Wednesday, November 24, 2010

An anthology for peace

When the Music's Over, a story anthology edited by Lewis Shiner, has a good short story by Robert Anton Wilson, "Von Neumann's Second Catastrophe," which has never been reprinted anywhere else. But that's not the only reason for a RAW fan to hunt up a copy.

The May 1991 Bantam Spectra science fiction anthology, dedicated to presenting alternatives to war, goes against the usual SF convention of marketing war fiction. Shiner donated all of his proceeds from the book to Greenpeace.

It's a natural anthology for Wilson to appear in, because RAW often wrote against violence. For example, in the essay "Left and Right: A Non-Euclidean Perspective," reprinted in Email to the Universe, Wilson writes, "I would never kill a person or employ even minor violence, or physical coercion, on behalf of capitalized Abstractions or Governments (who are all damned liars.)" The dedication to Cosmic Trigger II, in part, says the book is "AGAINST the makers of war, in anathema."

Still, I sensed that because Wilson was not normally part of the SF scene, he might have been recruited to the project, so I wrote to Mr. Shiner to ask about that.

Shiner explained that he met Wilson at a dinner set up by his friend, Rick Shannon, publisher of a magazine named "Trajectories" (not the Wilson zine of the same name).

"I talked to him about the anthology that night and he expressed interest--we corresponded a bit, and he sent me the story. I had specifically said that I didn't want any negative example stories, and his crossed the line a bit. But I really liked it and made an exception for him. As I remember I had a few minor edits, which he was very cool about."

Unusually, for an American SF anthology, the book has an international flavor. It includes stories by a Russian and a Japanese writer.

Shiner had meant an even more diverse book.

My goal when I started the book was to get stories from all over the world, with a complete balance of gender, nationality, religion, etc. Ha. It was impossible. I spent almost as much time trying to find a single Russian story that I could use as I did on the rest of the book, and even then I had to take something that had already been published. As for gender balance, I begged and pleaded with female writer friends like Karen Joy Fowler, Lisa Tuttle, Pat Murphy, on and on, and they all let me down. While white male US writers kept sending me one great story after another.

The title, by the way, is WHEN THE MUSIC'S OVER, after the Doors song. I can't explain why that title worked for me (more than a few people were puzzled by it), I just know that it seemed right.

When the book finally came out, it was right in the midst of the first Gulf War--probably the worst time for a peace anthology since World War II. It was a minor hit in San Francisco, and was completely ignored everywhere else.

Perhaps now, with the U.S. embroiled in seemingly endless wars in Asia, it might be time to give the book a second look.

In not unrelated news, I've decided to include a link to Antiwar.com in the collection of site links. I hope Mr. Wilson would have approved.

1 comment:

michael said...

Tom: I don't think we have to go too far out on a limb to agree that RAW would've approved.

Th story's premise seems to still resonate with some experts/academics on the whole Nuke Problem; there are others who see a "whole new ballgame" with non-state actors and the increasing availability of enriched uranium, etc.

But as a take on the Cold War, I love RAW's story.