For more than a decade Semiotext(e), the most consistently unpredictable intellectual journal in America, has published (once every year or so) out of a liberated zone in Philosophy Hall, Columbia University. Over the last couple of years Autonomedia, a highly competent cell of America's anarchic independent guerrilla press, has operated out of Brooklyn, N.Y., publishing new European political theory.
Together Semiotext(e) and Autonomedia have put out an anthology of new science fiction. Edited by Peter Lamborn Wilson (with an assist from Rudy Rucker), the anthology is designed with a mind to print work too experimental and/or radical to get published by mainstream SF outlets, a useful goal and one Wilson, a shaker and mover of the alternative press scene, is uniquely qualified to pull off.
The main problem with the anthology, for all its virtues, is that other distracting concerns undermine Wilson's best efforts. One is the concern with jamming in "big names", the other is the controversiality criterion Wilson makes so much of in his selections.
The big name syndrome is understandable. Marginality for its own sake is seldom a virtue. Anchorage in common currency (and what's better there than celebrity) is useful. Unfortunately, with the exception of Philip Jose Farmer's and J. G. Ballard's entries, the pieces by the "stars" (Gibson, Burroughs, R. A. Wilson, Yurick, etc.) while uniformly strong, are neither pathbreaking aesthetically, nor taboo breaking subject-wise in relation to previous standards set by these authors years ago. In the pursuit of names, precious space is lost, space that should have been devoted to new voices.
The controversiality standard is similarly misguided. The emphasis on broken taboos too often becomes an end in itself. In this sense Wilson neglects more important achievements of recent Sci-Fi. As conceptually vital as science fiction has become over the past twenty years, the genre has always been relatively conservative regarding sex and drugs, if not rock n' roll. Compared to comics and "literary" fiction the explicit sex and drug stuff in "SF" ain't that new. The topical radicalism and libertarian zest of some of the satire, while entirely healthy, is not (at least not yet, a couple more republican administrations maybe) all that dangerous.
Where "SF" works best as an anthology is in its introduction of some lesser known emerging mavericks of the genre. Ivan Stang, T. Winter Damon, Hakim Bey, Paul Di Fillipo. Rachel Pollack, D. A. Shawl and other "new mutants" and "freestylers", whose work has mostly appeared in underground zines, are clearly producing breakthrough work.
Also worth mention are the bios, which are clever, informative, and fun. The polemical manifesto/intro to the volume, is an excellent high energy rant. Graphics provided by Mike Saenz
Volume V, Issue 2 (#14)
1989, 384 pgs., $10
522 Philosophy Hall
New York, NY 10027
Here is the TEXT POPUP for Semiotext(e) SF:
A star's hot plasma lives in dynamic equilibrium between collapsing gravitational forces and explosive heat/quantum pressures. Between black hole and nova. The heavy gold metal force of commercial SF publishing always threatens to suck the whole field into blank uniformity; the purpose of "Semiotext(e) SF" is to counter-act collapses with heat and quantum strangeness.
- from the Introduction
Sometimes I think of my clitoris as a magnet, pulling me along to uncover new deposits of ore in the fantasy mines. Or maybe a compass, like the kids used to get in Woolworth's, with a blue-black needle in a plastic case, and flowery letters marking the directions.
Two years ago, more by accident than design, I left the City of Civilized Sex. I still remember its grand traditions: orgasms in the service of loving relationship, healthy recreation with knowledgeable partners, a pinch of perversion to bring out the flavor. I remember them with a curious nostalgia. I think of them as I march through the wilderness, with only my compass to guide me.
- Rachel Pollack in "Burning Sky"
JSN reached up to the row of glowing buttons across his forehead and changed his mind with an audible click.
- Lewis Shiner in
"The Gene Drain"