Zine Scene: Abner Smith’s The CIA Makes Science Fiction Unexciting

Abner Smith: The CIA Makes Science Fiction Unexciting #6Abner Smith: The CIA Makes Science Fiction Unexciting #6 (Microcosm)

For more than a decade, zine writer Abner Smith has tackled what we usually consider USA-related “conspiracy theories” in The CIA Makes Science Fiction Unexciting. The series’ six issues delve into the shocking details of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, HIV, Iran-Contra, and more. Smith’s writing reacts against both the personal-story vogue in the zine genre and the uncritical eye that most people give to historical accounts (you can read more about Smith in a wonderful interview with his publisher).

In each issue, Smith shows that all it takes is a little digging to uncover a more complex and troubling version of historical events than what the authorities or the media report. Reprints of all six of his zines are available through Microcosm, including his newest: an updated biography of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Smith’s account begins with Oswald’s early life (or rather “Lee’s,” as Smith refers to him for most of the booklet). He disputes common myths like Oswald’s violent tendencies and loner status, and instead points out the contradictory aspects and mysterious developments involved in the upbringing of a future assassin. Why would a self-professed “Marxist” volunteer for the Marine Corps, or demand a Russian passport based on decades-outdated theoretical knowledge and less-than-rudimentary Russian? Smith points out how much we know about Oswald’s marriage and how little we know about his political motivations.

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After Oswald’s return to America, Smith’s account becomes even more convoluted. The octopus-like network of pro-Cuban and anti-Cuban factions, government and Socialist entities, rogue agents, double agents, and patsies is hard to follow. At this point, Smith seems to be writing more to people who have devoted their life to this kind of conspiracy research, but that doesn’t imply a lack of incentive for novices. Smith’s picture of a labyrinthine government structure, full of CIA shady dealings and especially ties with organized crime, make for gripping (and dizzying) reading.

Thankfully, Smith maintains a focus on a few key players in order to preserve order (though not Oswald himself, who remains something of an enigma throughout all the research findings and diary entries). Oswald’s wife, Marina, and his mother, Marguerite, come through as clear characters with respectively ambivalent and loyal perspectives of Oswald. Handy as well were the accounts of various Cuban operatives at the time, who tacitly deny involvement in the operation. Smith helpfully provides a “Where Are They Now” section at the end, which both underscores the roles of and connections between his characters, and gives us a glimpse of the continually frustrating and now mostly stagnant nature of the investigation.

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It can be a bit difficult to read a biography based around a series of omissions and mysteries, and Smith seems to be raising more questions than he answers – on purpose. This is a biography meant to invite inquiry, not passive reception. As a reader, the lack of answers piqued my interest more than what hard facts there are of Oswald’s life (and there aren’t many). Smith ends his account with the assertion, “Three quarters of Americans believe some kind of conspiracy was involved in the assassination of JFK,” but even the slippery wording of the phrase speaks to how much we still don’t and probably will never know about the events of that day. In this and other installments of Smith’s series, his decision to leave the reader unsatisfied comes across as powerful evidence of the truth lurking out there, hidden. From there, it’s up to the reader to decide.

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