0$ CHEAP TRUTH 4 EDITORIAL. This issue heads for the fringes of SF with nonfiction books,
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EDITORIAL. This issue heads for the fringes of SF with nonfiction books,
comics, and, perhaps least central of all, the plans of publishers. Future
issues will include reviews of periodicals in "Squirming Mags" and a semiotic
analysis of science fiction in rock videos.
Mr. Augean Stapledon, a third-eyed tuatara of the first water, offers us the
following REPTILE NEWS:
I started with the intention of writing something about Isaac
Asimov's ROBOTS OF DAWN. And then I thought, why do you want to do that?
That old hack isn't the problem. Just another guy resurrecting the decaying
flesh of ideas, plots, and characters dead thirty years now, pumping in a
little '80's topicality (lame sex), and grabbing himself a whole bunch of
money and a chrome rocket. What the hell? You give a guy a license to
steal, you've got to expect him to use it.
But who gave him the license? That's better, more to the point.
First, though, look further. An endless stream of Dune books, leper
books, Riverworld books, 2010-and-counting books, Majipoor books, magic blue
horse books.... help me, Jesus, I can't do it by myself.
It can't be the books. Most are unreadable, some merely boring, and
a few achieve the exalted status of a well-prepared cheeseburger.
SF used to be solely the province of the visionary and/or deranged.
Its writers could count on, at best, a living wage -- along with, of course,
the warm admiration of thousands of the isomorphically visionary/deranged,
for whatever it was worth. This was not a good thing. Philip Dick ate pet
food; others committed suicide, said the hell with it, or lived lives of
constant despair. Name your poison. But the crazed were allowed to flourish
in their own peculiar way, and the results were, now and then, amazing.
So by all means bring SF onto center stage and give it a shot at the
Big Time: New York Times Best Seller Lists, mighty advances, fancy covers,
seven-piece supermarket dump bins.
But don't take a razor to the hamstrings and then say, "Go on, get
out there, buddy, and run with the best." Don't, in short, isolate the
Dune-leper-magic blue horse&c. books as quintessential SF and ignore
everything else. But this is, of course, precisely what mainstream corporate
Meanwhile, back at Waldenbooks, they're honing the SF section -- you
know, stripping it down to the 'essentials' ... and Waldenbooks are spreading
exponentially, in more disgusting fashion than any monster SF ever dreamed
up, while the publishers are reading the writing on the shopping center walls
-- which says nothing about being weighed in the balance and found wanting --
and following along.
There was a hint at the end of ROBOTS OF DAWN that Asimov might tie
the ROBOT books and the FOUNDATION books together. Imagine that.
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, my ass. Why bother?
CHEAP TRUTH TOP TEN (Nonfiction special)
This issue's expanded Top Ten extols works of visionary nonfiction, along
with lighter pieces to stanch the flow of blood from nose and ears.
THE WORLD, THE FLESH, AND THE DEVIL by J. D. Bernal. In the 1920's this
visionary English scientist, his mind inflamed by what he conceived to be the
imminent triumph of World Socialism, reinvented the nature of the human
future. To read this book is to marvel over what science fiction might have
been if Hugo Gernsback had not misled the genre. A work of staggering
daring, utterly lacking in comfortable bullshit.
DISTURBING THE UNIVERSE by Freeman Dyson. The great physicist-visionary of
the Orion Project explores the implications of man's role in the cosmos and
the simple warmth of human life. A sad, wise, hopeful book.
THE THIRD WAVE by Alvin Toffler. Former Marxist Toffler had his paradigms
set early; he aims to be the Marx of the twenty-first century, only this time
it'll be done right. A brilliant conceptual framework for seeing emergent
order in the confusion of our times, deliberately pop-oriented and slanted as
a polemic for action. Echoes of his rhetoric are already apparent in many
politicians' sudden romance with high-tech industry. Must-reading for anyone
whose head is not in a bucket.
THE NINE NATIONS OF NORTH AMERICA by Joel Garreau. Fascinating social
analysis of the geographical subcultures of the continent. Floods the mind
with insight. If you ever wondered why Californians are crazy, this is the
book for you.
THE NEW SOLAR SYSTEM, Beatty, O'Leary, and Chaikin, eds. Mind-expanding
compendium of the discoveries garnered from unmanned planetary exploration.
Consigns whole reams of musty space opera to the ash-heap.
INFINITY AND THE MIND by Rudy Rucker. Mathematically rigorous treatment of
the ultimate in mind-stretching concepts, drawn from the warped pen of the
transrealist Seer of Lynchburg. Like being hit in the head by a bowling
NEW EARTHS by James Oberg. NASA technician Oberg tackles terraforming in
this series of technical studies prefaced by SF vignettes. With his two
other books, RED STAR IN ORBIT and MISSION TO MARS, Oberg has established
himself as a cornucopia of cribbable data for SF writers. Worth its weight
in reaction mass.
A HOUSE IN SPACE by Henry S.F. Cooper, Jr. The definitive book on Skylab,
the real lowdown on what it's like to live in freefall. A treasure-house of
weird sidelights and bizarre detail. Refreshingly free of paramilitary NASA
THE PSYCHOTRONIC ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FILM by Michael Weldon. A monument of
bizarrist cinematic trash. The reader's preconceptions crumble under a
blizzard of the worthless and deranged. Seems to include every sleazoid SF
flick ever inflicted on the world, along with countless teens-on-drugs
flicks, beach movies, and ax-butcher epics. Unbelievably thorough and
convulsively hilarious. Deserves a place of honor on the reference shelf of
every cultural mutant.
DREAM MAKERS VOLUME II by Charles Platt. More painful frankness from Platt,
who has a genius for showing up others' eccentricities as if he himself were
sane. Low-key, utterly convincing demonstrations of the manifold nature of
psychic damage. In its portraits of the competition, this is perhaps one of
the most cheering books that a would-be science fiction writer could possibly
possess. For those already damaged beyond all hope, it provides irresistible
frissons of warm camaraderie. Meticulous journalism with an eye for the
Man-about-graphics Bolt Upright lends us the benefit of his expertise:
My father used to buy me comic books. The reward for enduring a
monthly scalping at the hands of the ex-Nazis who ran the local barbershop --
Heinz and Willy, the barbers of Belsen. It wasn't a fair trade. Dad got a
son with a burr, and I got the world's greatest comic magazine; and more. I
mean, yeah, OK, astronauts are astronauts if you're a kid and have a hero
jones, but here's what I really needed: this guy Reed Richards, a mad
scientist in the worst way, takes his girlfriend (Tuesday Weld in MY movie
version), her kid brother, and a possibly deranged test pilot for a joyride
in an experimental rocket. Not only do they get away with it, they end up
with these incredible super powers.
Ben Grimm's incessant whining used to really chap my ass. Who was he
kidding? I would have gladly taken lumpy orange skin, cartoon mouse hand and
foot digit allotment, and who-knows-what-kind of genitalia for the ability to
crush cheap essential scenery like papier-mache.
And, not to neglect the world's second greatest comic magazine, I
watched spiders constantly for that tell-tale glow of radioactivity.
When I was a child, I read comic books as a child; but when I became
a man, I put away childish things, and bought the first six issues of
AMERICAN FLAGG!, the world's greatest comic magazine.
Steranko's NICK FURY, AGENT OF SHIELD was the first comic that made
me see the form as form, and the artist as auteur; MR. A, written and drawn
by Steve Ditko, as bizarre and didactic as anything could possibly be,
suggested nonetheless that fairly sophisticated ideological material might
work in the comic book format; and more recently, the Frank Miller DAREDEVIL
series with its fine balance of strong scripting, excellent art,
well-developed characters, and the staples of entertainment, sex and
violence, set a new high standard in the field.
The field, represetned by Howard Chaykin and First Comics, responded
immediately, and with such an amazing product that, after having read and
re-read -- (when was the last time you wanted to re-read a comic book?) --
the first three issues of AMERICAN FLAGG!, I had the peculiar feeling that
this was the first real comic book I had ever owned. There are terrific
characters (the protagonist is an ex-vidporn star), impeccable art (every
issue has a suitable for framing, right-in-your-goddamn-face cover), a
multi-layered, conspiracy-ridden, paranoid, balls-out story line, got
politics if you want it, lettering you won't believe (by Ken Bruzenak), and
whatever sex and violence you require, but never tawdry or gratuitous.
In addition to all that stuff, AMERICAN FLAGG! is science fiction of
a caliber that is almost impossible to find in comics and pretty scarce
anywhere else. Yeah, there's hardware. Plenty of hardware. There's an
adventure guy and his adventure girls, even talking animals with mechanical
hands, but here's my point: good SF is a literature of ideas. The best
science fiction builds a place for them to live. It's hard to imagine a
denser, more intricate, cohesive creation that the world Chaykin constructs
and populates in AMERICAN FLAGG. I used to ask myself, as the simplest way
of judging a fictional creation, a future-world particularly, "Could it
happen? Is this projected future reasonable?" I was on the wrong track.
The question is, "DOES it happen?" In AMERICAN FLAGG, it happens.
CHEAP TRUTH On-Line, 809-C West 12th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. Vincent
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E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank