Friday, September 2, 2016

FFB: INTERSECTIONS: THE SYCAMORE HILL ANTHOLOGY edited by John Kessel, Mark L. Van Name and Richard Butner (Tor 1995/6); MIRRORSHADES: THE CYBERPUNK ANTHOLOGY, edited by Bruce Sterling (Arbor House 1986)

In the early/mid and into the latter 1980s, a knot of some of the more adventurous sf writers started seeing themselves as a school, which some of them dubbed "the Movement" (leaving themselves gapingly open for all sorts of digestive jokes), and which editor/writer/critic Gardner Dozois tagged the "cyberpunks" a collective promotional tool, this wasn't the worst gambit, though in retrospect some of the writers so tagged got more out of it than others, and the one held up as exemplar, William Gibson, was among those least interested in public discussion about whether he was Movement Cyberpunk or not (which contrasts pleasantly with the predicament of Joe R. Lansdale, who along with Clive Barker would be hailed as a leader of the horror-fiction "splatterpunks" not too long after, apparently a label he despised and indicative of a similarly self-conscious clubbiness he wanted little or nothing to do with). And it's no fun having a clubhouse if you don't have outsiders to rail against...quite aside from those sf writers, and vocal readers, who found the cyberpunks inherently offputting for their desire to be Bleeding Edge, there were similarly ambitious, often young writers emerging in sf at the same time that the C-punks (and others) recognized as having a different, if somewhat congruent, literarily sophisticated, culturally-curious approach...and they were soon tagged, originally by Michael Swanwick (see below) perhaps but enthusiastically by the Movementists, "the Humanists" (while cyberpunks, borrowing from one of their older and most visionary members, Rudy Rucker, were often rather "transhumanist")... It happens that, even separated by a decade as they are, these two anthologies are interesting core samplings of the "cyberpunks" and the "humanists"...with a representation of the "other" camp within each...

Bruce Sterling's pseudonymously-published quasi-"samsidat" (and utterly uncopyrighted) fanzine Cheap Truth (though the archive at this link doesn't include the complete contents of the fanzine's one-sheet/two-page issues) featured the other cyberpunks as well, under their own pen-names, and their takes on the current scene in the 1980s; here's Sterling on the initial volume of Gardner Dozois's still-continuing best of the year annual: 


Dozois, ed., Bluejay, $9.95.

        With this volume, Bluejay Books has delivered a stinging duellist's
slap to the slack jowls of the anthology market.  Bluejay's daring must be
roundly applauded and they've come through with a real bug-crusher in this
575-page colossus.

        Veteran editor Gardner Dozois blithely ignores the stock list of Neb
and Hugo nominees to give us work of genuine merit from the most esoteric of
markets.  The man's masochistic dedication to the genre -- he reads SF in
truly industrial quantity -- has never been more in evidence.  His opening
Summation repays close reading for its quick-witted ideology and sagacious
grasp of industry dynamics.

        The book is remarkable for its lack of clunkers.  Even the worst
stories here can be read with a straight face.  The best can stand with
anything written in the past ten years.  More importantly, they show an
earnest effort by '80's writers to scrap old formulas and speak in a modern

        Greg Bear serves as the exemplar.  His two stories included here have
won dual Nebulas, itself a very promising sign.  As co-editor of the SFWA
Forum, the man was in the heart of the beast, and his daring attempts to
transcend his own limits are therefore doubly praiseworthy.

        His bizarre OMNI story of '82, "Petra," showed something odd stirring
in the Bear attic.  With "Hardfought" and "Blood Music," the man has thrown
restraint to the winds.

        "Hardfought" may be thick with jargon and laden with annoying
attempts at verse.  But it burns with genuine visionary intensity and its
Stapledonian daring arouses real wonder.  This is what SF is about.

        "Blood Music" has a ludicrous plot and has filed the serial numbers
from Sturgeon's "Microcosmic God."  But Bear knows what to borrow, and the
ending goes for broke.  Bear's reckless energy has made him a writer to watch
-- and to emulate.

        Efforts by more established writers show the effect of a real thaw.
Silverberg's "Multiples" is one of his best in years: smooth, devastatingly
plausible, a brilliant idea handled with great skill.  Tanith Lee is at her
unique best with "Nunc Dimittis," a dark fantasy that shimmers with
necro-eroticism.  R. A. Lafferty spryly tramples convention with a story from
his splendid small-press collection, "Golden Gate."  Lafferty has always been
a cult figure.  He will still be a cult figure a hundred years from now.

        Particularly heartening are the efforts of the "'80's Generation,"
listed by Dozois as Bear, Cadigan, Gibson, Kelly, Kennedy, Kessel, Murphy,
Robinson, Shiner, Sterling, Swanwick, and Willis -- surely one of the oddest
groupings ever.  Seven have stories here -- the rest figure prominently in
the Honorable Mentions.

        If these heirs-designate were dropped into a strong magnetic field,
Gibson, Shiner, Sterling, Cadigan and Bear would immediately drift to one
pole.  Swanwick, Robinson, Kessel, Kelly, Murphy and Willis would take the

        Leigh Kennedy goes her own goddamn way.  Her story, "Her Furry Face,"
demonstrates Kennedy's unique style:  low-key, determined prose combined with
an unflinching and peculiar vision.  Reading Leigh Kennedy is like having
your housecat show up with a small dead pterodactyl in its jaws.

        Pat Cadigan's "Nearly Departed" is a psi story, not overly burdened
with technological literacy.  But its tough-minded lack of sentiment keeps
reader interest up.

        Bruce Sterling's "Cicada Queen" shows this ambitious writer manfully
wrestling with this complex Mechanist/Shaper future society.  It should have
been a novel, and apparently will be.

        No review could be complete without a mention of Jack Dann's "Blind
Shemmy."  This story is so sharp-edged that it ought to be read with forceps.

        Altogether, Dozois' collection is excellent, both for what it is and
for what it promises.  Its Summation and thorough list of Honorable Mentions
are worth the price in themselves.  Winter is over -- prepare for spring

Here, as well, are writers Michael Swanwick and James Patrick Kelly discussing, from half a decade ago, the ferment of the 1980s; Swanwick wrote one of the first articles, for Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, about the arguable emerging schools:

The complete discussion from which this is the third excerpt can be seen here...

What helps make these key anthologies of the "camps" that they are, aside from the fiction collected in them and the writers involved, are the introduction to Sterling's volume by the editor, which helps, in still somewhat propagandizing mode (a bit tongue in cheek, but only a bit, and how large a bit sometimes changing from paragraph to paragraph) and, in Intersections, the notes from the story and excerpt contributors about the writer-conference feedback provided for each story in its form as presented, and what the writers made of that.  The generational feel of each group is still strong, even given that Intersections features some writers who came into the field a bit later (such as Jonathan Lethem and Michaela Roessner) as well as the artistic outlier Carol Emshwiller, who first published in the 1950s and was a fully mature artist by the turn of the '60s at the latest (and whose contribution is an excerpt from her first, somewhat eccentric western novel, Ledoyt) ...though John Shirley, for example, among the Other Guys, had begun publishing several years/a half decade before most of the others (and his contribution is the novel excerpt in the earlier book), as had Rudy Rucker...and while his work isn't collected in Mirrorshades, certainly the 1960s veteran Charles Platt was a supporter of the new approaches and their spirit. Also, of course, notable: the presence in each anthology a story by a member of the "opposing camp": Kelly's story in the Sterling book, and Sterling's in the "humanist" document...also, a version of the evergreen, and often expanded, "Turkey City Lexicon" essay about What Not to Do with and in Your Story, a product of a lot of critical apparatus applied within and outside such workshops as the Turkey City sessions of the 1980s (a "cradle of cyberpunk" as the current SFWA-posted version notes)...

Things, as they often do, have kept me from reading enough of the contents of these books to comment much on the stories themselves at this time...soon, I hope. 

Intersections: The Sycamore Hill Anthology ed. John Kessel, Mark L. Van Name & Richard Butner (Tor 0-312-86090-0, Jan ’96 [Dec ’95], $23.95, 384pp, hc) Anthology of stories written at the 1994 invitation-only Sycamore Hill Writers’ Conference, with comments by the writers about their experiences. Authors include Karen Joy Fowler, Alexander Jablokov, Michaela Roessner, and Maureen F. McHugh.

13 · Introduction: Fun in the Burn Ward · John Kessel, Mark L. Van Name & Richard Butner · in *

22 · Bicycle Repairman [Chattanooga] · Bruce Sterling · nv *
60 · The Marianas Islands · Karen Joy Fowler · ss *
76 · Sex Education · Nancy Kress · nv *
97 · The Hardened Criminals · Jonathan Lethem · nv *
129 · The Escape Artist · Michaela Roessner · ss *
148 · Body & Soul · Robert Frazier · ss *
168 · The Fury at Colonus · Alexander Jablokov · nv *
193 · Homesick · Maureen F. McHugh · ss *
211 · from Ledoyt · Carol Emshwiller · ex *
231 · The Miracle of Ivar Avenue ["Hollywood" series] · John Kessel · nv *
269 · Missing Connections · Mark L. Van Name · nv *
296 · That Blissful Height · Gregory Frost · nv *
332 · Horses Blow Up Dog City · Richard Butner · ss *
349 · The First Law of Thermodynamics · James Patrick Kelly · nv *
375 · Appendix I: The Turkey City Lexicon: A Primer for SF Workshops · Lewis Shiner · ar *
383 · Appendix II: Sycamore Hill Attendees · Anon. · ms *

Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology ed. Bruce Sterling (Arbor House 0-87795-868-8, Dec ’86 [Nov ’86], $16.95, 239pp, hc) Anthology of 12 stories by Gibson, Bear, Rucker, Cadigan, and others, plus a preface on the “cyberpunk” movement.

ix · Preface · Bruce Sterling · pr
1 · The Gernsback Continuum · William Gibson · ss Universe 11, ed. Terry Carr, Doubleday, 1981
13 · Snake-Eyes · Tom Maddox · ss Omni Apr ’86
35 · Rock On · Pat Cadigan · ss Light Years and Dark, ed. Michael Bishop, Berkley, 1984
44 · Tales of Houdini · Rudy Rucker · ss Elsewhere v1, ed. Terri Winding & Mark Alan Arnold, Ace, 1981
51 · 400 Boys · Marc Laidlaw · ss Omni Nov ’83
68 · Solstice · James Patrick Kelly · nv IASFM [now Asimov's Science Fiction] Jun ’85
108 · Petra · Greg Bear · nv Omni Feb ’82
128 · Till Human Voices Wake Us · Lewis Shiner · ss F&SF May ’84
142 · Freezone · John Shirley · ex Eclipse, John Shirley, Bluejay, 1985
182 · Stone Lives · Paul Di Filippo · nv F&SF Aug ’85
207 · Red Star, Winter Orbit · Bruce Sterling & William Gibson · nv Omni Jul ’83
228 · Mozart in Mirrorshades · Bruce Sterling & Lewis Shiner · ss Omni Sep ’85

the hardcover editions--two books that weren't sold on the strength of their covers:

Some of this was originally published on Apr 26, 2013; for more reviews of books for today, please see Patti Abbott's blog! (upon appearance in its earlier form) and the blog today for this expanded form.


George said...

I read MIRRORSHADES when it was first published. As you point out, it was considered "groundbreaking." I have never seen a copy of INTERSECTIONS. I'll have to track down a copy!

Todd Mason said...

There are other anthologies which attempt to gather the fiction of the "two camps" but none which seems so representative of the range of work from the writers so grouped, and an interesting mix of the most sustained careers and those of writers who contributed only a few stories or some more for a short period. John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly's REWIRED anthology is perhaps the next book to go to after these two...