CHEAP TRUTH #13
EDITORIAL: SF notions dominate the current Geneva arms talks. In this issue,
CHEAP TRUTH responds to the zeitgeist.
Since its unlikely birth, SF has been a trash medium, its appeal
restricted to a subcultural faithful. But that appeal is widening and is being
culturally legitimized. With the advent of the Strategic Defense Initiative,
the elements, themes, and modes of thought native to science fiction have
become central to worldwide political debate.
One SF splinter group has shown a laudable quickness in grasping SF's new
political potential. Unlike traditional SF "movements" this group of writers
is not marked by literary innovation but by its radical ideology. For purposes
of discussion we will refer to them as the "Pournelle Disciples."
This group has a number of strengths. The first is their solid publishing
base in Tor and Baen Books. A second is their claim to tradition, especially
the gung-ho technolatry that has marked genre SF since the days of Gernsback.
Another crucial advantage is their ideological solidarity, which gives them
the sort of shock-troop discipline that Lenin installed in the Bolsheviks. In
this case, their Lenin is the redoubtable ex-Marxist Jerry Pournelle, who
wears multiple hats as writer, editor, theorist, and political organizer.
Pournelle's importance to this movement is demonstrated by a reading of
his recent editorial effort, FAR FRONTIER Volume III, (Fall 1985), published
by Baen Books. The surprizingly dull stories in this book pale miserably in
comparison to Pournelle's numerous bursts of naked political agitprop. These
are in every way more intellectually challenging and emotionally disturbing
than the fiction.
The gem of this collection is Vernor Vinge's "The Ungoverned," a sequal
to his commercially successful novel THE PEACE WAR. In this ideologically
correct effort, radical Libertarians defend their realm from an authoritarian
army. Thanks to their innate cultural superiority and a series of fraudulent
plot Maguffins, they send the baddies packing with a minimum of personal
suffering and a maximum of enemy dead.
This piece is worth closer study for its standard Disciple elements.
First, and very characteristically, it is post-apocalyptic, conveniently
destroying modern society so that a lunatic-fringe ideology can be installed
as if by magic. Convenient bits and pieces of high-tech are paraded in a
flurry of buzzwords. Vinge avoids extrapolating their effects on society,
because society is in shambles.
Pournelle's promotion of the moral obligation to keep and bear arms is
well known. Vinge carries this libertarian love of armament to amazing
lengths. In his scenario, private citizens own, not merely automatic rifles,
but chemical weapons and neutron warheads, thus carrying the libertarian
argument to a kind of logical "reductio ad nauseum".
The other stories are much worse. David Drake, a Disciple stalwart who
specializes in military tales of a purported "gut-wrenching hyperrealism,"
contributes a silly and utterly negligible short-short about dimensional gates
opening in a suburban kitchen. Despite its merciful brevity, it is still
unable to make any coherent point. Rivka Jacobs' interminable "Morning on
Venus" spoils a vaguely interesting opening with pompous meandering. By making
the hero an historian, Jacobs avoids the painful necessity of extrapolating a
coherent future, indulging instead in a confusing mishmash of historical
sermonizing. Alexander Jablokov contributes a flabby fantasy pastiche, which
imitates Niven as slavishly as one can without understanding him. All three of
these stories feature much gratuitous offscreen sex, assuring the readership
of the authors' with-it frankness without the stick necessity of actually
talking about fucking.
John Dalmas contributes a decent male-adventure Western. Unfortunately
this story pretends to be SF. It is set on yet another colonial planet lapsed
into barbarism, a fictional convention that allows SF writers to espouse
reactionary social values without a blush of shame.
Dean Ing's recent novel for Tor, WILD COUNTRY, takes a similar tack. This
book, the last in a post-apocalypse trilogy, is a meandering series of
shoot-'em-ups. Its hero is an assassin. The villain is a gay heroin-smuggler,
as if an America devestated by nukes did not have enough problems. Ing's
hasty depiction of future society is grossly inconsistent; ravaged and
desperate when the plot requires desperadoes, yet rigidly organized when Ing
suddenly remembers the existence of computers.
The book is a Western, set in a West Texas conveniently returned to the
robust frontier values of Judge Roy Bean. Men hold their land, with lasers if
possible, while women raise corn and keep the home fires burning. Ing
struggles valiantly with Texas dialect: "'Late, schmate,' growled the aging
veterinarian, whose rough cattleman's lingo masked an excellent education."
The book is speckled with maps, diagrams, and lectures on the Second
Ammendment, which, one learns, "absolutely and positively, guarantees citizens
their right to keep and bear arms."
Like his fellows, Ing treasures this amendment, the last remnant of the
American policy that he is willing to respect. There isn't much mention of,
say, voting, or separation of powers. Power resides in the barrel of a gun,
preferably the largest and shiniest possible.
Janet and Chris Morris, who wrote THE 40-MINUTE WAR for Baen, are down on
terrorists. The politics of this book are dominated by adulation of the state
of Israel, where every sabra carries a righteous submachinegun. The heroes are
counterterrorist CIA assassins, whose purported fluent grasp of Arabic only
fuels a xenophobic hatred of Moslem culture. They tactfully refer to their
murderous work as "greasing rag-heads."
The female protag is a hard-as-nails liberated journalist: "Shit, the
world is ending, and you're Ms.-ing me? I'm a Miss, not a Ms., whatever that
The prose is often clumsy, dominated by run-on sentences and misplaced
clauses: "To most Foreign Service officers, even in the Mediterranean, word
came earlier than it did to Marc Beck, who was babysitting a convention of
genetic engineers with astronomical security clearances being held at a
private estate on the Red Sea when an aide slipped him a note." This was not
an oversight: it's the book's third sentence.
Janet Morris is not a gifted prose stylist, but she means business. The
most potent political treatise of the Disciples is a work of nonfiction by
Morris, David Drake, and Congressman Newt Gringrich, the ultrarightist Golden
Boy of the born-again contingent. This book, WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY, presents
the straight gospel of Pournelle's private pressure group, the Citizen's
Advisory Council on National Space Policy. It advocates "an effective American
monopoly of space," in which laissez-faire capitalists fill orbits with "the
Hiltons and Marriotts of the solar system." These space cities will be
manned by Christian space-settlers, whose stern faith gives them the backbone
for the frontier life. "The rise of high-tech preachers on cable television is
accelerating the re-emergence of religion as a legitimate vehicle for
explaining the world. Presently there will be religious software for home
computers and a host of modern high-tech efforts to spread a new, electronic
With this treatise the gloves are off, and the Disciples come
full-circle. This combination of 19th-century values and visionary technolatry
is a potent one which, though easy to mock, is easier to underestimate.
SF has power now, and it is our responsibility to see to what uses that
power is put. Pournelle, as usual, has put it best, in his argument for the
Strategic Defense Initiative. Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom are his
watchwords. Peace: as an orbiting Pax Americana over a world requiring
American tutelage. Prosperity: for high-tech asteroid-barons, who will watch
the disastrous crumbling of communist society from the safety of orbit.
Freedom -- from any necessity of change or accommodation to other cultures.
Naive space enthusiasts believe that humanity will climb into the cosmos
on a Pentagon payroll. Many dislike the idea, but feel that an allegiance with
the military is a small price to pay for a life of bliss in an orbiting
O'Neill colony. The psychological appeal these colonies hold for us in SF is
not hard to grasp. An O'Neill colony will be an airtight little world, of
technically educated white Americans gazing raptly at the stars. A world
soaring far above the heads of threatening mundanes. A world that is fandom's
SF has always been publicly identified with space flight. There is no
shame in that, but if SDI's backers become the predominant political spokesmen
for SF, we will be associated from now on with X-ray lasers. Whether we like
it or not.
In the final analysis, it does not matter that they write badly or that
their ideas are lunatic. That has never stopped any of us.
CHEAP TRUTH On-Line (512-UFO-SMOF) 809-C West 12th Street, Austin TX, USA 78701
Vincent Omniaveritas, editing. Shiva the Destroyer, Systems Operations.
"Think globally, act locally"