June 10th, 2007

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Astral Avenue Anniversary



I'm a little late celebrating one of my own anniversaries, but perhaps you'll graciously allow this belated notice.

When Bruce Sterling chose to end his subversive cyberpunk zine CHEAP TRUTH, he bade his loyal followers to carry the torch onward with their own zines.

You can read all the issues of CHEAP TRUTH here, BTW:

http://www.chriswaltrip.com/sterling/cheap.html

I listened, and obeyed.

Thus was ASTRAL AVENUE born in November of 1986, named after an actual Providence street.

But whereas Bruce was a relentless serious thinker and manifesto maker, I just wanted to be a clown and holy goof. Which is not to say I didn't have points to make. Witness my first-issue, front-page excoriation of the egregious Stephen King. But I was always a Yippie Abbie Hoffman to Bruce's SDS Tom Hayden.

ASTRAL AVENUE was a gloriously old-fashioned cut-and-paste operation. I was still operating with a Commodore 64/128, printing text on a daisy-wheel printer. I'd lay out the pages and rush to Kinko's. Back home, I'd collate, staple, tape mailing labels to all the issues, and hit the PO, all on my lonesome. Ah, what heady memories!

I kept rigorously and pridefully to a monthly schedule for 12 issues. Circulation topped a little over 100 at the height of the run. My mailing list included an equal number of pros and fans, who all were enthusiastic responders. It was during this time that someone first addressed me as "DiFi, as in SciFi," a nickname I've since cherished and used.

I ceased independent operations after issue 12, but then allowed Michael Adkisson of the semi-pro zine NEW PATHWAYS to convince me to run a column by the same name and with the same satirical, semi-serious spirit in his pages. That lasted about another ten issues, as I recall.

Today, the yellowing masters of the zine sit in a closet, the glue slowly disintegrating, releasing their collaged scraps to accumulate like the snows of yesteryear.

Katherine Dunn

I met Katherine Dunn at Clarion West in 1995. She was teaching the workshop and I was just hanging out at the party given for her on her final night in residence. We had, as I recall, a scholarly discussion about the great lightweight champion, Roberto Duran (some of you may not feel that a scholarly discussion on the subject of blood sport is possible, but trust me on this), and discovered that we shared an obsession with the sport of boxing. Since that night we’ve been friends, even though we approach things quite differently. In conversation, for instance, I tend just to start babbling, riffing off whatever comes along, whereas Katherine approaches talking as she approaches most things, in a highly organized and rational manner, taking lots of thoughtful pauses and intentionally (rather than, as in my case, inadvertently) making her point. But anyway, we’ve managed to stay friends over the course of twelve years and, as is a friend’s right on occasion, I intend now to embarrass her.

Katherine published her first novel, Attic, in 1970, and published two more, Truck and Three Day Fox: A Tattoo, during the decade. Then in 1989, Knopf brought out Geek Love.
“The Geek,” as Katherine tends to call it, stands as one of the most original and memorable novels of the 20th century, seeming to spring without literary antecedent onto the landscape of American letters. It tells the story of Art and Lily, the proprietors of Binewski’s Fabulon, a small traveling carnival, who have chosen to breed a family of freaks by means of ingesting pharmaceuticals, insecticides, anything with mutagenic potential, this in order to keep the carnival going. The novel is narrated by one of Art-and-Lily’s progeny, an albino dwarf named Olympia who, in a series of flashbacks, reflects upon her life in the Fabulon and upon her siblings, notably her brother Arturo, Aqua Boy, whose nightmarish destiny forms the core of the book. If you haven’t read Geek Love, you need to read it. It’s a horror novel about love, a love story on acid—it’s a great and compulsively readable book. Terry Gillian and Johnny Dep have recently expressed interest in filming it, but until then you’ll just have to do with the book, which—after all—is whole lot better for you.

Now Katherine is close to unleashing another novel on the world, The Cut Man, which involves…Well, I’ll let her tell you about it, but I will say that I’ve heard her read from it and it lives up to all expectations.

Starting tomorrow, Katherine will be hear to answer questions, comment, and etc. We’re happy to welcome her to what is now the Inferior 5…

Katherine Dunn 1

Hey Guys,

I’ve been reading the Inferior 4 + 1 for a while and it’s an honor to be invited to hang out here for a while. We can talk about whatever you like, but we’re kicking off with this long (sorry about that) essay because Lucius finds it interesting and the topic is still one of my red-eyed rant triggers.

This essay, "Just As Fierce,” was published in December of 1994 in Mother Jones magazine.  Some of you may be old enough to remember back then when a lot of high powered feminist rhetoric described females as being more evolved and civilized than males, non-aggressive, non-violent, more diplomatic, kinder and more nurturing, and our bodily effusions don’t stink. Despite, or maybe because of this moral superiority, females are all victims. This is a line of thought that worries me because I don’t fit the description and it doesn’t jibe with my observation of life. Besides, if you’re a writer who believes this, your female characters are bound to be…limited. And that’s no fun.

Certainly there have been changes in reality as well as in rhetoric since 1994—some for the better.
But what do you think?

--Katherine


Just as Fierce

 by Katherine Dunn

The girl wanted to fight. She was young and blonde and she spoke good English and at first the guys in the boxing gym laughed.

But when Dallas Malloy stepped into an amateur boxing ring in Lynnwood, Wash. in 1993, she broached a barrier far more imposing than the crusty male bastion of the sport. She challenged an ancient and still powerful tradition of what it is to be female. She defied what may be our most pervasive notion of gender difference--the idea that men are physically aggressive and women are not.

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