CHEAP TRUTH 15
EDITORIAL. Science fiction today is in a rare state of ferment. This happy
situation has been created only with great effort and must now be prolonged
In this issue, guest agitatrix Hunilla de Cholo addresses her fellow Eighties
writers, with a moving lecture on pluralistic Postmodern solidarity. We at
CHEAP TRUTH echo her sentiments. We also regard much of her literary
analysis as rank deviationist heresy. All the better -- honest controversy
sheds light on truth. And in the meantime, we can use the heat to bring SF
to a boil. We are pleased to offer her this podium.
REPORT ON THE SOPHOMORE CLASS DRESS CODE by Hunilla de Cholo
One of the regrettable legacies of the modernist movement has been the idea
that perpetual revolution is necessary to "progress" in the arts and in the
school dress code. Progress in the arts? In the dress code? Who, as we
say, is kidding whom? A little reading and a little thought will make clear
to even the slowest of the kids in class that the concept of natural and
inevitable progress, mutated offspring of the Industrial Revolution, Marxist
economic theory and muscular Christian ideas of "self-improvement," is a
chimera. As some froggy wit once said, the more things change, the more crap
you get on television.
Until recently Science Fiction High School, being the sandbox for SLOW
LEARNERS that it has been for most of its history in America, has been
relatively immune to such high-born notions. Sure, we had successive
"revolutions" as Gernsback, Campbell, Gold and Boucher, Moorcock/
Ellison/Knight, brought on his own version of the One True SF. But what did
these vast and earthshaking changes bring forth: the SAME OLD STUFF, redux.
"Bullshit!" I hear from the noisy contingent in the middle rows of the
classroom, the kids who wear leather and those funny sunglasses because they
would like to think it makes them look tough like real punks. The real punks
are guys who fall asleep in the back of the classroom; they can hardly read,
let alone write. They're the ones who get "D's" in shop class. In gym they
punch out these kids with the glasses for being wimps.
"Bullshit!" scream these honor students who run off their little fanzines and
invent clever names for themselves like "Cyberpunks" or "Neuromantics" or,
you should try not to laugh too hard, "the Movement." "Science fiction is
about IDEAS. NEW IDEAS." "Say goodbye to your old stale futures!" "Take
the ideas out of SF and it's not SF." "We are the pure quill, the daring,
clear-sighted cutting edge that's writing about the FUTURE, NOT THE PAST."
Sure, kids. We all want to think we're the first to discover sex and
dissolution and good writing. The truth is that the wonderful new IDEAS that
we're always trumpeting as the justification for SF High School's
revolutionary edge over boring Mainstream Central High are available three
for a quarter in your local pop science magazine; even better, try PARADE,
right after the "Personality Profiles" and before the cartoon about the dog.
What we call a revolutionary idea in SF is usually something like Del Rey's
"Helen O'Loy" or Godwin's "The Cold Equations" or Gibson's "Burning Chrome."
"What a novel idea -- instead of having the robot be an emotionless machine,
make it neurotically emotional, like a real woman, only better! Have it be
THE PERFECT WOMAN!!" "What a neat idea -- instead of having the stowaway be a
criminal, make it a young girl! And have the spaceship pilot throw her out
the airlock instead of saving her, to prove that THE UNIVERSE IS INDIFFERENT
TO PEOPLE!!!" "Wow! -- instead of having the computer expert be a nerd,
make him a glamorous, existential criminal! He acts like Humphrey Bogart and
loses the girl in the end! Not only that, he PLUGS IN INSTEAD OF USING A
Old Mainstream High has nothing to compare with it, right? When in fact the
only innovation these SF stories provide consists precisely in their
adaptation of STYLE and TONE from outside the genre. Del Rey grafts the
bathetic style of women's magazine fiction onto an SF plot and the fans eat
it up because they're used to a diet of E. E. Smith and Harry Bates. They've
never seen it before, it's a STUNNING NEW IDEA. Godwin borrows some
third-rate existentialism (maybe, totally unaware of his derivativeness, he
invents it himself!), spices it with a little "Invictus," writes in the same
bathetic style Del Rey used twenty years earlier, and VOILA, another entry in
the SF HALL OF FAME. Too bad Steven Crane did it better, did it RIGHT, in
"The Open Boat." We haven't read that, and besides, the SF version has a
STUNNING NEW IDEA -- it happens in a spaceship!
Gibson borrows a style and milieu from Raymond Chandler or James M. Cain (and
a pretty good style it is, too -- at least Gibson has some taste), pushes up
the volume about fifty percent, has the caper involve computer information
instead of cash, makes the break-in occur in "cyberspace" instead of a bank
vault, and generates an entire new movement in science fiction. STUNNING NEW
IDEAS you're going to be reading from the camp followers for the next three
The only thing we have to offer new, kids, is our individual selves. The
most revolutionary act we can perform, as writers, is to cross genres, graft
idioms from other kinds of work onto the SF subject matter. Style IS
content. Gibson gives us something new -- a new style. Not because he
invented it, but because he had the wit to see that an old style could be
adapted to our traditional material. More power to him.
Yeah, we can talk about the future. But what we say about the future always,
ALWAYS, says more about the present in which we are writing, about our own
psyches. Ask Mr. Rucker about it in his Transrealism class and he'll explain
it to you. Del Rey, all unconscious, tells us everything we need to know
about male attitudes toward women in the 1930s. Godwin thinks he's talking
about the nature of the universe and gives us instead sentimentalized
right-wing political philosophy. Gibson tells us something about being
deracinated in the Reaganite 80's, an era of dominance by corporate values
and bland political conservatism. And we all have Sony compact-disk players
and Braun coffee makers.
Yes, Michael Swanwick? The "Humanist" writers? No, the so-called "Humanist"
writers are no different, only a little more obvious. They sit in the front
of the class and wear nice clothes and are worried about their grades. They
want to please teacher, so some of them have gone through a regrettable phase
of imitation. "Yes, teacher," says earnest Johnny Kessel, "I read the
assignment -- MOBY DICK, by Herman Melville. I can write like him -- see,
here's a story about a whale." Please, boy, don't be so obvious! Go sit
with Billy Gibson for a while. That's right. Jimmy Kelly is already over
there making friends.
That's enough for today. Thank God school vacation is almost here. Let's
spend a little less time at the library this summer, kids, and a little more
time playing baseball. By all means, start a club. But let's not have a
repeat of last summer's nastiness. There's room for everybody on the team.
Dress whatever way you like.
CHEAP TRUTH TOP TEN
This latest edition of the CHEAP TRUTH recommended list concentrates on the
fractious antics of the sophomore class -- expecially the noisy contingent.
The "Funny Title Trilogy:"
FRONTERA by Lewis Shiner (Baen $2.95; Sphere L2.25) Gives the surface of
Mars the unpleasant realism of the area downwind of Kiev.
SCHISMATRIX by Bruce Sterling (Ace $2.95; Penguin L2.50) Boils down the
three-percent beer of space opera into a jolting postmodern whiskey.
NEUROMANCER by William Gibson (Ace $2.95; Gollancz L8.95) Fusion-powered
icebreaker. Attacked for "flaws" its attackers wish they had.
ECLIPSE by John Shirley. (Bluejay $8.95) Demented 21st century epic of
gutter-level weirdness and paranoid radical politics. In eighteen months the
stands will be full of stuff along these lines.
HOMUNCULUS by James Blaylock (Ace $2.95) Latest effort in the
Blaylock/Powers subgenre of West Coast Victoriana. Has the glitter of ANUBIS
GATES with funnier characters and a better plot.
THE SECRET OF LIFE by Rudy Rucker (Bluejay $14.95) The doyen of Transrealism
carries his doctrine to the ultimate in this crypto-autobiography. Features
bizarre alternating spasms of existential gloom and manic farce.
FREEDOM BEACH by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel (Bluejay $8.95) Lively
and inventive fix-up by the Glimmer Twins of Humanism. Annoying
metafictional noodling does not exceed the limits of tolerance.
BLOOD MUSIC by Greg Bear (Ace $2.95; Gollancz L9.95) Now in U.S. paperback.
The ne plus ultra of modern radical hard SF.
ISAAC ASIMOV'S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE, Gardner Dozois, ed. ($19.50/yr.)
This periodical has made such a quantum leap in quality that it is now
impossible to understand American SF in the Eighties without a subscription.
The current hotbed of Postmodern innovation, since Jan 86 it has serialized
Gibson's COUNT ZERO and published the best stories to date by Cadigan, Kelly,
Shiner, and Shepard. Currently featuring odd rumbles of militant pacifism --
an unexpected and interestingly ominous development.
CHEAP TRUTH 809-C West 12th Street Austin, Texas 78701. (512) UFO-SMOF,
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COPYRIGHTED. "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro"