Friday, February 15, 2013

FFB: Semiotext(e) SF, edited by Rudy Rucker, Peter Lamborn Wilson and Robert Anton Wilson (Autonomedia, 1989; issue 14)

There have been impressive special issues of magazines over the decades, not least such numbers of good little magazines as TriQuarterly or Conjunctions or even the too-often precious McSweeney's, but few have been as good a snapshot of the changes happening in a field of literature as the hefty (384 pp) Volume V, Issue 2 (#14) of the pomo, largely Situationist journal Semiotext[e]  (ISSN: 0-093-95779), issued in 1989. Editors (for this issue) Rudy Rucker, Peter Lamborn Wilson and (not kin, I believe) Robert Anton Wilson were almost unsurprisingly able to draw in some of the most "bleeding edge" writers in speculative fiction, and some of their great inspirations in sf, horror and fantasy writing (such as Philip José Farmer, Colin Wilson, Barrington J. Bayley, Robert Sheckley, J. G. Ballard  and William Burroughs...and editor RA Wilson) and mix their often playful work in with that of the newer folks advancing the form in various ways. This issue's "Burning Sky" was one of the first two or three stories I read by the brilliant Rachel Pollack, who has produced good novels and comics scripts but is best (I'd say) in the short story genre, Michael Blumlein is similarly swinging (or is that slashing?) for the fences, and Bruce Sterling's contribution is one of his key stories.  Not everything here is top-shelf ("Solitons" is probably the worst single story I've read by Paul Di Filippo, and sadly one of the first), but one of the problems with art, particularly art that is trying not to Play It Safe, is falling on one's arse or otherwise looking foolish while striving, even more than when doing more conventional work (not that certain talents can't look foolish in that compass as well).  Some of these folks have damned near fallen silent since (such as T. Winter-Damon), and that's probably a pity...others have certainly gone through a variety of modes (such as John Shirley, like Ian Watson a writer who had begun establishing himself earlier in the '70s than Shirley's eventual "Movement"/"cyberpunk" cohort including Rucker, Sterling, Di Filippo, Willam Gibson, Lewis Shiner and Richard Kadrey, the last represented here with visual rather than literary work); others, such as Thom Metzger, seem to have been more Semiotext(e) regulars than contributors to other outlets (though latterly in Rucker's webzine Flurb, as well as having published several books) . All told, an issue (though some would like to insist it's a stand-alone book) worth seeking out, with some brilliant, a lot of good, some slight and only a bit of terrible work, all of it helping to limn the radical tradition in fantastic fiction writing, and making clear the links to other radical traditions (and radical artists) in a way that is too easy to overlook otherwise. 

Please see Evan Lewis's Davy Crockett's Almanack of Mystery, Adventure and the Wild West for the rest of this week's choices, and apparently Patti Abbott is scheduled to return to tend to this weekly roundelay next week, a week earlier than Evan and I were reporting previously.


Walker Martin said...

Somehow I managed to miss this book. However, I just ordered a copy on amazon for $6.00 plus postage. Thanks for the tip.

Todd Mason said...

Relatively few issues of SEMIOTEXT(E) have been fiction issues, Walker...though I'm a little surprised none of your SF-oriented friends have mentioned it, if they tend to lean in the pulp direction, they might not've found it their cup of tea...