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EDITORIAL. Read more fanzines. "Get Into Print"
CHEAP TRUTH stalwart Sue Denim sharpens her lance and charges the windmill:
** REAL SF FANS DON'T READ PRIEST **
There's a saying: "REAL programmers don't eat quiche... they eat
Twinkies and Szechuan food." This kind of junk-food mentality is true of
your typical SF fan, too. Your REAL SF fan doesn't read Priest. He doesn't
read Dick or Ballard, either. He reads David Brin and Larry Niven and Anne
McCaffrey. Junk food for the brain.
And what's more, he's proud of it. He holds his head high so the
light will catch his coke-bottle glasses, hoists his basketball gut, and,
with the odor of Twinkies on his breath, tells you, "I'm SPECIAL. It takes a
special kind of person to appreciate this stuff."
And the hell of it is, every so often something that really IS
special comes along in a junk-food wrapper. Like a granola bar, or maybe
chicken cordon bleu on a bun -- it looks like junk food, tastes like junk
food, but it's actually got real nutrition in it. This year we're lucky --
we've had a couple of rich, vitamin-packed granola bars already, and at least
one of them is being scarfed down by junk-food addicts everywhere.
Certainly they like the taste of NEUROMANCER (by William Gibson, an
Ace Special, $2.95 (Gollancz L 8.95)). I mean, this is high-tech enough to
satisfy the most acned sixteen-year-old hacker whose only sex life is getting
his modem on-line with an X-rated bulletin board. Never mind that it shows
you how the future may very well BE, never mind the political issues, this
guy knows what it's like the be plugged IN, man.
But that's okay. Literature, the really good stuff, has a way of
changing your thinking whether you want it to or not.
But let's talk about our other granola bar for a minute. You see,
the problem with this kind of literature is it's got a short shelf life. A
book that comes out in September might as well have a little printed squib on
the back that says "Best if enjoyed before November 1," like you see on bags
of Twinkies, because in no time at all it's going to be gone.
You may already have trouble finding THE DIGGING LEVIATHAN (by James
P. Blaylock, Ace, $2.95). You probably passed it by the first time because
you weren't interested in some Edgar Rice Burroughs pastiche, or because it
looked like a kid's book. I suppose it IS a kid's book, at least in the
sense that Jim, the main protag, is only 15 -- but then Daniel Pinkwater's
LIZARD MUSIC is a kid's book, and you shouldn't miss that one either.
What makes this book special is its integrity. Blaylock refused to
humiliate his characters for the sake of a cheap laugh, quite an achievement
when those characters are a bunch of lunatic pseudo-scientists trying to get
to Pellucidar. This isn't Burroughs' junk-food Pellucidar with the dinosaurs
and all, though -- this is the 'real thing,' the hollow earth written about
by countless other nutcases over the years.
These people get so real that it's scary. We see them at their
Newtonian Society meetings and in the backyard workshop where they are
training mice to be amphibians. But we also see Jim's father William raging
in paranoia at a neighbor's dog, even, in one of the book's most brilliant
scenes, at a tube of toothpaste.
Blaylock's best trick, though, is the way he draws you in so deeply.
When William looks in the mirror, the readers see their own faces.
When you finish this book, give it to somebody who likes Twinkies --
but don't tell them it's good for them. You don't want to scare them
** CLARKE: A SOCIAL STUDY **
Arthur C. Clarke's latest book is 1984: SPRING, a nonfiction
collection of essays, articles and speeches of varying consequentiality.
Many are simply filler, the genial time-marking of a dean of letters. The
flyleaf lists fifty-four Clarke books, and anyone familiar with them will
find that little has changed. Clarke's personal credo was set many decades
Some critics have been less than kind to Clarke and his thinking. "A
two-dementional space-jockey rationalist, a libration away from mysticism"
was Bob Black's memorable phrase. But Clarke's millenial scientism
peculiarly fits the spirit of the age. And if the dizzy 1980's fit Clarke as
well, then it is partly his own doing. To a great extent he has CREATED the
brand of visionary technolatry that is our era's broadest streak of optimism.
His visions -- 'prophecies' is not too strong a word -- have been
spread across the planet in twenty million books in thirty languages. The
movie 2001, alone, set Clarchetypes into the backbrains of millions.
Astronauts joined NASA because of Clarke's books. COSMONAUTS read him. His
influence on mass culture ranks with that of H. G. Wells, and has possibly
Clarke is a political and social activist. The originator of the
communications satellite. The winner of the UNESCO Kalinga Prize. The
Chancellor of Moratuwa University in his adopted home, Sri Lanka. The man
behind the revolutionary suggestion that the United Nations create its own
spy satellite system. (The instant rejection of this notion by both
superpowers strikingly confirms its essential soundness.)
And then there is Clarke the media celebrity. Host of a television
series. Consider the recent OMNI commercial, in which Clarke, on a deserted
beach, presides over mystic door-frames opening onto star-speckled cosmic
vistas. This is his folk-mystique in its purest form: Clarke as pop icon,
the horn-rimmed Gandalf of the spaceways.
Clarke might seem to be a multifaceted, divided man, but this is
illusion. Clarke is whole; it is our culture that is divided.
More than any other SF writer, Clarke truly lives in the interzone
between science and literature. His career has been a deliberate struggle to
make this no-man's-land a place worth living and working in. And he has made
both sides respect him on his own terms.
When all is said and done, the social role he has created may be his
most important legacy. Few will ever fill it, for few have his gifts or
intellectual stature. But those who do will find their way smoothed by the
precedent he has set.
Clarke's success was no accident. He pursued fame quite
deliberately, with a set ambition he has followed for years.
Clarke has always portrayed his decision to live in Sri Lanka as a
dreamer's romantic gesture. But one wonders. It made him a large frog in a
small pond, giving him a scope and influence he could never have had in a
larger, industrial nation. It removed him from the centers of publishing,
with their subtly destructive practicalities. It allowed him to pursue both
his hobbies, and his muse, without distractions. And it erased his
parochiality, giving him the global view that is one of his most attractive
Such hardheaded ambition may seem out of character for this gentle
and donnish man. But the evidence is there. Consider THE SANDS OF MARS,
written in 1957. It is utterly dated now -- all except for the role of its
protagonist, Martin Gibson.
Gibson is an internationally famous British SF writer of an
extrapolated 1990's. He has the sort of bestseller status and critical
attention that must have seemed pure fantasy to Clarke's fellow SF scribes of
the '50's. Gibson writes "novels of space travel" and popular science
journalism. He begins as almost a figure of fun: fussy, overimaginative,
constantly teased by arrogant know-it-all technicians. But as the book
develops, Gibson's role becomes crucial: the role of the man in the middle,
the irreplaceable interpreter, between powerful but mute scientists and an
equally powerful but ignorant lay public.
The book ends with Gibson's mystic vision of his own future:
political power, a role of leadership in a new world. "For the first time,
Gibson knew what lay at the end of the road on which he had now set his feet.
One day, perhaps, it would be his duty, and his privilege, to take over....
It might have been sheer self-deception, or it might have been the first
consciousness of his own still hidden powers -- but whichever it was, he
meant to know."
It was Clarke's autobiography -- in the extrapolative mode.
As an artist, Clarke may have little to teach the gifted hot-shots
who are his successors. But those who chafe at the confines of our ghetto --
those who know that SF is more important to our world than it has ever been
allowed to be -- have a lot to learn from the canny old Sage of Ceylon.
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