So Much an Excuse, Anne Warren, More Like a Reason
Mars Made Me Do It’
Sighted the Boundary of Space-Time with Vincent
Out of the Attic,
Fiction Book Club, scary or wot
You Are What You Like, Like What You Are, Like.
I like... the Captain Britain strip in Daredevils, for being
genuinely imaginative comix art angled towards real live
adults with a taste for the fantastic... the idea of being
nostalgic for the bombing I was never under during the Second
World War, and the odd feeling that I have sometimes that I
actually did live through part of that time... watching weird
South American or Japanese films and realising once again that
Ballard was right and Earth is the only alien planet, and only
cultural narrow-mindedness has prevented us from realising
this years ago... RAF Buccaneers sweeping and slipping through
the air over Beirut, lower than the Americans, cooler than the
French, those bulky old jets having so much presence I wish
I’d been there... the idea of William Burroughs, the man more
than his fiction, the thought that maybe one day before he
dies he’ll write the perfect straight novel he shows he’s
capable of all the time... Johnny Shines, Robert Johnson,
Muddy Waters, the Memphis Jug Band, Holger Czukay, Miles
Davis, Robert Nighthawk... John Irving, even though he uses
exactly the same tricks in virtually the same order in every
book, because they fucking work every time... being old enough
not to think of myself as young any longer, and with that the
petty satisfaction to be (sort of) wise with experience...
Russell Hoban, Robert Nye, George Orwell, H G Wells, William
Kotzwinkle, Charles Bukowski, Tom Mallin, Algis Budrys’s book
reviews, Barrington Bayley’s short stories, fanwriting by
Bell, Bridges and Priest (short stories and The Affirmation
after all for you too CP)... writing by Frost, Welbank (art
too), Pickersgill L... the idea that some time or other people
will live up to my expectation of them, and me to theirs.
So Much an Excuse, Anne Warren, More Like a Reason
I’ve spent the last few days deciding whether or not to bore everyone to the point of deciphering David Bridges last mailing by going on and on again about how hard I find it writing anything for Frank. I finally came up with a decision, and one that took the better of the two options: the third. You see, for some time now I’ve been more and more aware that I actually don’t like writing at all, and all of this Frank-oriented stuff just hangs over me like some horrible heavy suffocating sword of Damocles and really makes the last few days of the month miserable and uncomfortable and guilt-ridden and a general drag, and I’ve got more sympathy with Eve Harvey and her period pains now than I ever did before, even if I do still think she’s conning herself into allowing a certain uncontrollability into her life as much as a justification as anything else. Okay?
I mean, I'd like to be able to claim this total abandonment of one of the fundamental principles of the Fan Way of Life came on me like some wonderful epiphanitic moment on the road to the One Tun or even the SRL of a dull Tuesday morning, but truth to tell it’s more like a horrible suspicion that’s been hanging under the front part of my brain for years waiting for a time when I could come right out and admit it. Of course, instead of admitting it I fobbed myself off with all sorts of useless excuses like not being properly motivated, or not having a typewriter that worked, or not having any ideas (you know all this) when the core of it was that I just don’t like doing it and that’s that. It’s all very odd really.
At one time I certainly thought I liked writing. It probably all goes back to being the sort of smart kid who finished the Purple Reading Book in Primary School when all the others were wading their way pedestrianly through the Green or Orange Books several levels below. Not only was I wildly deluded into believing the facility to read words led inevitably to a heightened ability to write them, but this dangerous fantasy was reinforced by teachers who held up my essays as examples to the rest and eagerly printed my material in school magazines. This sort of crazy perversion of reality persisted far uplife, even unto the time when I left school (utterly unqualified for everything and, like Ian Williams, thought of as a total failure because I wasn’t even going to a teacher-training college, much less university (at Haverfordwest Grammar anyone who didn’t get into fucking Oxford was thought of as a failure)) and actually wrote down, in ink, on paper, on my leaving form, that my proposed occupation was going to be "Writer". Bloody hell.
It seems fantastic to look back on (the para above, I mean, not just the actual event) but it is true! I really believed it, quite despite the fact I’d hardly completed anything I’d ever started, and certainly had no idea of what publishing was really all about. It took me a good year of useless aimlessness to see the true facts about things, just about as long as it took for me to realise that everything I had written (part of) was hopelessly derivative and had about as many original ideas as any Eighties rock band. So, having realised I was (surprise, surprise) fascinated with being a writer rather than writing, I joined the British Library and entered the Pit of the Employee.
However, I still thought I liked writing. But for fun, rather than profit. After all, as a fan in the arsehole of nowhere almost all my contacts had been via the GPO and they’d brought lots of fun and much rushing to the letterbox and so on, and even when I moved to London and actually met and talked to people face to face (and found what a bunch of pricks most of them were viewed up close) I still wanted to do fanzines and write letters, and while I actually did the former and forgot the latter it became more and more an imposition and a responsibility and something that had to be done rather than a simple pleasure.
At least half the trouble stems from the proximity to one’s fellow fans. I mean, if you can go and see people in bars and talk out ideas or phone them up and go on and on and generally work things out of your system that way, it all gets to be a sort of useless extra to go to the trouble of actually codifying the idea and writing it in understandable language so other people can get it too. This is of course selfish, and virtually saying out loud that it is only the people close at hand that really matter and if those far away don’t get it then too bad. Christ, I’m suffering from that right here, as only a week or so back I explained all this to Jimmy Robertson and Anne Warren and Pam Wells at the FIS and you know, why should I have to fucking do it again? Huh?
Of course the reason for that is that you got to bring some to get some. Just like the wider mass of fandom you’ve got to be a participant to get the best. In fact, obviously, to get Frank’s (which I concede is full of really good stuff I’m very glad I get to read) you got to participate, fuck. But that doesn’t make it any easier. Actually I often get the urge to write, or more correctly the urge to do something about something. Like rave on at idiots like Tom Jones who is still pursuing his sour-grapes feud with fandom via the BSFA, or the cretin who wrote a bad review of the film Malavil in a recent Matrix based purely on his inability to accept the film on its own terms instead of what he wanted it to be (I thought it was superb, myself). I never do write anything, though; my time for doing twelve-page letters redressing the record and putting others in their place passed in 1978 and I’m not allowed to say who got the last of them. I just rant about the place for ten minutes or so until I’ve told Linda or Rastus exactly what I think in detail and then calm down and forget all about it. ‘But you have a moral duty to put the correct side of things,’ says Linda, usually. So Wot, I invariably respond, if anyone is so fucking thick as to think that in the first place they’ll need more than a letter from me to change their way of living. Like a .45 pistol, I mutter darkly and watch television again.
So, I hate writing. It seems to me incredible that people like Barfoot not only have a sort of obviously intellectually congenial local life with Philosophy classes and Harry Bell guest-lecturing on Bunk (apt eh wot: figure-studies next no doubt) but can turn out so much thoroughly entertaining and intelligent material, even if he does rip off some of his best lines. Gee, maybe he actually likes doing it.
* * *
All Right, Now What Then, Er?
Well, it’s a way of living with it, innit.
Mars Made Me Do It’
It was around midnight, and I was in my usual confused state. I mean, you know, nothing works right: the women, the jobs, the no-jobs, the weather, the dogs. Finally you just sit in a kind of stricken state and wait like you’re sitting on the bus-stop bench waiting for death.
So here’s our man, and it’s not even midnight, and he’s poncing around quoting Charles Bukowski as if he’s been having a hard time of it. Boy, has he ever had it good. Here he is an Eastercon Fan Guest of Honour, well dug in on the lee side of the hill. What, you expect cans of Guinness brought to you as well?
An absorption in the past is often a repudiation of the present, not the least vice that nostalgia encourages, and a repudiation of the present, by distortion and false memory, is a repudiation of the self.
Geoffrey Wolff said that.
* * *
‘Hush! Hush! I Heard Somebody Callin’ My Name’
In 1968 I went to my first convention. It was the second Eastercon ever to have more than 200 members and as a newcomer I was just as ignored at it as newcomers to 800+ members Eastercons are today. I had made a few contacts through the BSFA before that, though, and they helped me come away with the idea that there was something in this convention business and it was worth waiting a whole year to try again. I’ve been to a lot of conventions since then, and though few have been wholly satisfying—giving that chance blend of ideas, novelty, and desperate fun that I think constitutes a truly fine convention—I still think they’re a good idea someone really ought to do something with.
There were less empty barns in those days, and with only one convention a year fan activity centred around the fanzine. I did a few; too few to mention, really, though they enjoyed a certain vogue. There was Fouler (with assistance from now gone-fan Leroy Kettle), Ritblat, Seamonsters (with gone-fan Simone Walsh), and Stop Breaking Down. Nineteen issues. Not much, even with a handful of APA contributions. Actually, I still think some of the material is good. Much of my own material is as true to me today as then, and probably better written too.
Then I realised I could talk in public. Annual visits to the Silicon training farm got me going, arguing from the front and back in the Ian Williams Debate, a barely regulated shouting match that is my model for all but the most formal convention programming. Having run the Fan Room at the 1977 Eastercon, and done a lot of work in the ’79 Worldcon Fan Room, I ended up working on both the Mexicons (ingroupish elitist conventions that run off with the attitude that a couple of hundred people with an interest in books and fanzines can have a good time without the benefit of other distractions) and, working under Linda Pickersgill, running the Fan Room at Conspiracy—which was a real eye-opener, not least in the way that many fans, including some of the most prominent and American, were such endless complainers and whingers.
Doesn’t seem much to occupy twenty years. But hey, I do other stuff. Spending a week’s pay on an encyclopaedia of SF magazines means Serious Collector to me, especially now I have this nagging urge to convert the few stray copies of Imaginative Tales, SFS, and Future I have into complete sets. And I’m still missing a few early SF Book Club editions too. I dunno, though: is this an adequate interest in science fiction (which of course it is widely believed no true fan should have. Hah!) or just what non-collectors call anal-retentive? Who cares. I am what I am and that’s all that I am.
* * *
Fandom—As Serious As Your Life
A fellow called David Piper asked me at the Worldcon whether I’d become a Fandom is a Way of Life guy deliberately. Obviously not, though I do believe that all life is fandom of one sort or another, ours being the only one (probably) that calls itself by that name. I take fandom seriously enough, that’s true, as seriously as anything that involves other people deserves to be. What you’re doing, you might as well do properly; it’s as serious as that.
* * *
Leader Without a Country, Prophet Without a
Who I am or what I’ve done means little to most of you reading this, other than perhaps a memory of that bastard who tried to stop you throwing paper planes in the Conspiracy Fan Room. And a fair proportion of those who do know me are less than delighted to see me in this position. I’m not so sure about it myself. Fan Guests of Honour have been scooped from some pretty deep trenches in the course of this decade (and isn’t it peculiar that as the proportion of ‘fans’ in the classic sense has declined within Eastercon membership, so the FGOH, a rarity before 1979, has become a near fixture) and I’m hardly ecstatic about standing shoulder to shoulder with a couple of them. It all seems a bit hopeless and futile and a pathetic remnant of the past, a ceremonial of lost empire, a cheap aristocracy of no real validity. It’s kind of sad and lacks dignity.
So why did I do it? I don’t know. They asked me nicely. Linda said I deserved it. Jimmy Robertson was doing the Fan Room. I’m guilty. We all like our heads patted. What can you say? In fandom success is best measured by others’ reactions; you find where you are by a sort of radar plot of other people’s opinions. You can’t be a great fanwriter by declaiming yourself one. You can’t do anything unless other people think your ideas are worthwhile. You become, god help us, a Big Name Fan because other people think you are. You can’t elect yourself. In my case some people think I’ve done good, some think I’m an evil bastard, and some used to think I shit gold and now proclaim I was putting lead in the water supply all along. Oh well, you know what they say: consistency requires us to be as ignorant today as we were a year ago. All I did was what I did, anyway.
Despite what I’ve said, I like fandom. I like a lot of the people in it, and I love a few. Some are my best friends. A good time in fandom, at a convention or elsewhere, is one of the best times on Earth, and one reason I sometimes get more than a little harsh about it is that I can’t help wanting to do something about the things and people I feel are jamming up the works.
Why am I Here and What am I Supposed to Do?
Sighted the Boundary of Space-Time with Vincent
I used to have this sporadic disagreement with Vince Clarke about him not wanting to join the BSFA. But I’m not interested in SF, he used to say, not the modern stuff anyway. I would contend this near heresy: you have to keep up, how do you know anyway, what if, and so on. He would gesture vaguely, say Maybe you are right, but... and smile with the assurance of someone who Is Not Going To Change Their Ways Now. I would accept this with some flippant comment or other about it always being 1932 somewhere. And then like as not we’d get into some serious talk about how good Galaxy was in 1952 or what I’d missed by not getting Thrilling Wonder regular in the Forties.
But underneath I actually knew what he meant and felt guilty about arguing the toss about it. In those days I was a lot more idealistic and I guess genuinely felt there was a True Path that could be followed if only we could get enough people bloody looking for it.
Now of course I see things different. Whether more clearly or not is another proposition.
I recently, for example, forced myself to accept that I not only no longer read SF—in the sense of choosing to read it regularly and frequently—but actually haven’t done since, oh, probably 1970. Yes, that surprised me too. It might even be earlier in fact, but that’s arguable.
I used to admit—only to myself, and guiltily—that I hadn’t really read a lot of SF since moving to London in 1971. Too much socialising got in the way. Though I always read a lot of reviews and commentary, and through this second-hand view could convince others—and myself, occasionally—that I was really au courant. Believe it or not, this was actually necessary. Within the fandom of the day it was still a given that one followed SF—it was still almost possible, even desirable, to read all the SF published in a year. Also, I was in fact interested in science fiction. How unlike the new age of today when people read SF voraciously but seem to have no interest in it at all. Anyway, thinking back seriously, I can’t remember reading anything much from about 1969 onwards.
This is, of course, something of an exaggeration. I certainly read pretty much all the magazines between 1970 and 1980, though rarely as they were issued. I definitely read all the Philip Dick books as they appeared, and in the early Eighties read Barry Bayley’s complete works more than once. I also re-read a lot of the books I had read prior to 1970—which confirmed my suspicion that a lot of SF books are not properly appreciated because they are read at too young—or perhaps too inexperienced is better—an age. What I really mean is, like Vince, there had come a time when I felt that even though it might be arguable that there was nothing new I could be shown, there was nothing new I wanted to see. My capacity for novelty, á propos SF at least, had been reached.
So where does this leave me today? Adrift. Overboard the pretence of reading Jonathon Carroll, whose every book after Land of Laughs has struck me as annoyingly self-referential and preciously-written, and I gave up halfway through the third and read but a few preconception-confirming pages of others. And that’s just the first name off the top of my head. Overboard with Eric Brown, Ian McDonald, Colin Greenland, Robert Holdstock, Paul McAulay, all the Americans, Interzone (Interzone, the mystery of. I’ve wandered from BSFA Gauleiter to pro-writer via long-time SF fan and found few who’ll admit to buying it, much less reading or enjoying it. Will no one own up to buying a magazine which has had such utterly dreadful cover artwork for years? The self-important editorial presence doesn’t help much either, and for myself I’d say the very idea of Nick Lowe reviewing film brings on an academophobe attack. I don’t know why Interzone induces such disinterest; in principle all the right components are there but just put together wrong) and the rest. In the corner of the boat lurk people like Chris Evans who has done a couple of novels I’d recommend to anyone, and a sort of shade of Rob Holdstock who wrote short stories of gripping emotional energy. And others, of course. But the whole point is I’ve sort of been living a lie.
What I really wonder is, how many of the rest of you are as well?
What’s the first thing you do when you wake in the
What was the first convention you went to?
Which fanzine do you most wish you had
What is your most treasured material
Who was the last person you slept with?
What are the last three books you read?
What are the last three records you played?
When did you last cry and why?
What characteristics do you think you’ve inherited from
What’s the biggest myth about fandom?
What are you like when you’re drunk?
Who would you have play you in a film?
Pick five words to describe yourself.
Is there one piece of criticism that sticks in your
What’s your most unpleasant characteristic?
What is your greatest fear?
What ambitions do you have still to fulfil?
Are you afraid of failure?
What do you never leave home without?
Who is your best male and female friend?
Who would you most like to meet?
What music would be played at your funeral?
When you look in the mirror, what do you
Out of the Attic,
For most of the last twenty-five years, whenever I’ve encountered someone born any time between 1920 and 1960, I’ve usually got around to asking them: Do you remember Billy Bean and his Funny Machine? The looks that I’ve had after that harmless enquiry, ranging from the plain blank to the dangerously uncomprehending, would fill a gallery. I’ve begun, over the years, to wonder if, as I suspected, it’s All True; I really have fallen into an alternate world where everything is worse. How else, after all, to explain my persistent poverty and powerlessness when I have all the instincts and impulses of a fabulously wealthy dictator?
I have seriously begun to wonder that I have at some point in my early life merely dreamed—unless the fracture of time and space really did take place and I have been flung Van Vogt-like into this malformed and depressing world—of a strange little piece of television history from the very early Fifties. The short puppet films I think I recall were broadcast on the BBC and involved a strangely structured being with a head like a kidney bean dressed in a striped American railroadman’s overall and cap. He inhabited, as near as I remember, the right-hand side of the screen; the left was the preserve of, believe it or not, a combative Cuckoo in a cuckoo clock. Between the two of them stretched the Funny Machine of the title. Each short episode detailed the latest skirmish in a never-ending duel between Bean and Cuckoo, invariably involving the Machine. But over what? What was the cause of the contention? What was the machine for; what did it process? Was it itself a weapon over which these two tiny titans endlessly squabbled? Eggs, I somehow believe, were involved somewhere.
Years pass, as they do, and I resign myself to the consolation that it’s all a dream. I am not after all Autarch of Eternity, and Billy Bean, nor his Machine, nor even the Cuckoo, have had even the most fleeting existence outside the dreamscape of my own mind. What was I doing all that time when I thought I was watching television... Little Weed, Rag Tag and Bobtail, Muffin the Mule, are you all too just happy dreams?
Then Vince Clarke, the best Fan Guest of Honour any Worldcon could ever have, sent me some photocopies of Hyphen to complete my file. And in issue number 13, March 1955, we find Walt Willis writing in his editorial:
‘I’m getting worried about 13th Fandom. It all started when I began to follow the serial Journey into Space on children’s television. Now I wouldn’t like you to think that I habitually watch children’s programmes: actually I never bother to look at them except when they have Sooty or Muffin the Mule or Whirligig, or Jack in the Box, or The Bumblies or Billy Bean and his Funny Machine or something like that.’
Arga warga. It’s the One Big One!
Truly, all knowledge is in fanzines... but there are those who would say, and I would not dispute them, that such a man as Walter A Willis might not be of this world either.
But at least I’m no longer the only one. Now surely someone else, other than WAW and I, remembers for instance, Whirligig, you know, Humphrey Lestocq, Mister Turnip... or The Bumblies, Michael Bentine and giant bees (from outer space?) living in the corner of his living room ceiling... but wait a minute, hold the phone, Jack in the Box, what's that?
Fiction Book Club, scary or wot
On Monday 7 February 2005, 10:25:59, Peter Weston wrote: >If you’d traced this mystery person earlier, you could have expanded the HSFHS from its present three (or maybe four) members to four (or maybe five), at which stage you might have got a clubhouse and started to produce a combozine, and then—who knows—put in a bid for an Eastercon! The whole of fandom could have been turned upside down, the dominance of Leeds/Glasgow/London challenged by a new, hyper-active West Wales fandom.
There’s something both deeply alluring and hideously frightening about this image, like that of the second bottle of brandy when one has already had rather more than is good for one’s heart and mind.
Pembrokeshire, as I have doubtless pointed out many times before, is a strange island devoid for the most part of literary sensibilities, or interest in science fiction. Bookshops do not flourish here, those that do exist sputtering along dependent on the custom of tourists, immigrants, or those who have been off the island and come home with broader mental horizons (how fannish).
Why only just the other day I was discussing this with Andrew Jazz, who runs the tiny jazz CD shop in town. He was moaning as usual about the lack of custom, and pointing out that well over fifty percent of his meagre turnover was to people from Away who were visiting Pembrokeshire (who invariably said Oh wow what a great shop wish we had one of these where I come from etc. etc.). And the other portion is mostly composed of people like me who had actually lived outside of Pembrokeshire for quite a while at one point.
He then started trying to convince me to open a second-hand bookshop in part of his premises. Hah. The man’s obviously lonely in that shop on his own most of the time, not even snotty noses pressed against the window marvelling at the riches within. I was even tempted as usual, and all the way home worked on my plan to persuade Andy to let me run a real Cold Tonnage West. Then by circular reasoning I rediscovered the fatal flaw in that plan.
However, your note does remind me of a time many years ago now—well, about 1966 or so, after I had read New Maps of Hell and realised fandom really existed—when I tried to start a Science Fiction Society at the Grammar School. What a hideous shambles that was; I mean I know that most people thought SF was rubbish back then, but I wasn’t really prepared for the enormous hostility from the rest of the kids. And from the teaching staff too—there was one teacher who quite deliberately went around taking down and destroying my handcrafted notices from the boards they had every right to be on. He was a nasty aggressive bastard at the best of times so I never actually asked him what the hell was up, but I did discover that he had a particular hatred of science fiction. Wonder why? Well, I don’t really; he was a turd and by all accounts a terrible teacher so who cares, what’s unusual there then?
Actually the worst part was that there were a few other pupils who actually did seem interested in an SF society. Sadly and embarrassingly they were all much younger than me, and in one or two cases kids I had a vague dislike for anyway, so the whole thing really came to nothing.
Instead we have the loosely-knit (and I am being overly kind there) situation as pertains today, with Peter’s old pal from the BSFG ur-years Geoff Winterman out in the distant wilds of Spittal from where you can’t get a bus hardly and a taxi requires financial intervention, and David Redd (Wales’s Great SF Writer Living in Wales) virtually round the corner, who we do see slightly more frequently since his early retirement but who is far too involved in his peculiar Other Fandom about which we forbear to speak for the most part. The situation not helped at all by Geoff’s wife thinking that any involvement he may have with the SF world is a hideous aberration that should not be encouraged, and by David’s wife being, well, unseen.
No, the best we can manage is me and Catherine discussing Christopher Anvil and Stephen R Baxter on the way to the pub.
We’re not going to be bidding for a Worldcon, then.