is Machines and Men, the second collection by Keith Roberts, published by Panther in 1973 and which was never reprinted in the US. It’s a slender volume, yet packed with tales of UFOs, wary submariners, a 24th-Century film crew, a synthetic human getting a divorce, and much more. And lo! There’s an exotic spaceship on the cover, which sorta looks like a futuristic curling iron.

The fiction within originally appeared between 1964-69, in places like SF Impulse magazine and John Carnell’s long-running New Writings in SF anthology series. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

“Manipulation” (New Writings in S.F. 3, 1965)
“Escapism” (Science Fantasy, September-October 1964)
“Boulter’s Canaries” (New Writings in S.F. 3, 1965)
“Sub-Lim” (New Writings in S-F 4, 1965)
“Breakdown” (SF Impulse, October 1966)
“Therapy 2000” (New Writings in S-F 15, 1969)
“The Deeps” (Orbit 1, 1966)
” Manscarer” (New Writings in S-F 7, 1966)
“Synth” (New Writings in SF-8, 1966)
“The Pace That Kills” (Impulse, May 1966)

Keith Roberts isn’t really well known here in the US — except for his brilliant classic Pavane. In his review here at Black Gate, Matthew Surridge wrote:

Pavane [is]… a set of linked short stories, describing a world in which Queen Elizabeth I of England was assassinated, the Spanish Armada conquered England, and Europe remained wholly Catholic. The book, first published in 1966, takes place in the late twentieth century of this other world, in which technological and social progress has been slowed by the authoritatian hand of the Church. It moves from character to character, showing developments over the course of generations as some things change and some things do not.

It’s a fascinating book, but not necessarily for its sf aspects. Roberts’ sense of imagery and character is very strong, and most of the short stories focus on the perceptions and history of a single person whose significance to the overall development of the alternate world is not immediately apparent. Roberts explores his characters, their lives and feelings and insights, and the sense of them as real people living in a real world with its own history and weight is convincing…

Roberts was a profoundly skilled writer. He died in 2000, having written nine novels and a number of short stories. Pavane seems to be best known, with Anthony Burgess having named it one of the ninety-nine best novels of the 20th century (or at least between 1939 and 1983).

Our previous coverage of Keith Roberts includes:

Classic Alternatives: Keith Roberts’ Pavane by Matthew David Surridge
Pavane
The Passing of the Dragons

Machines & Men was published by Panther Books in October 1974. It is 239 pages, priced at £0.50. The cover is by Anthony Roberts. It has never been printed in the US, and has been out of print since 1974. There is no digital edition.

See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

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