Saturday 16 September 2023

Penguin Time/Psyched Out Sci-fi:
The Traps of Time
edited by Michael Moorcock



Remarkably, I don’t think I’ve ever actually featured any of the extraordinary covers produced by Franco Grignani for Penguin’s science fiction line in 1969-70 on this weblog before.

So, having picked up a few of them recently, now seems as good a time as any to rectify that.

According to the invaluable The Art of Penguin Science Fiction website, Grignani, “..was a leading figure in the field of experimental photography, with a career stretching back some forty years to his early work with photograms. From this he progressed to a range of techniques based on standard photography which he then projected and distorted using lenses, shards of glass, pieces of broken mirror, or liquids such as oil and water.”

All of which, needless to say, made him very much the man of the hour when it came to finding a way to combine the precise / modernist Penguin design aesthetic with the mind-bending chaos of the op-art / psychedelic light show era.

Spilling over, as was often the case, onto the back cover (though not, disappointingly, across the spine), ‘The Traps of Time’ showcases one of Grignani’s more menacing and abstract efforts - equally as far out as the era’s most attention-grabbing Penguin Crime covers.

I particularly like the hands on the back cover - suggestive of some technologically enhanced séance which has gone horribly wrong. (Shades of The Devil Commands / ‘The Edge of Running Water’, perhaps?)

As to the book itself meanwhile… well unfortunately, I’ll have to forego the opportunity to bask in the light of Michael Moorcock’s no doubt exemplary anthologising skills for the time being, as the binding on my copy is knackered to point of imminent collapse.

Nonetheless though, you’ve got to appreciate the none-more-new-wave audacity of shoving Aldiss and Zelazny in right next to Borges and Alfred Jarry, of all people.

In fact, the inclusion here of Jarry’s idiosyncratic 1899 text ‘How to Construct a Time Machine’ helps lends ‘The Traps of Time’ a certain level of underground historical significance, as again pointed out by the compilers of The Art of Penguin Science Fiction [see link above].

In view of Moorcock’s connections to the band, it was in all likelihood between these pages that Hawkwind’s resident poet/ideas man/maniac Robert Calvert first encountered Jarry’s essay, which - upon realising that the ‘time machine’ described by Jarry is in fact merely a bicycle - inspired him to compose the lyrics for what became Silver Machine, a work recognised by most right-thinking people as one of the towering achievements of human civilisation. Nice!

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