Copyright 1993 The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times All Rights Reserved Los Angeles Times October 8, 1993, Friday, Home Edition section: View; Part E; Page 10; Column 1


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Copyright 1993 The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times All Rights Reserved Los Angeles Times October 8, 1993, Friday, Home Edition SECTION: View; Part E; Page 10; Column 1; View Desk LENGTH: 789 words
BODY: When Granada Publishing issued the first “Encyclopedia of Science Fiction,” in 1979 in the United Kingdom, the editors of the landmark 730,000-word tome complained that the field had become far bigger than anyone had suspected. “We initially imagined,” wrote Australian Peter Nicholls and London-based Canadian John Clute, “that it might be possible to put everything in, all the relevant facts. We were almost instantly disillusioned.’ Nearly 15 years later, the long-awaited second edition of the Hugo Award-winning reference is out, from Little, Brown and Co. in the U.K. and St. Martin’s Press in the U.S. Priced at $75 (a soft-bound American edition and a CD-ROM disc are forthcoming), the new edition weighs in at 1.3 million words. The editors are no longer disillusioned by the scope of the field. They are reeling. “SF has grown impossibly large,” said Nicholls in an interview at the World Science Fiction Convention held recently in San Francisco. “I found it very daunting. The last two years were spent at the edge of a precipice, and I have been drained by the effort. I don’t believe I would do it again.” In 1979, said anthologist and teacher David Hartwell, science fiction was like baseball before expanding into Montreal and Toronto or ice hockey before San Jose or Tampa Bay bought their franchises. Science fiction now runs a bewildering, and increasingly fragmented, gamut that includes movie and TV spin-offs, graphic novels, young-adult fiction, choose-your-own-plot stories, technothrillers, survivalist fiction, science fiction horror, fantasy with science fiction premises, prehistoric fiction, erotic thrillers and alternate histories. “Until the early ‘70s,” said Hartwell, “SF was still knowable. One could have read all the masterworks, be conversant in the styles of the major authors and many of the minor ones, know the publishing lines and the magazines. By the 1980s, however, SF had become largely unknowable. One of the impressive things about the new encyclopedia is that it makes SF knowable again — somewhat.” Although recognized in 1979 as the finest reference in the field, the first volume was occasionally faulted for its smart-aleck tone. Critics also expressed distress over the cacophony of voices emerging from its pages, the editorial eccentricities of some of the contributors, and, according to some Americans, excessive Anglophilia. The editors refute the latter charge. “We are both colonials,” says Nicholls, “and as such have been able to regard the field from an unusual and usually helpful vantage point.” The new edition offers a more uniform and consistent voice than its predecessor because of the editors’ decision to rewrite most contributions. And, it does not include negative personal information in its biographies of authors. “Just because we know this stuff doesn’t mean that we had to use it,” says Nicholls. “Although our British publisher was once owned by Robert Maxwell, we didn’t want to produce a tabloid encyclopedia. It may well be that a writer is the sum total of all that he or she is about. But what we judge them by here is their writing.” Questions of editorial judgment remain. The entry on Harlan Ellison, for instance, is embarrassingly fawning, given his failure to contribute a single novel to a field largely shaped by novels. The entire continent of South America is reduced to a single entry. In its favor, the editors have made the new edition as opinionated as the first. The current buzz characterizes this as an encyclopedia with attitude, riveting though unwieldy bedside reading. In what may be a first for reference books, the hip magazine Entertainment Weekly heralded “The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction” as a must browse. “Encyclopedias are usually unreadable,” said Nicholls. “This one is designed as a history as well as a series of entries. And you can’t write a history of that field without fairly strong opinions. We did try to keep them down, but it’s like working in a vacuum if you try to make everything completely objective. And nothing is ever completely objective, because the mere length of an entry reflects a value judgment.”

“The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction” is probably the last of its ilk, say Nicholls and others. Although enjoying a new golden age, science fiction has grown too big and too fragmented to quantify in any meaningful way. “Doing an encyclopedia like this is like trying to take a snapshot of a moving wave,” says Nicholls. “You want to freeze the molecules. But it can’t really be done, because the molecules change even as you watch it. In the case of SF, the field has lost its uniformity, and the molecules seem poised to fly off in all directions.”

Copyright 1992 The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times All Rights Reserved Los Angeles Times July 7, 1992, Tuesday, Home Edition NAME: HARRY TURTLEDOVE SECTION: View; Part E; Page 1; Column 2; View Desk LENGTH: 1531 words


BODY: Science fiction novelist Harry Turtledove got the idea for his new book from a postcard he received in 1988 from a fellow writer, Judith Tarr. Tarr complained that the cover art for her latest book seemed “as anachronistic as Robert E. Lee with an Uzi.” What was an annoyance to Tarr was serendipity for Turtledove. In his new Civil War novel “The Guns of the South,” due out in October from Ballantine, Robert E. Lee’s Confederate troops pack AK-47s, delivered via a time machine by 21st-Century South African right-wingers. Turtledove, 43, holds a Ph.D. in history, but turned to science fiction and fantasy when he couldn’t find an academic job, and has made his entire career as a writer of imaginary history. This field seems to better suit the scope of his imagination. In the dozens of novels and stories the Canoga Park resident has generated since graduating from UCLA in 1977, he has grappled with premises that would not fly in the halls of academe. What if America had been first settled not by Amerinds but by a still-extant race of primitive man? (“A Different Flesh,” Congdon & Weed, 1988). What if Christopher Columbus had to answer to the Environmental Protection Agency? (“Report of the Special Committee on the Quality of Life,” short story, 1980). What if, in 1942, with the Allied and Axis powers in strategic balance, the world had suddenly faced invasion by aliens from space? (untitled novel-in-progress). The premise of “Guns of the South” is also what if? What if in the late stages of the Civil War someone had flooded the battered Confederacy with 20th Century automatic weapons? “My story detector light lit instantly,” says Turtledove of the Tarr postcard. “Who, I asked myself, would give Robert E. Lee an Uzi? But no, don’t give Lee an Uzi — it’s a police weapon with a short range. Give him a Russian AK-47. Give him lots of AK-47s. But who’d want to give Robert E. Lee lots of Kalachnikovs? How about the South Africans — 150 years later in time? What if a band of Afrikaner terrorists, angry over the dissolution of apartheid, got their hands on a time machine?” Alternative or alternate history is not a new intellectual game. In 1836, Louis-Napoleon Geoffrey-Chateau published the first known example. The premise of “Napoleon and the Conquest of the World, 1812-1823” was that the French emperor had not made the Unknown. Teitelbaum Mainstream Clips (Kindle Locations 2089-2103). fatal mistake of invading Russia. In 1931, a number of historians and social commentators, including A.J.P. Taylor, G.K. Chesterton and Winston Churchill, tried their hands at alternate history in a book of essays called “If; Or History Rewritten.” Thirty years later, Look magazine published two essays: “If the South Had Won the Civil War,” by MacKinlay Kantor and “If Hitler Had Won World War II,” by William Shirer. The appeal of the genre has extended to a gamut of writers, especially in science fiction whose practitioners include Philip K. Dick, Ward Moore and Keith Roberts. Within the literary mainstream, Britain’s Ronald Clark titillated the English literati with books like “Queen Victoria’s Bomb,” exploring the consequences of premature nuclear proliferation. In 1976, Kingsley Amis published “The Alteration” about a modern-day Europe under Catholic domination. Len Deighton, Vladimir Nabakov and John Hersey have also tried their hands at remaking the present by tinkering with the past. Even former cyberpunk gurus William Gibson and Bruce Sterling turned to history in 1991 with “The Difference Engine,” postulating Victorian England driven by coal-powered computers. Underpinning some alternate history are scientific theories of parallel universes. Physicists including Murray Gel-Mann, Hugh Graham and Stephen Hawking have pursued the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which it is speculated there could be “a universe in which all possible outcomes of an experiment actually occur,” according to an article in Physics Today. Physicist and writer Gregory Benford, who has edited three anthologies in a “What Might Have Been” series and will soon publish a fourth, says of the genre’s popularity, “It’s the Zeitgeist. Throughout Western civilization we have become more and more aware in the last century of the fragility of events, the arbitrariness of history. This crucial idea emerges from some of the feelings of uncertainty and anomie and Angst that go along with modern times.” Alternate histories are proving increasingly popular because unlike conventional science fiction, they appeal to readers who are either fearful of science or simply geared to the past rather than to the future, says Charles Platt, a science fiction critic and the author of “Dream Makers: The Uncommon Men and Women Who Write Science Fiction.” “Alternate histories have a non-fiction appeal,” says Platt, “because they have real history wrapped up in them. Overall, there’s been a general trend in the last 20 years in book publishing toward fiction which has a more documentary flavor, and I think this upsurge fits into that.” Alternate history even has sub-genres, historical events that repeatedly stir the imaginations of writers and readers. Probably the biggest is: What if the Allies lost World War II? There have been so many “Hitler Victorious” stories that they fill an anthology of that title as well as any number of novels. One such, Robert Harris’s “Fatherland,” about the state of Europe years after a Hitler victory, has topped British bestseller lists for months. Published this month in the United States by Random House, the book landed on Publishers Weekly’s national bestseller list June 22, and film director Mike Nichols has optioned the book for $1 million. The Civil War and the Kennedys are also popular topics. “The Fantastic Civil War,” along with “The Fantastic World War II,” are the subject of anthologies of alternate history published in 1990 and ‘91 by Baen Books. This year, author Mike Resnick compiled an anthology published by Tor entitled “Alternate Kennedys.” Among the possibilities entertained: What if the Kennedy brothers had grown up to be the hottest rock group in the world? What if U. S. Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy had been told to investigate — and perhaps cover up — a break-in at the Republican Party headquarters in 1964? What if John Kennedy had landed in the real Camelot? Turtledove says that it was an early interest in science fiction that sparked his fascination with history. A native of Gardena, Turtledove recalls a third-grade encounter with L. Sprague De Camp’s 1941 novel, “Lest Darkness Fall,” a Mark Twainish romp about a man who travels back to 6th-Century Rome and tries to stave off the Dark Ages. “I started out trying to find how much of the book was real and how much wasn’t. By the time I’d finished, I was hooked,” says Turtledove. At UCLA Turtledove specialized in Byzantine history. The appeal of that empire, he says, is that it preserved Christian theology, Greek philosophy and Roman law. The attraction Byzantium holds for him as a science fiction writer, however, is that few general readers in this country know anything about it. “I have command of a large store of incidents and characters that are unfamiliar to the general reader,” he says, “but which are made for adaptation into fiction because they are interesting, exciting and vivid.” Turtledove’s Byzantium novels, all published by Ballantine-Del Rey Books, include “The Misplaced Legion” (1987), “An Emperor for The Legion” (1987), “The Legion of Videssos” (1987), “Agent of Byzantium (Congdon & Weed” (1987) and others. His titles sell a very respectable average of 75,000 copies each. Searching for a launching point for the novel, Turtledove settled on the Battle for the Wilderness, which marked the opening of Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Richmond campaign in 1864. The 47th North Carolina was the first regiment to meet Grant’s troops, and would be his recipients of the modern Afrikaner guns. But a visit to the UCLA library failed to reveal who the 47th’s commander was. “I wrote cold to the North Carolina Department of Archives and History asking about who some of the officers were in early 1864,” Turtledove says. “I figured they might know that. What I didn’t figure — in Byzantine history you are dealing with patching threads of material rather than being overwhelmed by it — a fellow named W. T. Jordan would mail me the regimental history written by one of the captains and, better yet, a complete roster with everyone’s age, rank, home town, occupation and wounds suffered. “It gave me half of my characters,” he says. Turtledove set the book late in the Civil War, he says, because if the South had won early, “they wouldn’t have learned anything other than that they had been right all along. I wanted to make sure that the South had to confront all of the problems it would eventually face. “What science fiction does better than any other form of literature,” says Turtledove, “is look at where we are now through a fun house mirror. Playing with history — I really have little interest in looking ahead at the far future — just gives you a different kind of mirror to look through.” GRAPHIC: Photo, COLOR, (Orange County Edition, E1) Harry Turtledove has a Ph.D. in history, but turned to science fiction and fantasy when he couldn’t find a teaching job.

ROSEMARY KAUL / Los Angeles Times; Photo, Harry Turtledove 56 of 128 DOCUMENTS Copyright 1992 The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times All Rights Reserved Los Angeles Times May 24, 1992, Sunday, Home Edition SECTION: View; Part E; Page 1; Column 2; View Desk LENGTH: 1259 words
Copyright 1992 The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times All Rights Reserved Los Angeles Times April 8, 1992, Wednesday, Home Edition SECTION: View; Part E; Page 1; Column 5; View Desk LENGTH: 1091 words

BODY: If you ask him what he does, artificial intelligence expert Marvin Minsky will tell you that he is a robot psychologist. Or maybe a roboticist. The MIT computer scientist is quite serious about these designations and proud of his relationship with the man who invented them, Isaac Asimov. Minsky says was very compelling to a mere youth not entirely familiar with how irrationality might be as much a part of human nature as the desire to learn more about science.” He was a biochemist by training, but it was as a science fiction writer that Asimov was most widely revered, and as he preferred to think of himself. Asimov’s rationalist spin on robot behavior and his transfer of Edward Gibbon’s “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” to the pan-galactic arena of “Foundation” (replete with the predictive pseudo-science of “psychohistory” which, according to Schmidt, now appears to be actually emerging as a real science) virtually revolutionized early pulp science fiction. “No one can write SF today without having been touched by his ‘Foundation’ series,” says novelist Greg Bear. With about 500 books published, Asimov was a remarkably effective explainer of science in nonfiction as well as in his stories. Peter Nicholls, Australian-based editor of “The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction” and “The Science in Science Fiction,” believes Asimov was “a greater science journalist than he was an SF writer — possibly the best of the lot.” New York-based novelist Ben Bova concurs, who believes that Asimov “has done more to educate Americans about science than our entire school system from coast to coast.” According to Bova, Asimov’s true genius was his ability to “take any subject under the sun and write about it so clearly and so simply that anybody who could read could understand it.” “His role as an explainer was colossal,” says MIT’s Minsky. “His explanations were always right and to the point. He talked to everyone at every age, and he was unpretentious. If you look at other science popularizers like (Harvard paleontologist) Steven Jay Gould or even (Cornell astronomer) Carl Sagan, you get a lesson in English. It’s wonderful to read or hear them talk because you’re always learning new words and styles. But when you listened to Asimov … he’d just be telling you something.” Despite his profound effect on generations of American scientists, Asimov was oddly reluctant to stand face to face with the fruits of his imagination. Minsky recalls his own unsuccessful efforts to introduce Asimov to some actual robots he had constructed during the early ‘60s. Asimov demurred for close to a decade, arguing that to encounter robots at so formative a stage in their evolution would be depressing. “He said, ‘Well, if I came and looked at them I’d be stuck in the past.’ I thought it was very wise of him to recognize that if you look at something in its early stages, it’s going to pull you down rather than up,” Minsky says. Robert Cesarone, the assistant program manager of JPL’s Deep Space Network strategy and development team, says that he’ll be busy catching up on Asimov’s prolific output. Cesarone, 39, has been reading SF for many years, but for some reason never got around to Asimov. “About three or four years ago, I decided that I really ought to read the ‘Foundation’ series if I wanted to call myself a fan,” he says. “I embarked on this, thinking this probably wouldn’t be that good. Boy was I wrong. It was perhaps the best SF I had ever read, and it boasted one of the greatest characters ever invented in literature — a total despot whom you feel sympathy for.” “I can’t think of anyone else who could be as inspirational,” says JPL’s Carlysle. “Maybe it’s something unique about the time, the postwar era, when even in the shadow of the nuclear mushroom cloud, people were convinced somehow that science and technology would lead us out of the wilderness. “Asimov could appeal to a faith in the rational structure of things that can’t be appealed to so readily today,” he says. “We’ve grown more jaded and cynical, and for good reason. There’s a feeling a lot of this promise has also come at great cost. I think he represents an era that was a little more naive. But I hate the thought that in the process of becoming more worldly and wise about the limitations of our technology and science, that we have exchanged it for complete cynicism about the future.”

Copyright 1991 The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times All Rights Reserved Los Angeles Times August 28, 1991, Wednesday, Home Edition SECTION: View; Part E; Page 1; Column 3; View Desk LENGTH: 1718 words

BODY: When Clive Barker addressed the Horror Writers of America at their annual awards ceremony in Redondo Beach this summer, he sent chills down his colleagues’ spines. “You guys just aren’t scary anymore,” declared Barker, formerly horror’s enfant terrible and a newcomer to Southern California. Stories about vampires, demons, exorcisms and werewolves are no longer frightening — certainly not in Los Angeles, where freeway shootings, an AIDS epidemic, interminable gang warfare and unbreathable air abound. Unless you people get real, warned Barker, you risk becoming silly, and ultimately irrelevant. Barker’s call for a new age in horror was sounded here first for a reason. In recent years, the center of gravity for what is now called dark fantasy appears to have shifted away from the East Coast, where it has reigned during most of this century under the twin stars of H. P. Lovecraft and, more recently, Stephen King. This year, the drift westward became a virtual stampede because of the recent softening of the book-buying market. Dozens of horror writers — some from as far afield as the United Kingdom and even the Far East — have settled in Southern California. Feeding off of a heady mix of local fears and universal human anxieties, they are contributing to the glimmers of a new kind of horror that can best be described not as dark fantasy, but, perhaps, as sunlit suspense. At the least, they have transformed the region into a New Jerusalem of fear. Traditionally, these writers have come eager to work in film. And indeed, the film industry has affected their work — and behavior — in fundamental ways. “People are very conscious of opportunities to adapt their books to scripts,” says Jessica Horsting, editor of an irreverent, Sherman Oaks-based literary journal, Midnight Graffiti. She cites a recently published novel that has a 200-page chase scene she terms purposeless other than it would look good on film: “That happens a lot out here. I don’t think this town is always good for literature.” But horror writers also genuinely enjoy basking in the psychic bleed-off of a region that wallows as much in terror as it does sunshine. “There is a dysfunctional compression going on here,” says R.C. Matheson, son of horror grandmaster Richard Matheson and a television and film writer/producer who is consolidating a second career as a horror writer with his upcoming “People are fooled into thinking that bad things can only happen in dark places,” says Schow. “They’re wrong.” “I’ve always said if there is a thing to see, let’s see it,” concurs Barker. “The best lovemaking is not in a darkened room, the best fantasy does not occur in the mist. The best writers of the fantastique say: This is the mystery plainly, this is the way the mystery looks, this is its face, the number of eyes it’s got, the way it smells. Now that I’ve shown you this, be aware that the mystery is not the way it looks, but what the thing is.” In Southern California, the “thing” takes on genuinely bizarre countenances. Instead of demon-infested castles, we have film studios populated by … shudder … producers and agents. Our all-night convenience stores, according to writer Dennis Etchison, are staffed by the undead. In “Less Than Zombie,” a pastiche of the ennui-filled bestseller “Less Than Zero,” by Bret Easton Ellis, the spoiled scions of Beverly Hills have become drug- and flesh-abusing zombies — and no one notices anything different in their behavior. L.A. horror is to the city and its psyche what Consumer Digest is to VCRs and Volvos. Beware the Hollywood Hills, warns R.C. Matheson, who shows in one story how becoming lost in them can be like falling into the Dark Abyss. In another, yuppies who run their lives like the L.A. Marathon risk being run into the ground — literally and painfully — by their renegade Reeboks. Despite the different images they employ, most horror writers agree as to what they think the genre is all about. “Horror is always about fear,” says Midnight Graffiti editor Horsting. “The stuff people are writing today is not substantially different from what’s been going on for the past 100 years. Horror may have moved from the small towns to the suburbs and, most recently, into an urban environment. But the things people are afraid of, the horrors we inflict on each other, remain unchanged.” “The human animal,” explains William Nolan, author of a recently published Writer’s Digest guide to horror writing, “has so Unknown. Teitelbaum Mainstream Clips (Kindle Locations 2835-2849). about the physical climate as a factor in the writing. What I think of is the absolute moral deterioration. There are too many people in many primal fears — of death, of isolation, or desertion. I call horror an emotional escape hatch, a way for us to transcend our mortality. I call horror mass therapy.” It has also, many old-time writers bemoan, become shock therapy. The things that scared previous generations barely titillate their more jaded progeny. The old horror, dating back to the Gothics, used the shadows to good effect. The true face of horror was often oblique. We all knew what Dracula was really doing to his women, so why spell it out? H. P. Lovecraft, who worked a revolution in supernatural fiction from his Rhode Island home during the ‘20s — his stories provided the basis for the two “Reanimator” movies filmed during the last decade — always left his monsters and demons barely mentionable. Succeeding generations of writers, from Ray Bradbury to Robert Bloch, chose subtlety and whimsy to graphic violence and gore. Stephen King, who emerged in the mid-‘70s with the novel “Carrie,” brought horror into the full light of day. A decade later, Clive Barker threw a spotlight onto it with his outrageously visceral “Books of Blood.” Barker began his career writing about luminous cancers that took on a life of their own in foul basements, and people whose bodies were torn to pieces by a cloud of fish-hooks within the depths of hell. Within five years of his emergence, however, others would regard him as too restrained. In Splatterpunk, wrote Horsting in 1989, one found graphic depictions “of violence — disembowelments, cannibalism, mother-eating fetuses, self-mutilation, bestiality, incest, rape.” “Very little,” she declared, “is left to the imagination.” “What is being confused with horror nowadays,” says Bloch, author of the novel “Psycho” and a longtime resident of the Hollywood Hills, “is violence. When ingenuity fails, bloodletting prevails.” It is becoming increasingly evident, however, that the Splatterpunk aesthetic has failed to maintain reader interest, particularly among women — an important component of the horror readership. “A sizeable chunk of the mass audience, mostly female, has no stomach for the blood and guts that the gore hounds eat up,” declared a recent Cinefantastique review of Jonathan Demme’s film adaptation of Thomas Harris’s cult smash, “The Silence of the Lambs.” Matheson concurs heartily. “More and more what is intriguing to me,” he says, “is the psychology of it all. That’s what made ‘Silence of the Lambs’ so fascinating. The rest of the stuff isn’t horror — it’s like Hulk Hogan.” He thinks there is a new horror on the way, and that it will sport a California tan when it arrives. Etchison too detects the shifting of the tectonic plates underfoot — and not only within the confines of dark fantasy: “Something is coming, and it has to do with the end of the millennium. Socially and historically, something is coming to an end, and something new is about to reveal itself.” Barker doesn’t see it — not yet. But there is cause for hope. “I don’t yet have a sense of a new horror. I wish there were,” he says. “But if one existed, it would take a millennialist view, one that would show we are changing as a species. “We are writing a fiction about fear, what it does to us, how we are shaped by it or improved or weakened or lessened by it. Unfortunately, in modern horror, these issues are being addressed in diminishing amounts… . It becomes the equivalent of putting toads down a girl’s knickers. But it can be so much more than that.” GRAPHIC: Photo, COLOR, Robert Bloch, author of “Psycho” stands in front of the Bates house on Universal Lot. “What is being confused with horror nowadays,” he says, “is violence.” AL SEIB / Los Angeles Times; Photo, COLOR, “People are fooled into thinking that bad things can only happen in dark places. They’re wrong,” says David Schow, author of the collection “Lost Angels.” ; Photo, “Less Than Zombie” writer Dennis Etchison contends Southern California’s 24-hour convenience stores are staffed by the undead. AL SEIB / Los Angeles Times Unknown. Teitelbaum Mainstream Clips (Kindle Location 2877).

Copyright 1988 The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times All Rights Reserved Los Angeles Times March 26, 1988, Saturday, Orange County Edition SECTION: Orange County Life; Part 9; Page 3; Column 1 LENGTH: 1400 words HEADLINE: LAD’S VISION BECOMES AUTHOR’S NIGHTMARE BYLINE: By SHELDON TEITELBAUM, Sheldon Teitelbaum is a free-lance writer who often contributes articles to The Times. BODY: Science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson has a problem with mirrors. He sees things in them that others don’t — like the future. He first noticed this, he recalls, as a small child, soon after his family had moved from Illinois to a tract of unincorporated land by the foothills near Orange. The neighborhood, back at the start of the ‘60s, consisted mostly of orange groves, with new suburban streets extending into the trees. Across the street from his home, construction workers were putting up a house on an empty lot. Robinson would wander around the lot, watching the men work and looking at the piles of sand and boards. One day, Robinson stood in front of a stack of window glass placed on end and leaning against some dark boards. The surface of the outer sheet of glass reflected the scene behind him Unknown. Teitelbaum Mainstream Clips (Kindle Locations 5214-5225). — the rows of orange trees that surrounded his street. “But when I looked at the glass, the reflection showed me more houses, the street extending off to the west, big buildings in the distance, immense spans of concrete cleaving the sky.” Disturbed by this vision of endless development, Robinson ran home and said nothing about it. But three decades later, this stark and foreboding image of what Orange County could become re-emerged, this time as the setting for a science-fiction novel, “The Gold Coast” (Tor Books, $17.95). This is the future as a slow-growther’s worst nightmare. The year is 2030, and the developers, left unchecked, have had their way with Orange County. The northern half of the region is nearly as densely packed as the Gaza Strip. Double-decker freeways embedded with gas stations, coffee shops and low-income housing crisscross the county, connecting a weblike network of omnipresent malls. Fifty years from now, unemployment runs rampant, especially among the young; drug abuse has reached pandemic proportions, and the system rises or falters on the economic fortunes of the local weapons industry. Not at all, Robinson acknowledges, what he, as a child, would have anticipated for the area. “It was very rural,” recollects Robinson, who is 35 and makes his home in Washington, D.C., “and I spent a lot of my time in the orange groves reading. It was easy to pretend, having immersed myself in Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson, that I was growing up in the 1880s, say in Hannibal, Mo. “Through the 1960s, as I was growing up, I noticed a curious thing. Every adult in Orange County seemed to be rushing about, working as hard and as fast as they could to transform the landscape into something more like the one I saw in the glass. Groves were going down at an incredible rate; houses and office complexes and condominiums and shopping malls were going up even faster.” Robinson believes it was this rapid transformation of Orange County from “agricultural reserve into urban corporate-capitalist consumer society” that contributed to him becoming a science-fiction writer and, according to a left-wing French newspaper, a Marxist. “I stepped out of the 19th Century and into the 21st in one brief adolescence. It taught me that America was not the place I thought it was.” Later, Robinson enjoyed what some right-wing critics within the science-fiction field characterized as his revenge on the homeland of which he despaired. The year 1984 saw the release of his novel “The Wild Shore,” as the first in a new line of prestigious “Ace Specials.” In it, he portrayed Orange County as a rural backwater still reeling from a limited nuclear war that had reduced the entire United States — the only country in the world to suffer such ravages — to Fourth-World status. “The right attacked the book as an act of aggression against the U.S. The left attacked me for having championed some basic American values in the book.” The science-fiction field as a whole, however, seemed more interested in the seemingly unheralded arrival of a new talent on the scene than in Robinson’s politics. “I was your typical 10-year overnight success,” he quips. Robinson had sold his first short stories in 1974, to editor Damon Knight’s then-famous “Orbit” anthology. A year later, he attended Clarion, a workshop for fledgling science-fiction writers each summer at Michigan State University. And in the ensuing years, Robinson created a solid body of work that included titles such as “Icehenge” and “The Memory of Whiteness.” Robinson also forged a reputation as a critic. His doctoral dissertation — a study of the novels of Philip K. Dick, a Bay Area science-fiction writer who spent the last years of his life in Santa Ana before dying of a stroke in 1982 — was published by UMI Research Press in 1984 and received some acclaim. Robinson turned to Dick at the behest of Frederick Jameson, one of the world’s foremost Marxist literary critics and his academic adviser at UC San Diego. “At the time, Jameson believed that Dick was America’s greatest living novelist, and he suggested that I have a look at his work, which was available in manuscript form at Cal State Fullerton. In fact, I once ran into Dick in the halls there. But we were never friends.” Dick’s literary stock has gone up immeasurably since his death. But though Robinson professes great affection for the man and considerable respect for his determination to write as best he could under onerous physical and mental conditions, Dick did not, he says, exert a direct influence on his own work or career. “Dick’s style was so much his own, his way of thinking so distinct, that you can hardly point to anyone whose work is similar.” In the end, however, Robinson achieved what passes for notoriety in the genre after being identified as a point man for a coterie of writers who served as counterpoint for the Cyberpunk phenomenon sweeping the field during the mid-1980s. Labeled the “Humanists” in an article that appeared last year in Isaac Asimov’s SF Magazine, these writers purportedly rejected Cyberpunk’s technological fetishism, its filmic tone, its feverish pacing, its slick surfaces and cool interiors. Instead, the so-called Humanists demonstrated a familiarity with and respect for “mainstream” literature, a love for science fiction and its conventions, an interest in the traditional elements of well-crafted fiction and a basically optimistic regard for humanity and some human endeavor. Robinson was identified as a humanist by Cyberpunk writers who, using pseudonyms, attacked him savagely in a science-fiction fan magazine. He also was criticized for the pacing of “The Wild Shore,” which was leisurely by the standards of much S-F and most Cyberpunk. “There were some who called it ‘The Wild Snore.’ ” The furor within the insular science-fiction community hasn’t hurt him. “The attacks, carried out by the Cyberpunks in their usual Rambo style, mean that I’m doing something of interest. I think they’re bothered that I’m not doing Cyberpunk and yet I’m getting some critical attention. “It’s certainly boosted my sales in France. The Unknown. Teitelbaum Mainstream Clips (Kindle Locations 5252-5266). French love these ridiculous literary battles.” For the moment, however, Robinson has removed himself from science fiction’s insider skirmishes, preferring to publicize “The Gold Coast” and complete work on a new volume, the third in what is proving to be a thematically related trilogy of novels set in Orange County. The new book, several drafts old but as yet unnamed, is, ironically, a utopia. “Having set myself up as a critic of the way things are,” Robinson explains, “I felt I had to make some positive suggestions as well. In this novel, everything, starting from now, goes right. Americans, using local power and small-scale government, employ high-tech to create a better quality of life for themselves instead of military goods. They learn how to recycle resources, how to design a town in which people can use bicycles instead of cars. Genuine utopias are a rarity in science fiction because perfection tends to be boring. Robinson admits that imbuing a utopia with drama is a challenge. “But no matter how good things get for society, people will still experience unhappiness. We will still die, we will be rejected by those we love, disasters will befall the innocent. I’m trying to invest it with the standard elements of fiction — love, death, social life, family concerns, politics. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be as entertaining as your usual science-fiction nightmare.”

GRAPHIC: Photo, Science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson with his new book, “The Gold Coast,” his vision of the nightmare to come in Orange County. BRIAN VANDER BRUG / Los Angeles Times Unknown. Teitelbaum Mainstream Clips (Kindle Locations 5266-5278).

Copyright 1988 The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times All Rights Reserved Los Angeles Times January 17, 1988, Sunday, Home Edition SECTION: View; Part 6; Page 1; Column 1; View Desk LENGTH: 2050 words


BODY: When William Gibson began writing in 1977, he did not set out to reform science fiction or ignite a controversy. In retrospect, however, it seems clear to him that he could never have written the kind of material he had devoured as a youngster. “So much of the stuff I was buying off the Woolworth’s rack had been written during the 1940s by people like Robert Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon and Ray Bradbury — writers who came out of small towns in the Midwest,” he said. “Virtually none of it was written with the urban sensibility I think is needed to describe most contemporary reality.” What Gibson came up with to describe that reality — and a future one — was a book called “Neuromancer” (Ace), a highly stylized vision that catalogues the wonders of the new New Age, including designer drugs, designer memory implants, and even designer personalities. Published in 1985, the book hit the insular community of science-fiction writers like a bucket of ice water and went on to win many awards. Soon after the book’s appearance, Gardner Dozois, a well-known science-fiction editor, announced that “Neuromancer” had generated a new trend in science fiction and coined the term cyberpunks to describe the small coterie of writers whose stories — like Gibson’s — deal with the feel of life in the information age. In their view, technology has affected the surface texture of contemporary life in addition to the core of human existence. To communicate this vision of the techo-turbulent ‘80s, they have assumed a style that is hard-boiled and street-smart but also information-dense, hallucinatory and fast-paced. George Slusser, an English professor at UC Riverside, and curator of the Eaton science-fiction collection there, recently described cyberpunk as “optical prose” depicting a new reality and reflecting “an increasing fusion of electronic matrix and human brain, the world of the global village, and its electronic nightside — rock music, artificial stimulants and vicarious sex.” Crossover Phenomenon Indeed, in recent years, cyberpunk has leaked out of the realm of science-fiction writing and into the Zeitgeist to become what some trend-spotters characterize as a cultural crossover phenomenon — a controversial one at that. Echoes of the genre have been popping up outside of literature in movies like “Blade Runner,” “Brazil” and “RoboCop,” and in television, commercials, music videos by Peter Gabriel and Sisters of Mercy, the compositions of John Cage, Laurie Anderson and Brian Eno, and the gyrations of performance artist Stelarc. A Religious Experience In fact, drug-guru-turned-technophile Timothy Leary said cyberpunk is to the ‘80s what the Beats were to the ‘50s and the hippies to the ‘60s. He said reading William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” was, for him, a genuinely religious experience. “Like St. Paul, I was converted. Not only has Gibson given us a sociology and culture of the 21st Century, but a theology as well.” The term cyber, he said, comes from the Greek “to pilot.” “And if you’re going to pilot your way through the 21st Century, you have to know how to move electrons around. “Gibson intuitively understands cybernetic technology,” Leary said. “He knows where this technology is going, and he has an extraordinary sense of street smarts, which most science-fiction writers lack. But he hasn’t invent ed this stuff — it’s just out there, like rain clouds. And Gibson is the weather reporter.” Because he was among the first to articulate this sensibility in commercial fiction, Gibson is regarded — however reluctantly — as cyberpunk’s founding father. But the 39-year-old Vancouver, Canada, writer does not look like the leather-clad literary terrorist his fans and detractors often expect. Thin and lanky, his manner low-key and affable, Gibson is still faintly embarrassed by the success of his first novel. After devouring the literature of William Burroughs, Thomas Pynchon and J. G. Ballard, Gibson said he eventually returned to his roots. “I came to the conclusion that we need something like science fiction to describe the world we live in. And it never occurred to me that ‘Neuromancer’ was anything other than science fiction. I just never expected it to be well-received. It didn’t seem to play with the usual deck.” With its punk sensibilities and noir outlook, the movement he inspired is not without its detractors. David Brin of Los Angeles, a science-fiction writer and astrophysicist, calls Gibson the “most brilliant metaphorist in the English language” but is critical of the pessimism and pretension of cyberpunk. “I have never seen a better-managed campaign by a group of young writers claiming they invented things they never invented,” he said. “The gritty, rhythmic style, the emphasis of metaphor overlaid by metaphor, the glitzy, high-tech future, the predominance of style and gloss over plot — these were done better by people like John Brunner, J. G. Ballard and the late Alfred Bester years ago. “There appears to be a common need particularly endemic among artistic young men for ego aggrandizement. Cyberpunk represents a pandering to the old song of youth egocentrism — young males giving the finger to society. And there is a real need in the world for young men’s ego-rage. But let’s face it — Jonathan Swift was doing it centuries ago.” Underground Attitude John Shirley, a 34-year-old novelist and former New Wave musician now living in Thousand Oaks, is among cyberpunk’s proponents and believes the subgenre represents a significant development. He and his fellow cyberpunks represent a new kind of science-fiction writer, he said. “We tend to share a global view of the world. We write with an underground attitude, with an intensity and tone sometimes taken for punk, and with an undercurrent of anger. Our sources of information are generally alternate to those employed by other S-F writers. We are influenced by writers outside the genre, and by the better aspects of the rock culture. “Ours is the perspective of the new, constantly transforming flux of worldwide media. And the fact that all of this sounds horribly pretentious shouldn’t stop us. A movement is always going to sound pretentious. But maybe it’s important to be a bit histrionic, to shoot off a few flares.” Shirley, whose most recent novel is “Eclipse” (Pocket Library), said politics are at the crux of the controversy over cyberpunk. “What’s at issue here,” he said, “is (science fiction’s) insularity. The people attacking it prefer science fiction to remain their own personal, pleasant, escapist playground. They resent what we’re doing and feel threatened by it. They like their middle-class heroes.” Political in Nature Norman Spinrad of Los Angeles, one of science fiction’s reigning iconoclasts, agreed that most objections about cyberpunk have been political in nature. “The politics in their stuff,” he said, “is way to the left of center. You see this most clearly in Shirley’s work — he’s halfway to being a Marxist, though he would describe himself as a Fabian socialist. That is not a mainstream view in S-F, which has a real conservative streak running through it.” The characters in cyberpunk literature are clearly not yuppies, said Spinrad. “They may have the money of yuppies and the toys of yuppies, but they are outsiders, bandits, punks. And that word — punk — still raises a red flag with many people.” Gregory Benford, a physicist at UC Irvine and a prominent science-fiction writer, isn’t bothered by the anti-heroes who populate cyberpunk but objects to “a marketing strategy masquerading as a literary movement. (Cyberpunk) pretends to be a new direction in science fiction. In fact, it stands at the end of a long tradition within the field.” Benford said that members of the movement have failed to define the term cyberpunk, although they never run short of adjectives to describe it. He defines it as “a mid-‘80s, manifestoed movement advertising a hard-edged style, an aesthetic of surfaces, and an absorption of the implications of machine-intelligence. “My problem with it is that it is also another reductionist literary movement announcing that the vanguard of history has arrived, folks, and everybody else had better shuffle off into the ash heap.” David Brin is alarmed by what he views as the anti-science bias of cyberpunks. “In cyberpunk, mankind is doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again. Society has gotten glitzier, more technologically sophisticated, and yet has not learned a thing, has gained no wisdom. “The fact is that we have gained wisdom, though perhaps not fast enough to save ourselves. We have the only culture in human history that worries about problems before they become catastrophes,” Brin said. “We’re worried about holes in the freaking ozone layer, although no one has been killed by them yet. And yet we’re acting on it.” Brin and Benford are astounded that the controversy about cyberpunk continues to rage. “I’ll give them this,” Brin said. “I thought all this talk and jabber would be over by now, but it hasn’t let up.” Bruce Sterling, another of cyberpunk’s premier propagandists and a resident of Austin, Tex., said he continues to notice shades of cyberpunk in “a broad range of contemporary artistic expression” and is disturbed by the speed with which cyberpunk has been co-opted and transformed by the cultural environment. Used in Commercials ” ‘Max Headroom’ — at least the British pilot for the series — was hard-edged cyberpunk. But when Max was featured on American TV, his fangs were drawn. Max ended up being a spokesman for Coca-Cola, which is the ultimate in commercial absorption. And the Road Warrior is selling gasoline for Amoco.” Gibson, who said he never had a stake in the “polemic of cyberpunk,” thinks the genre has become a stylistic commonplace. “The trouble with the label, though, is that it leads people to assume there’s a sort of center for this stuff. In fact, the label has been applied to an existing phenomenon.” A famous science-fiction writer once said that when it’s raining chicken soup, the wise man buys a bucket. Indeed, Gibson and Shirley have found cyberpunk to be a useful springboard for launching film-writing careers. Gibson is hammering out the script for “Aliens III,” which producer Walter Hill says will inevitably and directly reflect cyberpunk issues and aesthetics. Shirley and Gibson are also adapting one of Gibson’s short stories, “The New Rose Hotel,” for a film version slated to be produced by Ed Pressman (“Salvador,” “Wall Street”) and directed by Kathryn Bigelow (“Near Dark”), a professed Gibson devotee. But Gibson, Shirley, Sterling and the other writers associated with cyberpunk appear to be moving beyond it. Gibson, for instance, plans to write a playful alternate history of the Industrial Revolution. Shirley, meanwhile, has plunged into surrealism with his upcoming novel, “A Splendid Chaos,” to be published in the spring by Popular Library. “The attention I’ve received from this thing has blown it for me,” said Gibson. “I doubt I’ll ever write anything like ‘Neuromancer’ again.” With an irony that is particularly apt because it reflects how most movements have mutated or stagnated by the time they have been recognized by the culture at large, cyberpunk is only now making a bid for recognition within the arena of American letters. Editing Special Issue Larry McCaffrey, an English professor at San Diego State University, is editing a special issue about cyberpunk for the literary journal Mississippi Review. “Most contemporary fiction,” McCaffrey said, “does not attempt to deal with the fundamental way that technology has changed our lives. The only recent novel I can think of that addressed the issues cyberpunk tackles was Don Delillo’s ‘White Noise.’ Meanwhile, the trend in post-Modernist literary criticism these days seems to be to identify the places where literature intersects with rock music, film, jazz, TV and image making. “I think that if cyberpunk leaves any lasting legacy, it will be this breakdown of barriers, both between science fiction and non-generic fiction and between the written word and the rest of the arts.”
GRAPHIC: Photo, William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” is a highly stylized vision of the wonders of the new New Age. ALEX WATERHOUSE-HAYWARD; Photo, John Shirley says cyberpunks “share a global view of the world.” SHELLY STOLL; Photo, Elements of cyberpunk: Above, a high-tech Laurie Anderson in movie “Home of the Brave”; left, techo-human being and robot pitchman
Copyright 1987 The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times All Rights Reserved Los Angeles Times July 30, 1987, Thursday, Valley Edition SECTION: View; Part 5; Page 12; Column 6 LENGTH: 1183 words HEADLINE: WRITER CREATES ULTIMATE MALL FOR FUTURE’S JADED SHOPPER BYLINE: By SHELDON TEITELBAUM, Teitelbaum is a North Hollywood free-lance writer. BODY: Somtow Sucharitkul would trade the Sherman Oaks Galleria and 10 like it for just one week in Mallworld. Mallworld is a totally awesome, 30-mile-long shopping plaza afloat in deep space. With some 20,000 stores in an almost bottomless array of shopping levels, it is the place for tomorrow’s glitz-conscious consumer. And if Sucharitkul — a science fiction writer who set a popular series of satirical stories in Mallworld — could actually live there instead of in his modest Van Nuys apartment, life would be grand. Where else, he asks, could you be a human pinball in a pinball machine the size of a football field? Or contemplate a noble death at the hands of a vampire in a suicide parlor that guarantees your prompt return to life? ‘Important New Writer’ “It beats the hell out of Lazer-Maze,” says the 34-year-old writer. Sucharitkul settled in the San Fernando Valley a year ago to pursue what is proving to be one of the most varied careers in science fiction today. In a field whose reigning enfants terrible are becoming disturbingly long of tooth and blunt of bite, Sucharitkul shows signs of becoming a ranking satirist. Robert Bloch, author of “Psycho” and an honored name in the genre, calls Sucharitkul “a brilliant and important new writer whose work is like a bolt of lightning — it is both illuminating and electrifying.” In 1981, Sucharitkul received the John W. Campbell Award for the genre’s best new writer, and has twice been nominated for its Hugo Award, science fiction’s equivalent of the Oscar. “Mallworld,” published by Donning in 1982 and reprinted by Tor in 1984, brought Sucharitkul international acclaim as a science fiction satirist. “The French are very fond of ‘Mallworld,’ ” he said, “and it’s the only fiction of mine to have been published dispatched by his father for the purpose of obtaining a first-rate British education. And though his Latin was weak and his social standing not quite up to school standards, young Sucharitkul prevailed, eventually graduating from Cambridge with a master’s degree in music. Avant-Garde Composer After returning to Thailand, where he learned his native language and traditional Thai music, he became, according to the magazine Asia Week, one of his country’s top avant-garde composers. “I had initially envisioned myself becoming the Kwisatz Haderach (the Hebrew term for a future-day messiah used in the science fiction novel “Dune”) of Thai music,” he said. “But I burned out at about the same time that my music, which in some traditional circles was accused of being sacrilegious or even Communist-inspired, seemed to be falling out of favor.” Sucharitkul turned to writing upon discovering about eight years ago that a poem he had composed as an 11-year-old had been reprinted as the epigraph to actress Shirley MacLaine’s autobiography, “Don’t Fall Off the Mountain.” His poem had appeared in the English-language Bangkok Post, and he surmises that it must have caught MacLaine’s attention as she was passing through Thailand. “Oh, I expect she thought these were the words of some ancient sage possessing the mysteries of the East,” he said, laughing. He received the princely sum of $200 for the poem, still the most per-word he’s ever been paid for his writing. Sucharitkul dabbled in science fiction, which he had read diligently as a child, churning out a pastiche of works by his favorite writers in order to teach himself the form. In 1981 his first novel, “Starship & Haiku,” was published by Pocket Books. Unknown. Teitelbaum Mainstream Clips (Kindle Locations 5680-5692). Written for Television Since moving to the Valley, Sucharitkul has written several scripts for upcoming Saturday morning TV cartoon shows, among them a syndicated animated series “Dinosaucers.” He has also sold a script to Tercel Productions, a Los Angeles-based company, for a very low-budget feature film tentatively titled “Lizard Ninja.” But though he has a love for schlock, Sucharitkul has not abandoned his novel writing. He has published 15 books and they reflect an eclectic range of interests. His “Aquilad” series posits an alternate history in which the Ancient Romans settled North America. In upcoming novels, according to Sucharitkul, they will build a railway across Nebraska and will ultimately settle Mars. Covers Serious Topics He has written in a more serious vein as well. His young adult novel, “The Fallen Country,” deals with domestic violence and is frequently cited by educators, social workers and child psychiatrists. Another novel due in October, “Forgetting Places” is about teen suicide. Meanwhile, he has begun a cautious return to music. He has written the lyrics for a Thai tourism jingle aimed at a yuppie American market, and is now hard at work in his Haskell Avenue home composing birthday music for the King of Thailand. Both projects are signs, he says, that his work is back in favor in Thailand. He has not seriously contemplated a sequel to “Mallworld,” however. Mallworld was a pleasant pipe dream, but there are new books to write. “They’ll never build the place, of course,” he says. “But I’d be happy if they simply threw a dome over Ventura Boulevard and kept it air-conditioned.” GRAPHIC: Photo, Science fiction writer Somtow Sucharitkul, under Sherman Oaks Galleria skylights, says he has “few doubts that the Galleria performs the functions of a cathedral during the Middle Ages.” BOB CAREY / Los Angeles Times

The Jerusalem Report

July 29, 2002

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