CHEAP TRUTH 16 EDITORIAL. How stands the Empire? In this special issue, we publish the fir
CHEAP TRUTH 16
EDITORIAL. How stands the Empire? In this special issue, we publish the first
results of our mystic quest for truth and Vimto. First, a guest writer
presents a very typically British threnody on the state of culture here on
FAULT-LINE SKIRMISHING by Phaedrus
We're too damn polite we British. Culturally, we are a mixed bag --
everything from the most rabid Scots and Welsh Nationalists to the Little
Englanders. And yet the country is not shuddering with murmurs of revolt or
even reverberating to the roars of mass demonstrations outside 10 Downing
Street. And this despite 4 million unemployed. Why? Politeness has a lot to
do with it, but fear and insecurity have played their dramaturgical parts --
helped along by Our Leaderene and her corhorts -- to the extent that the
populace is being cut apart by cultural fragmentation.
And so it is with British science fiction. British SF writers find a certain
bleak joy in their isolation, in writing in a vacuum, and we display little
sense of direct involvement in the exploration of ideas. We are certainly
less gregarious and confident than our American counterparts, whose works
consistently occupy prime places in, for example, INTERZONE.
British writers are not lacking in talent or perception; but unfortunately
they are too well endowed with apathy, and let things bumble along pretty
much as they have done. They perceive politics and commercialism as fearful
and distasteful. These perceptions are perhaps laudable, coming from the
older, liberal, literary traditions in British SF that retain critical
perceptions that might otherwise vanish. But the times they are a-changing,
and not for the better, and apathy and complacency are hampering those who
would combat depredations from the politicians and the market vampires.
There is a lack of vital organisation, so serious that the British
culture-at-large experiences British SF as some hideous TV porridge of Dr.
Who, Blake's Seven, Space 1999 and Gerry Anderson, baked up with a whole load
of cardboard sets and topped with a squirting of Essence of Clarke.
Because the printed word is being supplanted by TV, we are slliding into some
seriously deep shit. Serious? Why yes. As a medium, TV is utterly different
from print: there it sits, in the corner:
Discontinuity is the norm in TV viewing; the acceptance of contradictory
thinking, the unified advertising, the debasement of everything -- especially
political discourse - to the level of quiz-panel games. This IS television.
By its very nature it trivialises the information it disseminates. In
presenting a polished version of the 'facts,' it conceals the grounds for
criticism. This superficiality is filtering out into the British macroculture
of which SF is a part.
Our more immediate problem is to prevent British SF from degenerating into a
marketeer's playpen. What I offer up for argument is this:
An organisation called 'Science Fiction Writers of Great Britain.'
Yes! -- you heard me: SFWGB, dammit! We need an organisation to cater
specifically to the needs of science fiction and fantasy writers, run by
writers for writers in the speculative field. The needs of these writers
cannot be met by the BSFA, the Cassandra Workshop, the Writers Guild of Great
Britain, or the Society of Authors. Only through a gathering of skills, such
as SFWGB, can we properly identify our problems through criticism, create
workable solutions, and even (who knows) effectively take an initiative.
Uncompromising criticism with integrity. It is not a safe stance to adopt,
for it is the fault-line that cuts right across our society. The problems of
the genre are not unique to SF. Modern Britain appears to be breeding a youth
that is unemployed, unimaginative, and hopeless, with minds contaminated by
stereotypes and wish-fulfillment slammed in by unchallenged television
The big answers lie in the politcal arena. No amount of ducking and evading
will make this reality vanish, because experience has shown us that we can't
write our fictional way out of a cultural crisis.
So do something! We'd better start cultivating a sense of urgency, because
the Great British Culture Death is approaching critical mass. If we don't
organise NOW we'll be cut to pieces by the shrapnel.
PILGRIMAGE TO NODE ZERO by Seth L. Lapcart
The Old Polemicist paused for a moment in the scant shade of a utility pole
and wiped sweat from the plastic headband of his gimmie cap as he watched an
emaciated grackle wandering around, pecking listlessly at the baked brown
earth of a nearby backyard. For some reason, he felt a poignant affinity with
the pathetic bird.
"Your problem," said the Younger Polemicist, unaware of his companion's glum
preoccupation, "is that you are not Culturally Online."
"Jargon," complained the Old Polemicist, roused briefly from his torpor. "I
have come two thousand miles in search of enlightenment, and all I get is
"It only sounds empty to you because you are so totally 'out of touch'. Or,
to rephrase it in a dated idiom that you might be better aable to relate to,
They climbed quaint wooden stairs to the Younger Polemicist's aerie, from
whence, it was rumoured, all postmodern radical science-fiction ideology
emanated. "I detested jargon just as much in the 1960's as I do now," the Old
Polemicist complained, threading his way between tottering book cases into
the shadowy recesses of Node Zero (as the simple wooden cabin was known in
the cybernetic argot that the Younger Polemicist and his fellow-travelers
found so apt). Brushing aside back issues of SCIENCE 86 and SOVIET LIFE, the
Old Polemicist slumped onto the couch.
The Younger Polemicist put on a tape of Handel played by a Japanese 'koto'
orchestra, knowing that his visitor would be unable to cope with anything
more modern. "Let's face it, you don't even read ASIMOV's magazine. You
hadn't heard of the Humanist Faction, till I told you about it. You probably
even LIKE some of their stuff." He sneered contemptuously. "Deeply meaningful
mood pieces evoking insight into the human condition -- that's what your 'new
wave' was all about back in '68, wasn't it?"
"Well, to some extent. But --"
"Read this." The Younger Polemicist handed his a copy of the April 1986
ASIMOV's, open at "Down and Out in the Year 2000" by Kim Stanley Robinson.
The Old Polemicist struggled to focus his bleary eyes in the shuttered
dimness. Already, in the same issue, he had attempted "R&R" by Lucius Shepard
only to disgrace himself by dozing off during the early pages, baffled and
bored by the implausible mix of mysticism, drugs, and futuristic warfare.
"Actually I rather like this one," he said a while later, upon finishing
Robinson's grim depiction of street Blacks hustling spare change from
high-tech yuppies of tomorrow. "It has verisimilitude."
"That's not the point." The Younger Polemicist seized the magazine and
flipped back to page 73. "Look at this description of the holo-TV program
that the panhandlers are watching."
The Old Polemicist re-read the relevant paragraphs:
"Who the fuck is this?" Said Ramon. Johnnie said, "That be Sam
Spade, the greatest computer spy in the world. ... Watch out now, Sam about
to go plug his brain in to try and find out who he is." "And then he
gonna be told of some stolen WETWARE he got to find." "I got some
wetwear myself, only I call it a shirt."
There was more, and it was suddenly obvious: the show which the characters
were mocking was a direct parody of William Gibson's NEUROMANCER. Robinson's
story was not a story at all. It was a REBUTTAL, debunking the glitz of
techno-fetishistic escapist fiction. No wonder the Younger Polemicist saw
things in terms of factions. There WERE two factions now -- a whole literary
context that the Old Polemicist hadn't even known about. "I'm not just
offline," he admitted sadly, "I'm unplugged."
"Your shame is admirable, and too seldom seen." The Younger Polemicist dumped
more ASIMOV's issues on his disciple's arthritic knees. "Better get busy." He
turned back to his computer and logged onto some distant samizdatabase.
Flickering green symbols danced across the CRT in response to stacatto bursts
from his fingers at the keyboard.
The Old Polemicist paged through the magazines in the manner of one doing
dutiful penance. Norman Spinrad's "The Neuromantics" seemed to offer help, as
an overview; yet it was an overview through binoculars, surveying the subject
in a wistful attempt to get closer to it. Despite ugly modern idiom
("informed his intellectuality" and so on) it had a dated air, and Spinrad
underlined his own lack of authority by inadvertantly using the word
"perhaps" three separate times in two short concluding paragraphs.
"A User's Guide to the Postmoderns" by Michael Swanwick seemed more
comprehensive. Swanwick's gross ignorance of history was disconcerting (he
credited Delany, Disch, Lafferty, Spinrad, and Zelazny with "ushering in" the
1960s "new wave," while omitting Moorcock, who invented it, and Ellison, who
imported it); but might ignorance of the past imply a viewpoint aligned with
the present? Alas, no: the article divided writers into arbitrary, incestuous
cliques invested with bogus drama via silly phrases such as "they engaged in
a frenzy of inference swapping" or "Sides had been chosen, names dropped, and
the battle could commence." Swanwick, who had once cowritten a hard-core
cyberpunk story with William Gibson, sounded like a housewife narrating
gossip about new neighbors who'd moved in next door. The characatures were
less than enlightening.
Where, then, could the Old Polemicist find truth?
ASIMOV's was the new marketplace for postmoderns, and Dozois, its editor, had
invented the term "cyberpunk"; so the magazine's editorials should offer
guidance, much like Moorcock's or Campbell's in bygone eras. But Dozois
wasn't allowed to write the editorials. Asimov did that; and it looked as if
he hadn't read the stories in his own magazine. He seemed more in his element
answering the laughably lamebrained letters from readers whose middlebrow
complacency implied that they didn't read the stories either. An odd (and
precarious) situation indeed.
These idle musings were interrupted by a sudden call to action. "Hey, we have
to make it down to the copy center before 5:30 to Xerox the agitprop." The
Younger Polemicist logged off, grabbed a battered file folder stuffed with
anonymous diatribes against the status-quo, and slipped into his plastic
The Old Polemicist dutifully accompanied his guru back out into the hear. "I
gather David Brin doesn't actually believe there is any such thing as a new
movement," he remarked hesitantly as the Younger Polemicist nursed his
rust-riddled Volkswagen along Main Street, frugally seeking a parking meter
with free time left on it.
"There's a trenchant quote from Comrade Shirley about that." The Younger
Polemicist parked his car and plucked from his folder a transcript of the
Science Fiction Research Association's 1986 conference panel on cyberpunk
literature. "Listen: 'You don't want to believe there is a movement, because
it frightens you -- because you think you're not compentent to handle the new
idiom of it.'" He gave the Old Polemicist a meaning look, then entered the
copy center and commenced operating a self-service Xerox machine with
"It seems to me," the Old Polemicist suggested, "that Shirley's quote implies
HE'S not frightened by cyberpunk, so he IS compentent to handle the idiom of
"Well, forgive my hubris, O master, but if John Shirley can handle it,
shouldn't I be able to?"
The Younger Polemicist waved an admonishing finger. "Not until you get
They drove back to Node Zero. The Younger Polemicist urged his aged disciple
back up the wooden steps. "Come on, we have important work to do."
"You're SURE it's important?" the Old Polemicist asked a little later, as he
folded leaflets to be disseminated through the network of ideological
activists spanning the globe from Haiti to Vladivostok.
"Important?" The Younger Polemicist paused in his envelope-stuffing. "This is
the first new movement in science fiction in twenty years. Its best-known
member has won every major award. It is the only literature with an online,
informed world-view. And you question its importance?"
"Well, maybe not."
"Good. When you finish folding those leaflets, we have a couple hundred
stamps to lick. And after you finish reading those ASIMOV's, there's three
years worth of OMNI."
"All right." The Old Polemicist nodded dutifully.
Before getting back to work, he stole a momentary glance through the venetian
blind that half-obscured the window. Down in the yard, the ragged old grackle
was still there, feebly but persistently pecking, pecking at the unyielding
soil, under the merciless sun.
CHEAP TRUTH Top Ten (with helpful quotes from locals)
TRILLION YEAR SPREE by Brian Aldiss "assisted by" David Wingrove (Gollancz
L15) Authors tremble for their reps as "Britain's oldest Young Turk" prepares
to unleash this massive new version of his 1973 SF litcrit classic. Described
as "completely revised," "brutally frank," and "bang up to date," this hefty
opus is an essential accoutrement for the serious, globally-minded critic or
fan. Without doubt, SPREE will once again prove the unquestioned superiority
of Britain as a source of intelligent, informed criticism and provocative,
well-formulated literary analysis. Most of it will be about Americans.
THE UNCONQUERED COUNTRY by Geoff Ryman (Allen & Unwin L9.95) Slightly
expanded version of the instantly classic INTERZONE novella, a shocking,
brutally depressing SF tragedy that directly confronts the reader with
high-voltage visionary excess. "I wept aloud!" "Really great illustrations!"
"The best thing INTERZONE ever published!" "Most of the new stuff is
MYTHAGO WOOD by Robert Holdstock (Gollancz L8.95) Archetypal fantasy
concerning a tiny patch of ancient English forest where the mystical soul of
Britain, or at least a lot of deeply portentous literary/mythic symbols, seem
to reside. Involuted, damp, very insular, vaguely creepy. "Where it's at in
Britain today!" "A marvel!" "Brilliantly written and perceptive!" Britons
adore this book.
THE BRIDGE by Iain Banks. (Macmillan L9.95) The third novel by the wunderkind
Scottish author of the amazing WASP FACTORY and cryptic WALKING ON GLASS. The
subterranean fantasy influences of this vividly imaginative and cheerfully
sadistic writer have come directly to the fore in THE BRIDGE, but don't tell
his publishers. "The most compulsive and original writer working today!"
"Obviously possessed of twisted genius!" "Wow!"
ESCAPE PLANS by Gwyneth Jones (Orion L3.50) Bizarre effort by shocktrooper of
Britain's radical feminist SF contingent, a literary clique which possesses
admirable discipline, long-term plans, and a well-developed and pitiless
sociopolitical ideology. "Lesbian tripe that chokes the reader to death with
jargon!" "Part of the revolutionary struggle to wrest possibilities from
limitations!" Genuinely twisted, ESCAPE PLANS features spaceships that are
not allowed to go anywhere and scrabblingly desperate social uprisings.
Impressive energy level and imaginative concentration make Gwyneth Jones a
writer to watch.
SONGBIRDS OF PAIN by Garry Kilworth (Gollancz L8.95) Collection by highly
regarded short story writer. Exotic settings, baroque, obsessive prose.
"Exceptionally good." "Best I've read in years." "I believe in science
fiction as a serious literature," declared the author in his intro, a
declaration that would be more convincing if it didn't have to be made at
BOOKS OF BLOOD v. 1-6 by Clive Barker (Sphere). This fervid and fertile
six-volume collection of horror shorts has the clammy intimacy of a blowjob
from the dead. "The future of horror." "Blows out the genre's amps."
Heartening proof that a British writer of talent and determination can rise
suddenly from obscurity to completely paralyze a transatlantic readership.
GHASTLY BEYOND BELIEF by Kim Newman and Neil Gaiman (Arrow L2.50). A
much-needed dose of comic relief, this book collects a long series of
horrible excesses and solecisms in written SF and sci-fi films. Convulsively
funny, it must be read to be disbelieved. None of your "dry British humor"
guff here -- you'll wince, you'll scream, you'll beg for a chance to breath.
"The ultimate toilet book!"
CHEAP TRUTH London Editing: Vincent Omniaveritas Graphics: privatised by Tory
regime and sold to a Yank multinational. NOT COPYRIGHTED. "Granted it's not
REALLY science fiction, but --"
"The Central Committee, to meet at the end of the week, will take up
ideological issues in order to seize the high ground in the realm of ideas
and overcome resistance from party\ytrap SFWA cadres and conservative
opponents of the economic changes, according to diplomats here."
-- unattributed press release
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank