"Dirt Cheap Literary Criticism With the Honesty of Complete Desperation"

I'm not sure quite where I first heard about cheap truth. It might have been one of the alt.cyberpunk FAQ's.

Cheap Truth was a small but potent mid '80s zine produced by one Vincent Omniaveritas (a.k.a. Bruce Sterling) and friends in deepest Texas. Other writers in the "cyberpunk movement" wrote in under pseudonyms like Sue Denim, Augean Stapledon and Todd Refinery, railing against contemporary SF and hyping the good stuff.

Cheap Truth was short and sharp and I think it probably stopped at the right moment, which makes me some sort of necromancer. But it clears the sinuses and sends clouds of dust and dead moths flying out of the jaded ear, so if you have to make love to corpses this is probably the place to do it.

Besides, you can read the whole run in a few hours.

Here's some snippets, chopped about, with links to the individual issues...

$0$0$0$0$0$0$0$0 CHEAP TRUTH ONE $0$0$0$0$0$0$0$0

EDITORIAL: Hi. You want to know the truth. We want to tell it to you. Let's try to keep the ECONOMICS between us to a minimum, okay? Right, let's do it.

Fantasy, for too long the vapid playground of McCaffreyite unicorn-cuddlers and insect-eating SCA freaks, has some new and dangerous borderlands.

NIFFT THE LEAN by Michael Shea This astonishing work shows a furious imaginative concentration that is impressive and even appalling He is a Fender Stratocaster to Vance's Stradivarius Shea is doing for the outworn tradition of heroic fantasy what Swinburne did for the tradition of romantic poetry: namely, piling it up in a heap and setting it on fire. And, like Swinburne, he does it with so much insight that he renders the tradition obsolete.


EDITORIAL: "Dirt Cheap Literary Criticism With the Honesty of Complete Desperation"


Some pointed criticism of the anthologies, ending on a high note:

Bruce Sterling contributes a slick piece of entomological SF. The odd popularity of this work, with its intense Stapledonian pessimism, probably shows that readers have missed his point.

But the best comes last: William Gibson's incredible "Burning Chrome." THIS is the shape for science fiction in the 1980's: fast-moving, sharply extrapolated, technologically literate, and as brilliant and coherent as a laser. Gibson's focussed and powerful attack is our best chance yet to awaken a genre that has been half-asleep since the early 1970's.


EDITORIAL. It has come to our attention that unscrupulous black marketeers have been retailing copies of CHEAP TRUTH at astronomical prices, some going as high as twelve to thirteen cents. The situation is especially bad in Eastern Bloc countries, where the CHEAP TRUTH distribution network has been penetrated by KGB and Bulgarian agents provocateurs, who take advantage of desperate shortages of SF criticism to hike the underground price from one American cigarette to as high as two or even three.


We got hold of H. P. Lovecraft. Never mind how. There are things in the Cross Plains Dairy Queen that are best left unspoken. At any rate we had the gentleman in the CHEAP TRUTH offices in late March, 1983 -- some 46 years after his death.


Mr. Augean Stapledon, a third-eyed tuatara of the first water, offers us the following REPTILE NEWS:

I started with the intention of writing something about Isaac Asimov's ROBOTS OF DAWN. And then I thought, why do you want to do that? That old hack isn't the problem. Just another guy resurrecting the decaying flesh of ideas, plots, and characters dead thirty years now, pumping in a little '80's topicality (lame sex), and grabbing himself a whole bunch of money and a chrome rocket. What the hell? You give a guy a license to steal, you've got to expect him to use it.

But who gave him the license? That's better, more to the point ...



While other media have made fantastic leaps in power and distribution, publishing remains a smokestack industry. Now word processors and videotex media have arrived: rude intrusions into the ivied halls of literary culture.

These new technologies are pantingly ready to lay rude hands on the lilied flesh of literature, and the resulting indecencies are extremely promising opportunities for SF. Straight literature has never taken technology seriously, and as a result it has lobotomized itself. As it flounders in an increasingly senile search for its audience, its vigorous bastard child, science fiction, might conceivably lead this technological revolution and make itself the dominant mode of literary expression in the 21st century. We owe it to ourselves to try.


EDITORIAL.  radical, hard SF
     seeing signs that something new is imminent ---
        new fiction from the bounty of new technology. 
     /// the perspectives opened up by contemporary science fight back, using guerilla tactics
        new information systems f/a/s/h/i/o/n that new science fiction
               for the *electronic age*


With this volume, Bluejay Books has delivered a stinging duellist's slap to the slack jowls of the anthology market ... 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 ... His opening Summation repays close reading for its quick-witted ideology and sagacious grasp of industry dynamics ... More importantly, they show an earnest effort by '80's writers to scrap old formulas and speak in a modern vocabulary.

Scoring points with Cheap Truth were: Greg Bear, Robert Silverberg, Tanith Lee, R.A. Lafferty, Leigh Kennedy, Pat Cadigan, Bruce Sterling, Jack Dann.


EDITORIAL. Magazines have an immediacy and recklessness unmatched by any other SF medium. Cheap, disposable, instantly gratifying, SF magazines are the thin edge of the genre's cultural wedge...

ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION/SCIENCE FACT: ANALOG suffers from advanced hardening of the arteries; it has become old, dull, and drivelling. In an era of unparallelled sociotechnical ferment, ANALOG exudes the stale, mummylike odor of attitudes preserved too long. ANALOG's brain and heart are in canopic jars somewhere, while its contributors' word-processors spit out copy on automatic pilot. It is a situation screaming for reform. ANALOG no longer permits itself to be read.

INTERZONE: This British SF quarterly is rife with puzzling self-contradiction. It has the finest editorial ideology in the English-speaking world, bound cheek-by-jowl with stories often riddled with conceit and void of substance ... INTERZONE's problems are symptomatic of much larger difficulties within the genre itself...


There's a saying: "REAL programmers don't eat quiche... they eat Twinkies and Szechuan food." This kind of junk-food mentality is true of your typical SF fan, too. Your REAL SF fan doesn't read Priest. He doesn't read Dick or Ballard, either. He reads David Brin and Larry Niven and Anne McCaffrey. Junk food for the brain...

This year we're lucky -- we've had a couple of rich, vitamin-packed granola bars already, and at least one of them is being scarfed down by junk-food addicts everywhere.

Certainly they like the taste of NEUROMANCER. I mean, this is high-tech enough to satisfy the most acned sixteen-year-old hacker whose only sex life is getting his modem on-line with an X-rated bulletin board. Never mind that it shows you how the future may very well BE, never mind the political issues, this guy knows what it's like the be plugged IN, man.

But that's okay. Literature, the really good stuff, has a way of changing your thinking whether you want it to or not.


EDITORIAL. This is modern SF's predicament. Extrapolations, that once held some intellectual validity, have now become distorted folk tales, passed down through generations. SF's vision of the future has become a Punch and Judy show, ritualized, predictable, and fit only for children...

Yet this represents a profound abdication of SF's role in society. It is as if the scouts of a panic-stricken army had retreated to an obscure corner of camp...

Attempts to actually go out and survey the territory are dismissed out of hand: too difficult, too dangerous, too depressing. Too much hard work. It's easier to exploit the panic: either by adding to it with the latest gray dystopia, or by preying on the terror of a demoralized readership by offering cathartic power fantasies...

(It makes quite a lot of sense after three or four readings)


The 1985 Nebula Awards will be handed out on May 4, fifteen years to the day from the shootings at Kent State University in Ohio.

Once again the armed might of conservatism faces the radical vision of a new generation, this time across the distance of a ballot. The voices of repression range from the senile babblings of Robert Heinlein to the California vapidity of Larry Niven to the moist-eyed urgency of Kim Stanley Robinson; arrayed against them are William Gibson, Lewis Shiner, and Jack Dann. Can they prevail?



Sci-fi writer Russell M. Griffin, after a succession of poorly-marketed novels, each from a less successful publisher than the one before it, last week devoured his own foot in order to stay alive. Griffin was unavailable for comment, but our sources conjectured, "How else is the poor b*st*rd supposed to live? Not on the piece-of-sh*t advances these people pay!"

What brought Griffin to this end? Inquiring minds want to know.

CHEAP TRUTH Raymond Chandler Interview

It was late March, 1985, two years since our CHEAP TRUTH Lovecraft interview (see CT3). Once again we used the unspeakable necromancy of the Cross Plains Dairy Queen.


Now that NEUROMANCER has garnered so many accolades, maybe it's time to sit back and see just what heights have been climbed. The book has, yeah, STYLE -- that gritty fascination with surfaces signalled by the opening line, "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." Wonderful! TV as symbol for numbed reflexes, anomie, pollution, savage commercialism. And that slick style carries us forward on a garbage-reeking tide for... about a hundred pages.

CT points out the minus side of Neuromancer, which I love, then the plus side of Greg Bear's Blood Music (the full novel), which I hate. Oh well.


EDITORIAL: SF notions dominate the current Geneva arms talks. In this issue, CHEAP TRUTH responds to the zeitgeist.

With the advent of the Strategic Defense Initiative, the elements, themes, and modes of thought native to science fiction have become central to worldwide political debate.

One SF splinter group has shown a laudable quickness in grasping SF's new political potential ... For purposes of discussion we will refer to them as the "Pournelle Disciples."

This group has a number of strengths. The first is their solid publishing base in Tor and Baen Books ... Another crucial advantage is their ideological solidarity, which gives them the sort of shock-troop discipline that Lenin installed in the Bolsheviks. In this case, their Lenin is the redoubtable ex-Marxist Jerry Pournelle, who wears multiple hats as writer, editor, theorist, and political organizer.


EDITORIAL by Todd Refinery. Regular CT editor V. Omniaveritas is currently out of touch in Haiti, where he is pelting the Tonton Macoute with concrete blocks. And longtime CT contributor Sue Denim has our passports ready for a romantic tour of her own.


The current chaos in Central America is the result of foreign meddling, greed, laziness, guilt, and misplaced idealism. That's a lot of factors, but then, Central America is a hell of a mess.

So is this year's Nebula ballot.

Sorry, I can't fillet the rest of this. It was just too brilliant. You'll have to read it.


EDITORIAL. Science fiction today is in a rare state of ferment. This happy situation has been created only with great effort and must now be prolonged and intensified.

In this issue, guest agitatrix Hunilla de Cholo addresses her fellow Eighties writers, with a moving lecture on pluralistic Postmodern solidarity. We at CHEAP TRUTH echo her sentiments. We also regard much of her literary analysis as rank deviationist heresy. All the better -- honest controversy sheds light on truth. And in the meantime, we can use the heat to bring SF to a boil. We are pleased to offer her this podium.


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 Airstrip One.


... 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 ... 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.


(Version 3) SFAW Grievance Committee Report

"When rumors reached us of Mr. Omniaveritas' death, we reacted with grave concern. He had, after all, been semiprofessionally published in INTERZONE, and could be broadly regarded as one of us, even though his name and address never showed in the Directory and we never got cent one of dues out of him. So we despatched a crack investigative team of myopic geeks and pudgy women in satin to clarify the situation. If foul play was discovered, we were perfectly prepared to threaten to sic Harlan's lawyer on any publisher involved.


Saddened by the death of this fabled gangster of Eighties SF criticism, we decided to re-visit the Cross Plains Dairy Queen (CT3, CT11) and contact his spirit for a post-mortem interview.

CHEAP TRUTH Special Unnumbered Edition

A tribute to Theodore Sturgeon after his death.