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Douglas Lain
Posted on Monday, February 21, 2005 - 01:20 pm:   

Nine years ago I couldn't get published but Bryan Cholfin was publishing and in many ways the SF field was better off with this arrangement. Cholfin's literary journal CRANK! prefigured LCRW and all the other slipstream magazines and anthologies and brought forward authors like Jonathan Lethem, planetalyx, and Michael Kandel. CRANK!, Century, and NONSTOP served as different flavored antidotes for the posionous depressions I'd suffer after reading a happy space adventure or yet another boring
cyberpunk story in one of the digests.

But the story that really put butterflies in my stomach and made my knees weak back in 1996, the one that made me hope against hope, was Rob McCleary's "Nixon in Space." Here's how it starts:

On July 20, 1969, or so I'm told, after forty-eight hours of hellish labor, Leigh was born and some guys walked around on the moon. Leigh had red hair, and was a girl. THe people who walked around on the moon were all male, that is to say they had penises. Due to zero gravity they had erections the entire trip. Even when tehy blasted off they had hard-ons. The roar of the rocket engines excited them. "It was better than sex," they said afterwards.

Critics at the time seemed to like the story but didn't quite know how to categorize it. Amy Sterling Casil, unable to think of words like "ironic" or "absurdist", described the story this way:

"Nixon in Space" is another piece which might have appeared in New Worlds. McCleary's history is like that seasoning product, Crazy Mixed-Up Salt. All over the map, here and there, you don't quite know what you're getting. It may be the low I.Q. or altered-states version of alternate history.

What seemed to be difficult for some to understand was that the author didn't want you to believe the story he was telling. You weren't supposed to suspend disbelief. The disbelief you felt was supposed to sink into your gut, get into your blood, and make you sick.

The description of the history of the space program wasn't stupid, or altered, but despairing. The narrator was overwhelmed by the last century. Here's the logic of the story.

It was impossible that World War II or the space race could have taken place in a sane and rational universe. Given that both World War II and the space race did actually happen it follows that the universe is neither sane nor rational. If the universe is not sane then rational texts can't describe it.

"There might be cities on the moon," [the astronauts] hinted broadly. They had no shame. They had moon fever. Their entire lives, body and soul, had become devoted to one cause: getting back up on the moon and playing golf.

Looking on google I can't find any link to other Rob McCleary stories or books. But they surely must be out there somewhere. It can't be that McCleary published this and then never wrote, or got published, again. After all, "Nixon in Space" appeared in "The Best of Crank" and inspired me to make a collage tape of Nixon's resignation, his conversation with Kruschev, and Kennedy's speech about the moon. These voices combined with Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite played on my realistic tape machine throughout the late 90s.

If anybody knows the titles to McCleary's novels or where I can get his collected works please let me know.

Nixon appeared on television, calling for calm, but the situation was beyond repair. The "Put Nixon On the Moon" committee (formerly the most powerful of the plebian moon race organizations) was torn apart by infighting, and was unable to induce a peaceful end to the hostilities. Finally, after days of impassioned pleas for calm, Nixon appeared for one last time on television and said:
"Fuck you all, I'm going to the moooooon!"
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douglas lain
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 01:20 am:   

Reprinted from my LJ

For the past few days I've been writing about a story from CRANK! magazine circa 1996 entitled "Nixon in Space." I wondered publicly what happened to its author Rob McCleary.
Did McCleary quit writing because he quite reasonably found better and more satisfying things to do with his time, or did he quit because he couldn't find another astute editor like Cholfin to publish his stuff?
What happened after that is one of those common miracles of this computer age. McCleary (or somebody claiming to be McCleary) found out about what I'd written and responded:

This...(dramatic pause) is Rob McCleary reporting from cyberspace.
First, let me say how totally freaked I am that there are still people interested in my writing after all these years.[...] I pretty much gave up writing after that, in any meaningful sense. Having a nervous collapse is pretty much a full time job.

After that I emailed this impostor/authentic McCleary a few questions. Then I drank a Mirror Pond Pale Ale and went to bed, content with a job well done.

What follows might be called an interview:

Q: Did your mental breakdown have anything to do with writing fiction?

A: I tend to the melodramatic. I just flamed out from writing fiction (so I guess the answer, in a way, is "yes"). I thought that getting published in Crank! would be the start of things for my writing, but it sort of ended up feeling like the end. I still couldn't get anyone to open their doors to me, so I ended up pushing thirty, flat broke, bussing tables in Toronto.
Not fun. I'd worked my ass off for about three years trying to break into publishing, and people still weren't willing to look at anything that wasn't "to formula", so I just gave up in disgust. I had (and still have, somewhere) a novel-length manuscript, loosely based on Nixon in Space, except in this one Venutians come to earth to steal our polyester.
Anyway, I worked my ass off on all that stuff, and people still treated me like something they'd tracked in on the bottom of their shoe, so for the sake of my own (and wife's) mental health, I just said "screw it".

Q: What did you think of the critical reception of "Nixon in Space"?

A: I didn't know there was a critical reaction to it. I read that one review, but she [Amy Sterling Casil] essentially just made an observation of what the story was (chaotic and funky) so it's hard to take as a put down. To be honest, I just sort of forgot about the whole thing once I gave up writing fiction. I didn't hear much back from Bryan, so for all I knew the whole thing could've been shit-canned until copies started turning up in libraries and second hand stores.

Q: How long did it take you to write "Nixon in Space" and how long did it take you to place it with a publication?

A: I banged that mutha out in about a month - it was sweet - the words just sort of came tumbling out and I just wrote them down. I don't think I changed more than a few sentences from start to finish. It took me a while to find Bryan Cholfin (two years?). The whole thing is sort of like recalling a past life. Then it got reprinted in the anthology, then the softcover - it just kept going and going. I wish everything I wrote had that kind of legs.

Q: Do you consider yourself to be a science fiction writer? Did you consider yourself to be a science fiction writer at the time?

A: I think the downfall of the industry has been trying to label writers. Look at Lethem - they guy rocks, but what is he? SF? Fantasy? The whole publishing industry seemed to fall into the "mass market" paperback - selling books in airplane gift shops. Plus things got tight in the 90's, so nobody was willing to take chances on anything that didn't already have a track record (the same thing for TV and film - it's ongoing - creativity is being dictated by accountants - if you don't fit the ballance sheet,
TS). At the time I wrote it, I was just trying to write what felt right, and funny to me.

Q: Did the fact that you'd sold fiction help you when you pursued screen writing?

A: No. By screen writing I'm assuming you mean TV. The only reason I got work in TV was because I "knew someone who knew someone". I bugged an old university buddy into giving me the name of a Story Editor at a place called Nelvana in Toronto, and then I bugged that guy into giving me work. It's not like TV and film people hold writing fiction against you, it's just sort of like telling them you set the land speed record in your own jet-fueled rocket car: interesting, but not especially relevant to the task at hand.
TV has its own formats and rules, and one does not translate into the other. The best analogy I can think of is of being able to play one musical instrument: it doesn't mean you can automatically switch to another. The basic, basic principles are the same, but other than that you're on your own.

Q: The last question isn't really a question, but a comment. I just wanted you to know that your story had an impact on me in 1996. It gave me hope while I was pursuing publication. It was good to see it out there.

A: Good work, Doug. That's amazing. My hat's off to you for all your hard work and perseverance. You've got more guts than me. Where can I get a copy of your book?
And, like all perfect interviews, this one ends with a plug for my upcoming short story collection Last Week's Apocalypse which is due out from Night Shade Books in early 2006. I should also point out that the sixth issue of CRANK! contained Nixon in Space and is still available from Small Beer Press. The story was also reprinted in The Best of CRANK!
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Jeff Barnes
Posted on Saturday, January 07, 2006 - 06:45 pm:   

I just read this story in a copy of the book THE BEST OF CRANK! that I picked up! I'm glad I wasn't drinking or else my beverage would have come out through my nose! I loved it!

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