Buddy Punch—Bad Scene
Midnight—Off the Hook
Billy the Squid
I was There on October
Search the House for
Search the Sewers
for Harry Lime
Gone—A Christmas Presence
I do not feel like smilin’. Like when something that should be a good
time turns out bad. Like doing this. Despite a sort of vague niggling desire to
pub the ish, I’ve felt something significantly less than enthusiasm for the
whole deal. Actually, sorting the material and typing the stencils wasn’t too
bad, but by the time I got round to the duplicating the whole thing seems to
have more of the flavour of onerous chore than jolly good time had by all. What
does this mean? Is this just the usual Pickersgill whinge about the
difficulties of fanzine publishing or has it any more general relevance?
Actually it does, as what I’m really wondering at right this moment is whether
it is really true that the active life of a fan is but a mayfly thing, a
limited number of years in which to streak like a meteor across the deep dark
night of fandom. I mean, have I reached the end of the line, is it time to
close my last file, sell the duplicator to some deaf dumb and blind paraplegic
sucker, and stuff the typer in the attic to be brought out only on the rare
occasions when I need to communicate with some far-flung phoneless friend?
Perhaps indeed, and maybe not before time as certain feisty New Age fans would
say as they eye me as a representative of the hated fannish establishment meant
only to be reviled, revolted against, and finally toppled, trampled and
Buddy Punch—Bad Scene
Things were looking Grim. The whole operation was deeper into the shit than ever before; I was definitely getting the feeling I wasn’t so much a has-been as a never-was. Then, one grubby day round at Brosnan’s Shack, I read the new issue of Siddhartha he’d received that day:
‘Shit,’ I said, ‘I could do up something like this easy.’
‘Yes,’ said the host obligingly. I burrowed once again into Williams’s patent cri-de-coeur.
‘Naturally,’ I said after a few minutes, ‘I wouldn’t be quite as literate and intelligent as Williams is about it. Or as witty. Or urbane either, come to that. Hmmmm?’
‘Well, no one would expect that of you, Greg,’ said Brosnan, not looking at me.
Oh, I thought. And naturally enough made a number of silly decisions that ended up causing more trouble than anything else.
* * *
A lot of this failure stems from disparity in basic fannish beliefs and simple non-co-operation; everything generally ended in a battle of wills over everything from the size of the paper to whether film reviews should be included. In no case was it ever possible to get two functioning editors whose opinions coincided sufficiently to make the enterprise workable—and what with one thing and another a solo-edited group fanzine was unworkable. Seriously, fans, in my opinion fanning is like fucking; it’s good fun but you daren’t lose sight of the serious objective or you’re up shit creek. In this case it was pretty much like two men trying to fuck the same girl without the benefit of knowing there’s more than one orifice. Stapled to our mutually incompatible fanzine ideas Buddy dissolved lacklustrely.
The next big deal was a blur of renewed interest in Fouler.
This was supposed to be some kind of ‘new! improved!’ Fouler, devised with the specific purpose of engendering the serious discussion of fandom, fans, and fanzines which was, OK, the purpose of Fouler all along, but that somehow got skipped over for the most part. So as soon as I’d finished tearing up the dozen or so stencils cut for Buddy or Rat or whatever it was I started on Fouler 8. And it came along quite well for a change, until one particular piece of material came in.
Quite reasonably, even though (as usual) it pains me much to say it, John Hall was probably the reason for Fouler 8. What happened was I’d commissioned a column from Rob Holdstock, who as usual took about three months to get down to it. It was a fair piece of publishable work, but the problem was it contained a wickedly accurate, funny, and—to some minds—fairly nasty put-down of John Hall. At this time I was very concerned with keeping group loyalties firm, and I knew that whilst Hall might have taken that kind of thing from anyone else with nothing more than a lot of shouting he would go absolutely berserk with fury to see it come from the typewriter of his sworn enemy. So I immediately called Hall and filled him in on things. His reply was, more or less, ‘Holdstock is a cunt and if you have any sense you won’t even be seen talking to him, much less using his shit in the magazine.’ Pressed on whether he’d withdraw his support if the Holdstock piece was used, Hall said nothing more than ‘You are the editor and you know what to do.’ He said that very many times. So, for stability I got Holdstock to do a rewrite. And, naturally, of course of course, the promised rewrite never ever did show up, Holdstock even eventually lost the original, and the issue was left with a gaping hole which couldn’t be properly filled. So that was that.
Which brings things up to the time I read that fucking Siddhartha and decided that the only way out was for us all to produce solo fanzines. That decision caused all hell to break loose in the round-about apathetic ham-fisted way that even the most cataclysmic things happen in fandom. Kettle, having had his material returned from the Fouler file, broke out with the impossible: his own fanzine, produced in something less than a week. It had taken him four years—since the halcyon days of Pottage—but he did it in the end. That was, however, It. Young Brosnan was already ‘famous’ for his Scab, and Li’l Malcolm soon made it big with Magic Pudding, but the Mastermind soon found things hard going. I mean, editing fanzines is OK, re-writing I like, backing someone else’s material is all good, but I’m not built to headline a fanzine myself.
But all avenues of escape failed. A fresh attempt to revive Fouler was ruined by Kettle (made miserable by True Rat’s failure) becoming unreliable and tending away from fandom in favour of romantic lust in Hampstead. I set aside full-time contributing to other fanzines as a chancy and incidental art at best, and at worst a total bring-down; and, in the absence of sense or alternative, there’s this. Not what I want, not what I’d like, but a fanzine nonetheless, and it’s a terrible thing to be without one. I don’t like it much, but I’m committed to it; it’s something to stand by and look after and support for as long as reasonable, and even if it fails—well, it’s not to be thrown away; better to partition and graft off the best bits and try them elsewhere anew. Keep a little continuity, like, try a bit harder next time. You know the process; what being a fan’s all about, I suppose.
The secret of publishing a successful fanzine is in getting out a first issue.
* * *
Who Do These People Think They Are Anyway?
The Lads. Someone at the con asked me just who it was composed Ratfandom, and I didn’t answer. Dumbfounded, I suppose. Later the same day someone asked Christine Edwards if she was part of Ratfandom, and after a bit of casting about she said she was, not without a certain sense of pride, I thought. And yes, for one reason or another, she surely is. But why? Is Ratfandom composed of people who just hang around together habitually, or by general geographic location, or by a likemindedness of some especial sort, or what? Like, it might be easy to say OK, Ratfandom is a London outfit, with Hall, Kettle, Brosnan, Holdstock, Edwards, and a few female hangers-on. But what about Ratfan Buddies, like Piggott or Peter Roberts? Maybe they wouldn’t want to be called Ratfandom outright but surely they’re the kind of people it would be good to include? Also there’re several of Gannetfandom (for the moment leaving the unsettling notion that Ratfandom is rapidly taking on the aspect of Gannetfandom’s Southern Office) and several others from ‘uncommitted’ parts of Britain who are all good friends and associates and seem to have some mental communion. So what do ya do?
Most commentators define Ratfandom as a London thing, a local phenomenon—which isn’t exactly the deal, as I’d like to see it anyway. After all, the name was originally adopted as a group banner, not as a local tag as was the Gannet label. To me Ratfandom is more accurately a religion than a nationality, unconfined by geographical considerations As far as I see Ratfandom comprises people from all over, almost irrespective of other groups they tend toward. It’s a state of mind, basically. More or less, these are those I think are with it:
John Brosnan; Roy Kettle; John Hall; Rob & Sheila Holdstock; Peter Roberts; Bryn Fortey; Ian Maule; Malcolm & Christine Edwards; Thom Penman; Jack Marsh; Graham & Pat Charnock; John Piggott; Bob Rickard; and, of course, Greg Pickersgill.
Well, for post-con elation that seemed reasonable enough at the time, but looking back, around and ahead these days seem a lot different, and maybe those days weren’t like that either. So what now?
The Gannet squad have increased their intensity so much any serious suggestion that any one of them would rather sit down next to Ratfandom has become rather silly. In fact, for one reason or another general Ratfandom contact with Gannets is sparse and poor, though that’s not at all to be taken as indication of Gannet lack of inclination or whatever. However, generally with all their super-success in cons and fanzines they’re as remote from Ratfandom as Ken Cheslin is in the opposite direction.
Bryn Fortey, con hardman and old-time Buddy, seemed to fade away into a horrific series of trials in the South of Wales and seems to have little inclination towards fanning of any kind.
Piggott seems to have totally vanished in favour of wargaming, something of a tragedy as he was the best new fanwriter of recent years, as well as being a Good Fellow to meet with. He’s currently down as definitely appearing at Tynecon, but he hasn’t shown at anything like a Globe for long months.
John Hall became the subject of some controversy and to all intents and purposes estranged himself from the group as a whole.
The Edwardses, Charnox, Marsh and Rickard were all pretty peripheral people at the best of times, and whilst they haven't by any means made any renouncing gestures they’ve never been anything like pillars of the community. No slurs or anything, they’ve got their own things and problems, and in one or two cases are too far removed geographically to have much involvement (even though they all, with the exception of Rickard—who might be appalled to find his name in this company—live in the London area). Actually, whilst speaking of married people and women generally, it would appear that most of the women have tended to lose whatever interest in fandom they acquire. Indeed, most of them tend to denounce Globe-going and other fannish events as second only to menstruation in their calendar of monthly irritants. This more or less confirms my belief that fanning is nothing to do with women anyway, but there’s a different story altogether.
Which to all intents and purposes, leaves the supposed ‘hard core’ Ratfans: myself, Brosnan, Kettle and Holdstock. Along with, I suppose, Rich Coad and Peter Roberts—both by accident more than any conscious design. As described elsewhere herein there’s a lot lacking in current Ratfan activities, Roberts being seen so little as to make his continued presence in the city a matter for some conjecture. There’s a lot lacking in the fabled mental communion bit too, as I hope to make clear in these pages.
Holdstock has his problems, academic and literary as well as being actually married. He tries to keep up fan-contacts with more success than the rest of us, mainly because of his fascination for the prospect of being a professional writer. He’s less than somewhat involved in the Ratfandom concept except as a vehicle for having lots of laffs. He seems to see the whole thing as something of a harmless hobby for taking your mind off the vital things in life. Like being married and selling to Analog. This seems a nasty dig at him, which it isn’t really, as he is more the only thing which holds us together socially than not; and truthfully, for all the ways he irritates me in his attitudes to fanning and our group, he’s a great man.
Kettle, though more inclined to view the group as a potentially good and viable thing, goes his own way. He’s very seldom seen these days, even by Rich Coad, who lives in the same house. Kettle’s problem is very much close to my heart, it being the classic one of fafia by female. There’s nothing like women for screwing your fanning. I know, I was in the same situation for as long as a year, and I’m only just out of it now. Shit, that kind of thing is OK as long as you don’t get obsessive about it. Still, he’s very much a fan on the underside and it’s only a matter of time.
Brosnan, of course, is virtually Ratfan sans pareil, with Scab and excellent fanzine appearances (often with Tails of Ratfandom) all over. He’s also most group-oriented, inclined to join in on any social aspect, but entirely against any notion that Ratfandom might be anything more than a group of idiots hanging around together. And that of course is the point to which I’ve been leading up.
Lunatic it might seem to you, but I’d like to see whatever it is that passes for Ratfandom exceed the strictures of its corporate neuroses, inadequacies, and stupidities to make something greater than the sum of any of the parts. OK, I know that this has echoes of the great commune myth of the Sixties (though I admit I’ve never quite thrown off the attractions of that idea), but there must be some way in which we can accomplish something more than sitting around yelling at each other about the fact that we don’t do anything better than nothing. And not necessarily purely in a fannish environment either, for all the fact that that’s a vital part of my life.
Maybe what’s required is for people to think of the group first, to ally themselves more with one another, to be less selfish and devote a little more of their consciousness towards a general improvement of our mutual way of life. Not to deny their own veins of achievement at all, merely to ensure that for every pace they might make away from the group-consciousness, they should extend themselves backwards one pace, tunnel in two directions at once.
It’s better, at first, to confine this ‘thinking’ to a purely fannish aspect, but even there nothing functions. Probably I’ll unqualifiedly stand by Roy Kettle’s assertion that as a group (and ‘group’ meaning the four people composing hardcore Ratfandom) we can easily match or overrun any comparable group in Britain. Certainly our ideas are always viable, revolutionary, and far-seeing. The fact that they’re often put into practice by other people long after we proposed them seems to confirm that. Naturally enough for all the sitting around and talking not a damn thing gets done, and after a while it just becomes something that was talked about once sometime, can’t remember when, and lost. I find it hard to see why we can’t do it. But it’s probably not hard really; it’s just that everything else gets in the way and there’s no space for any trivia like fanning projects. And surely as shit, when you can’t get people’s heads down around a fanning project, which is by definitions a trivial hobby project, then how can you get anything that has a more general bearing on the whole life of the people involved even discussed properly? It’s nothing more than a general unwillingness to function as a group. It’s OK to talk about it, OK to pretend for a while that it’s going to be done, but god forbid that anything will be done. That might compromise everyone into ways of thought they’d quite obviously prefer not to explore.
All right. Leave that for the meantime. More next issue without a doubt. Back to the point, what’s Ratfandom? A simple enough question, as most people can see.
Ratfandom is a group of people, varying in size, that appears almost spontaneously at certain social functions. At cons this group is at its largest, swelled by a lot of people who derive the most enjoyment from a con when they’re with friends who lounge around disreputably fooling around, getting drunk and generally having fun. At Globes there’s another Ratfandom, even though it’s mostly the same people. But this time they stand around talking to each other about virtually everything. Ratfandom is entirely a public social institution, something that doesn’t carry over into ‘normal’ life, just goes more or less dormant again until the next time you need a group of B*U*D*D*I*E*S to have fun with. Lotsa laffs. Big deal.
But fuckit anyway. Whoever they are they’re the best people, whether they recognise themselves or not. They’re the ones who find many fans silly people, with a trivial sense of humour, lacking in anything approaching genuine friendship as opposed to jolly camaraderie, overconcerned with the more irrelevant aspects of everything. The ones who see most fans as prudish, flauntingly inadequate and overconcerned to be good fellows. The ones who see most fans as too much the same (despite their superficial and deliberate attempts to set themselves apart from the Ratfans) are the best ones, more or less, even though they’re a bunch of no-good irresponsible, unco-operative, neurotic, selfish, ignorant, uncommunicative, alienated, estranged and useless bunch of bastards.
Up Against the Wall, Punks!
Now, I’ve never been too enthusiastic about sending out fanzines to people with all the appreciation of 150lbs of wet sand, so you’d all better pay heed here.
This issue goes to three categories of people:
1. Masters, Buddies, Henchmen, and Cronies. All of whom are of sufficient personal standing to receive any Ratfanzines without question. They are also those from whom some response would be most welcome.
2. Fanzine publishers. I’m assuming we trade. If this is not so someone had better mention it to me.
3. People who are in fandom and might be interested in this fanzine. Several people here got R/GN 1 and didn’t respond; they’ve been axed, and more will follow unless they respond in some fashion.
Your number appears next to your name. Pay heed.
I’m a lot happier turning out a low-circulation fanzine for active and interested people than knocking myself out for an uninterested mass.
* * *
Now then, in case all this looks somewhat odd coming from a hardcore fan in a hardcore fanzine I’d better get down to the fax of the matter. As I hope I don’t need to point out further, anyone with any intelligence can see this is a totally vile magazine, not at all worth supporting, and worthy of only searing condemnation. Or, rather, I’d have imagined myself this was obvious, but not so according to some recent BSFA handouts, and a letter in the latest issue of SF Monthly itself.
Now, before we go on, let’s all remember that the BSFA is reputed to represent the highest ideals of science fiction, seeking to present SF in its best form to the public, promoting understanding of what SF is all about, and clearing up the various misconceptions that have arisen around it over the years. Trying to present SF as a worthwhile literary theme for intelligent people. So they claim every now and again. Why then, I’d like to understand, in a handout in the last BSFA mailing, does Keith Freeman claim (after enumerating in somewhat less than forceful terms some of the magazine’s poorer features) that:
‘...nevertheless, I think it well worth supporting’?
And why does Graham Poole, Company Secretary of the BSFA, someone in a responsible position who might well be expected to keep up the BSFA’s reputation and ideals, appear in SF Monthly 3 with a letter which says in its first paragraph:
‘... was so impressed I just had to write a letter of appreciation...’
and carries on in that vein, virtually uncritically other than hinting in as inoffensive fashion as possible that the fiction wasn’t exactly ‘good’?
Now, either there’s something funny going on here or there’s not. These are either honest reactions—in which case both these people are entire cretins and ought to be flung right out of the responsible positions they hold in the BSFA before they do any more damage or betray any more principles—or this is part of some kind of idiotic plan to support anything remotely resembling a science fiction magazine being published in Britain. If that’s the fact, this is just unacceptable lunatic hypocrisy, apart from being ill-founded in the first place. As I’ve said about certain other dastardly deeds, either way they're dead ducks.
If the BSFA has any weight at all they should be standing out decrying this crappy magazine for what it is, making a policy stand, putting out for what they believe in. As it is that task has been left to the commentators in the legitimate press, who have been uniform in their cuttingly sarcastic condemnation of this NEL atrocity. Actually, I don’t really imagine for one moment that the BSFA has any relevance at all to the publishers of SF Monthly, or the publishers of any other form of SF anywhere in the civilized world.
So why am I so uproarious about this? Well, being a science fiction fan is just like the backbeat—you never lose it. I still follow SF fairly enthusiastically, tho’ I refrain from commenting on it. More than that, I still see the BSFA as the tip of fandom’s iceberg, and I want it looking as good as possible. Also there is some evidence these people do meddle in trufannish affairs on occasion (Poole currently so with a ‘Guide to Fandom’ called—good grief—Genesis) and I like to know what’s going on.
So OK. Assuming, charitably, that both Poole and Freeman are not both doltish beyond redeem, why are they saying these things about that magazine? Is there something going on I don’t know about?
* * *
Things begin years ago in Bristol at the Mercer residence one day when I’d visited them on the wrong weekend. There are those who’ll be surprised that I once moved in such weird circles; my only defence is that everyone was a neofan once, and they were the nearest, most accessible established fans to Old Haverfordwest. Anyway, also there were Peter Roberts (wearing his silly costume of orange trousers, furry waistcoat, and pillbox hat), Alan Chorley (of fleeting fame) and perhaps one or two others. Or perhaps not, as it was the wrong weekend, as I’ve said. During the desultory conversation (even then I had little to say to Archie Mercer in particular, and though I couldn’t admit it even to myself—he was a BNF after all—found him boring and silly) I mentioned an item I’d seen in a Mensa news-sheet reporting an aardvark hunt in Swansea Docks organised by the Swansea Young Mensa Group (perfectly true, incidentally). This was the fatal spark to ignite a torrent of puns, clever altered song-titles, lots of vying with each other to introduce the word 'aardvark' into any well-known phrase or saying—the more out of context the better—and all that shit. This drove me absolutely up the fucking wall as this kind of thing has never been my speed, and in those days I wasn’t such a tearaway as I am now, which meant I had to sit around with a smile glued to my face and pretend it was all good fun. This went on for fucking hours between the Mercers and Roberts (who did indeed seem to think it was all tremendously jolly fun) until I left. Next damn thing I knew Egg had come out as the Official Organ of Aardvark Fandom, and my opinion of Peter James Roberts had slid down several stages.
That, of course, started several related inanities such as Wombat Fandom, which I had only a distant connection with.
The reality of the situation finally came down during the publication of Fouler, when I called for something to put up as parody of all these cuddly cretinacies. Something vaguely repellent, somewhat nasty, not at all warm, friendly, or sweetness and light. My main man Roy Kettle fired back with the rat and there we were. First publicised in Fouler 3, it actually caught on as something meaningful, and has become a label worth having to some people. My own offering for this position had been axolotl, which was mercifully and luckily dispensed with.
The last thing to actually show up was to emanate from the North. I may be exaggerating, or trying it on a bit here but as far as I recall I first used the label ‘Gannet’ to describe someone from the Newcastle/Sunderland/Co. Durham Group and it stuck. Amazing that they never devised it themselves—it’s after the name of the pub they meet at, the Gannet (obviously)—but there ya go. They’ve probably forgotten themselves where they got it from.
Since those grisly days Silly Animal Fandom has declined to the Rats and the Gannets, the Wombat people disintegrating all over, and Roberts at last deciding to rid himself of the Aardvark appellation, ostensibly because his supply of aardvark cartoons has run out, but hopefully because he’s got a little more sense in the last few years.
And there’s no punchline; this was a certified Ratfandom Anecdote.
* * *
Government Cracks Down on Fandom
Obviously I’m not going to discuss the general ramifications of the Government’s latest financial contrivances (other than saying merely that I’m one of the most people who will in fact be worse off in the end, despite being in a supposedly favoured lower-income bracket) but just (just!) see what this could mean in terms of fanning.
And the most obvious and worst effect is going to come in fanzines, no doubt about it. And fandom is going to suffer, and maybe some fannish aspects will vanish entirely.
What I mean is that it is now almost impossible to produce, singlehanded (financially), a reasonably frequent and regular fanzine of any useful bulk at all. To take my own example, this fanzine at this moment costs to all intents and purposes £10 per issue to produce. And £10 is exactly 10% of my monthly salary, and producing a roughly monthly fanzine means this is a fair wad of cash disappearing; disappearing along with £30 rent (soon to rise), travel to work, food, various necessary things, and the usual vital stuff that makes life worth living. All of this means that I am ending up something like a lot of pounds out of pocket by the end of the third week, never mind the end of the month. And all this for a low-circulation, cheaply-produced fanzine. No wonder the more flash material like Zimri, Blunt, and Maya only show up once every three or five months.
And there’s the danger: the fear is that with the likely financially-caused demise of the frequent fanzine, these big guys will become the only fanzines, the only facet of fanzine fandom visible to the neofans; and in time their attitudes, their types, will become what fanzines are all about, and the essence of fandom, the call-and-response feeling such as I’m trying to engender—and can only possibly exist in a frequent fanzine—will go right by the board.
It’s a true fact that people will not readily respond to the infrequent fanzines, and even when they do there is little feeling of immediacy in their response. News is no longer news six months later; any possibility of personal interaction disappears when you get comments on your material so long after you wrote it you can’t even remember what it was about yourself. The vitality goes; lettercolumns are reduced to stultifying lists of likes and dislikes, there’s nothing to make it worthwhile getting excited and clamming back a letter the same day you received the fanzine—what for, when it won’t be published until next Christmas? It’s gonna be a bad scene.
So we’ll be left with the almost-professional magazines, which are OK in their place, and fannish a bit at the same time, but lacking that speed of movement.
Myself, I don’t reckon it to be at all feasible to produce a regular, frequent (monthly or six-weekly) fanzine in this day and age; the money problems rule it out. A group could to it, but that’s a different problem which would almost certainly make the fanzine something other than what it should be—a manifestation of one editor’s attitudes to fandom. A small fanzine could make it, but would probably be so small as to be virtually useless—anything less than twenty pages doesn’t offer enough material, usually (especially in Britain). So what is going to happen?
Anyone want to subscribe?
Midnight—Off the Hook
I Get So Excited
Imagine my surprise then, when I picked up what had every feel, touch, aura and emanation of being a very dull Australian fanzine (‘Australian’ in the generic sense; even I recognised the American stamps) and wrenched it open to reveal a completely new joy. No plain old ordinary SF-type fanzine either, but a Good God honest-to-Gibson rock fanzine. And not merely a rock fanzine emanating from the lively and rapidly expanding rock fandom, but one from someone who seems more or less an orthodox SF fan as well, so it somehow managed to hold within it some of the best features of each disparate fandom. Cowabunga, the eighth issue being the one I received, is edited by one John Koenig, who seems a good vigorous type of fan just like there aren’t enough around no more; and his fanzine, which has every appearance of a conventional SF-fandom fanzine, seems to be very much the sort of fannish/enthusiastic fanzine I advocated in SF-fandom terms in SBD 2.
This emphasis on subjectivity and enthusiasm seems a bit out of style for rock fanzines, in my limited experience of them. Too many seem fastened onto either very narrow fields of interest or are too sercon in outlook, determined nothing is of value unless it is the product of years of research, sycophantic interviews, or analytic to a level that would make even Andrew Tidmarsh look like a superficial blind man. The writing in Cow is no great shakes; too much of it is a sort of rock equivalent of ‘Goshwowboyoboyism’, a gushing pseudo-hysterical style bordering on the incoherent. Presumably this is the only way the writers can attempt to express the spine-tingling, limb-jerking, brain-busting rush of their favourite bands and records. Disconcerting as these stylistic weaknesses are, they’re easily overlooked in the knowledge that, despite the large body of rock writing, there is as yet little ‘language’ to express essentially emotional/physical thrills. Still, the enthusiasm gets across and is communicable. Which is why I like Cow, because it’s fannish in ‘our’ sense, lacking the distant posture or heavy-handed bonhomie of other rock fanzines like Zigzag, Dark Star, Licorice, or the rest of that tedious ilk. Actually, the new wave of rock fanzines that have sprung up around the ‘punk’ bands (who actually produce a lot of fucking good records, you should note) are apparently very fannish in style, especially Sniffin’ Glue from what I’ve seen of it. Although they do rather shit their nest by seeming to deliberately work towards crude production, and an unnaturally aggressive attitude towards their readers that seems to me to be as much of an unpleasant pose as those rock-snobs to whom everything has to be ‘art’ and ‘cerebral’ before it is of any consequence. I’m reluctant to say too much about these mags because (shame, shame) I haven’t actually seen much of them, but it’s a fault I intend to remedy Real Soon Now.
Now all this really springs from the fact that my interest in records has been rapidly overrunning my interest in science fiction for a good few years now, and even overwhelming my interest in fandom more than somewhat. I’ve often felt like trying to break into true rock fandom, but that is, if anything, even more difficult than cracking SF fandom. The elements of cliquishness evident at a specialist record-shop makes fandom look like an open-armed welcome. Rock fanzines are not especially easy to get, and few of them are precisely in the sort of fannishly-enthusiastic vein I’m after; either posturing and sercon to a ludicrous degree or quite simply obsessed with styles of music that don’t particularly interest me at all, so I've never been able to build up a great deal of enthusiasm for them. Cowabunga, though, shows that this style is in fact a viable one in rock fanzine terms, and my enthusiasm has taken a big lift upwards. In fact I’d like to feature more music-oriented stuff (apart from the titles and section-heads!) in Stop Breaking Down in the future. I realise this will be greeted with total indifference and even some hostility by some readers, but as far as I’m concerned rock, blues, soul, country, pop and all the other little bits and sections have had a profound influence on the lives of a great many young fans of today (by ‘young’ I virtually mean anyone under 40) so one way or another I think I’ll reach some kind of interested audience.
Somebody somewhere help me.
Billy the Squid
I always remember Globe (or One Tun, for the pedants) meetings vividly—up to about ten-to-nine anyway—so it seems like just yesterday that I was challenged on the pavement outside by none other than that paragon of fannish dynamism, Ian Maule. Naturally, this little face-off was about nothing so sordid and down to earth as woman or money, but—according to the Great Man—about my low profile, lack of involvement, and imminent danger of becoming as much a nonentity in fannish terms as I am in the other world. Somehow I felt more incredulous than upset. Balls to all that, I remember saying. I could not care less whether or not you think I have to get up on my back legs at regular intervals to raise a great noise about something or other. I’m happy just to take my ease in fannish company; give me a bunch of solid good old boys to drink and party with and I’m straight. There Is Nothing Left For Me To Say, I said. I’ve said all I had to say already. All is now mere repetition; I can’t repeat myself all the time, I said repetitively. More than once, as I had had a few at the time. Let someone else get into some kind of fucking Death Or Glory chase after the Nova Award or whatever and get all fired up and wave burning crosses and so on and so forth. I went on like that for some time until a car went past and I dodged around it and (it turned out) leaped straight from the frying pan into the fire. But the thought remained.
And the thought leads inevitably to Ian Maule and his fanzine Nabu.
Maule is in the unenviable position of having proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is utterly unnecessary to emulate Maya and go litho to produce a beautifully laid-out, perfectly reproduced, extremely attractive, and thuddingly bland fanzine. Of course he should worry; as he’s said more often than not, he’s got a formula that worked back in the early Seventies when he took over Maya from Ian Williams, so why should he change it.
And there’s no reason for him to change his format any more than I’d care to change mine. After all, fine repro impresses the Americans and you can’t be a big-deal international fan without the Americans on your side, now can you? Hell, I’m not kidding; Nabu is lovely to look at: not such daring use of colour as in the Observer magazine, but a lot less advertising than in the Sunday Times supplement. It really shows what you can do with plain old duplicating if you’ve got nothing better to do than arse about getting your margins straight day in, day out.
The words inside are really something else, though. The latest issue has Ian Williams contributing the sort of thing he can do so easily without thinking, the sort of archaic ‘Then I did this, then I did that’ sort of fanwriting that inevitably reminds me of the million bullets reputedly expended to kill one NVA soldier in Viet-Nam. Of course, if you are interested in knowing that Williams is on sufficiently good terms with Bob Shaw (the famous well-known professional fan, not the fucking idiot from Edinburgh or Glasgow or wherever) to be invited to his home and get pissed up with him, you might find this sort of thing terribly amusing. Personally I could not care less about the home habits of Mr Shaw, and Mr Williams has long since ceased to amuse me with these prolix extracts from his prematurely written Recherché A Temps Perdu Bah. Humbug. That sweet boy Joseph Nicholas hits twice in the same issue, once with a partially interesting piece about the last Knebworth open-air festival; but I found my attention wandering as I wondered whether I would find anything imbued with common-sense or discrimination in anything written by a fan of Jefferson Airplane/Starship. Still, Nicholas is such a prolific little sod he was almost bound, by sheer volume, to redeem himself in his other article in this issue, which is a set of excellent fanzine reviews which apart from anything else detail (indirectly) the very faults of the fanzine he himself is appearing in. So don’t try and tell me that fanzine editors pay any heed at all to fanzine reviews. Staggering.
And then there’s the lettercolumn. Lotsa heavies getting down and saving fandom. Just the thing we need these days eh wot? Can’t just let things go to hell and lie back and enjoy it. Still, with Ian Maule carrying the standard there’s no danger anyone’s going to forget that the soapbox is for standing on, not resting one’s ass.
Maule, you see, has got this idea in his head that we who have been on the set for a while are rapidly being rendered obsolete by a new generation of fans. This is smart but sluggish reasoning. Most of us have seen this coming for years. Quite apart from the fact that it is an unproven point that the newer fans are forming a ‘new wave’ and not being absorbed to the benefit of both by those already established (something that happens much easier and with less blatant fussing and fighting now than ever before) the real point worth wondering about is whether all this idea of frantic holding-actions is meaningful anyway. I mean, is there any future in having to actually make an effort to hold on to some position of power and influence (ludicrous as the idea of power, influence, and puppet-like domination is in fandom, in fact) just for the sake of it? Why not, if the trends are evidently moving around, rather than with you, just retire gracefully and only speak up when you have something fresh, original, and useful to say. It may be, of course, that even if that Great Thought strikes there’ll be no one wants to hear it, but that's just the way horrible luck goes.
If one assumes a whole new tidal wave of new fans hell-bent on sweeping all us old guys right off the beach then one must equally assume they’re not going to be especially interested in any sort of ideological lead we lay down, especially if they’ve got any fucking backbone at all. Almost automatically they’ll reject what has gone before, though as equally automatically they will in time return to the forms and ideas of the past (i.e. our time) if they are, as we doubtless believe, the real ways of doing things. One might, indeed, pursue the same idea down into fanzine reviewing. No one learns, no one profits; essentially the whole thing is a private joke, all calls and responses well learned. Nothing is new; everything is familiar. So it seems peculiar to me that Maule is getting his knickers all twisted over this ‘whither fandom’ business. I suppose I could take a more charitable attitude to all this if I felt for a moment that Nabu was going out to, say, swarms of BSFA fans whose knowledge and attitude to fandom is both limited and negative (though whether it would be functionally enlightening is another story) but I don’t believe it is. It’s just the same old, same old. Christ, if all this apparently altruistic concern for our corporate fate were in fact novel I’d be more impressed, but having got my boots muddy down that road myself more times than I’d care to recall I take a rather jaded view of the whole proceedings.
What I’m getting at is that if these ideological agonies have to be gone through, let them be suffered by the newly ideological who deserve them for their ignorance: people like West and Nicholas, for example, new boys comparatively; not old Ian Maule, for Christ’s sake, the fannish heavy who singlehandedly created the greatest, most memorable event in fandom this century, Tynecon 1974.
All this going on and on seems bloody self-conscious to me, like someone trying to keep in the forefront of fannish opinion-moulding by launching out into these ‘new’, ‘vital’ areas. Like someone determinedly keeping a high profile, heavy involvement, and being a big power in the land. And being, to me at least, utterly unconvincing about it.
I’ve just spent about three hours sitting very comfortably indeed in front of the fire, listening to the radio and trying to fill in the Hugo Nominations Ballot. This occupation has been hampered considerably by the fact that I can hardly remember any science fiction story or novel published in 1978. Indeed, if it were not for the fact that I regularly buy F&SF in my lunchbreaks and thus spend entire afternoons at work leafing through it I’d probably be hard pressed to claim with any certainty that I’d read any SF at all published for the first time in 1978.
Which makes filling in the ballot difficult almost to impossibility for the professional categories.
However, the fan categories are another starry (or story, if you must) altogether.
Now, as I’m sure you all know the last time a British fanzine got onto an actual final Hugo ballot was with Speculation, more years ago than anyone would care to remember, way back when even Peter Weston was a fan and not such an obviously self-seeking glory-grabber as he now appears to be. (Cue for Dr Robert Jackson to claim Maya was on the ballot last year or somesuch; not interested, tho’.) And I’m sure you all know equally that in the average year (i.e. a year the Worldcon is held within continental North America) the chances of a British fanzine or fan even getting onto the final ballot are as slim as Peter Roberts. Swarms and fucking swarms of American fans vote, as a matter of course and with no thought whatsoever, for the giants, the quasi-amateur sercon magazines like SFR, Algol, and so on. Whatever small proportion of fannish-type nominations there may be is essentially (I would imagine) too diverse to make any impression at all on this uncreative mob. However, 1979 means the Worldcon is British, and deranged though that whole prospect might appear, it also means there’s a faint chance of we natives of this sceptered isle at least getting our collective foot in the door for once.
What I mean is, with a certain amount of co-ordinated thinking and a little bit of positive effort, British fandom could, I believe, get at least half of the names in the Hugo fan categories on the final ballot from within its own ranks.
I am told by someone who is reasonably sensible and has no reason to lie that the actual number of nominations for the fan categories is generally very small indeed, a tiny percentage of the total voting membership. That being so, it is therefore possible that if most of the British fans voting included more or less the same British fan and fanzine nominations, then the chances of them actually getting onto the final ballot (alongside the dreary parade of American sercon regulars like SFR and Geis and Susan Wood and all the other moneymaking and/or self-important dragasses) would be very fair indeed.
Mind you, the chances of them actually winning, glorious though the thought must be, is as remote as ever. Fucking millions of Americans are members of Seacon ’79.
Well, OK. Assuming you actually give a flying fuck about whether any British fans are represented on the final Hugo ballot (which as a rule I certainly do not, but make an exception this year as there is a chance of doing something about it), and also do indeed believe there are British fans worthy of this sort of international acclaim (OK, so it’s worthless and nothing of the kind anyway, but let’s see some of our people’s names in lights for a change, eh?), who are you going to choose? And remember, numbers count.
Well, thinking numbers first and foremost, Maya has got to be there. Personally I am not enthusiastic about Maya, because whilst at least 60% British in philosophy and content it reminds me too much of an American fanzine to really appeal. Still, it has a large circulation, and is generally well liked, and is a sure shot for a place on the ballot and, bloody hell, might even win. Myself, I’ll say nothing, because I’d like to see a British fanzine win even if it is Maya, and I’ll certainly nominate it.
Other choices are less obvious. Twll-Ddu by Langford is a consistently good fanzine with a large (by British standards) circulation in the US. True Rat, by Leroy Kettle, appeared in ’78 only as a Skycon hand-out, but as far as I’m concerned as this is British fandom’s one shot at the Hugo ballot we might just as well judge on overall performance and not consider only material appearing in 1978. So True Rat goes on my nomination form. David Bridges’s One-Off has given me great pleasure in the time he’s been publishing it, though despite my proselytising few others have caught up with it. My fifth nomination is a problem; to be entirely honest I’d put Stop Breaking Down if I could, but votes for oneself are often frowned upon. Still, Maya, True Rat, Twll-Ddu, and One-Off are my personal choices.
For me, writers follow much the same lines as fanzines, as one might expect considering the fact the three ‘real’ fanzines I’ve mentioned are very personally oriented. David Bridges, Leroy Kettle, and Dave Langford are three of the very best writers in British fandom in my eyes. Almost the best (and he’s been Awarded for it already) is D West, whose various writings on conventions and fanzines in recent years stand as the only real body of serious, intelligent and very entertaining writing on the Fandom Experience ever written in a British context. To see a Hugo Final Ballot without West’s name on it would be a dreadful thing at a British Worldcon; it would mean, as much as anything else, that British fans cared naught for the excellence in their midst, and preferred to let the lowest common denominator of American voters keep all available credit for their own turgid hacks. These four people—Bridges, Kettle, Langford, and West—produce fanwriting of a vitality seemingly unknown in America, and it would be shameful to see them excluded in favour of substantially lesser talents.
So what do you have to do? Simply vote! Obviously no one will simply emulate my thinking, but I’m sure some names will inevitably feature and that’s good enough. Remember nominations must be in by April 30th.
This is British fandom’s only chance.
I had that sickening feeling that things had finally gone too far when one evening I got up, turned off the television, put Mirror Man on the record player and went to sit in the bookroom and shuffle through a stack of recent fanzines and BSFA mailings for names and addresses.
I knew it was sort of serious when a couple of days later I took a new BSFA mailing to read at work—for the first time ever putting a crease down the spine of one of those nice flat Vectors that are so easy to file away unread—and even after drudging through more of it than I’d thought possible I was still interested in putting out a fanzine.
I knew there was absolutely no escape when Malcolm Edwards put out Tappen. Fanzine publishing suddenly became something more than a vague desire. It suddenly seemed possible again.
Of course, ever since bailing out of the secret control centre hidden in the engine room of Seamonsters in 1979 I’ve had plots, plans, ideas and fantasies for fanzines hovering around in my head. These impulses tended to vary with what I saw around me. A good convention, say, or even a good conversation at the Friends in Space would get me all churned up and thinking, and counting my money, and worrying and fretting about what I could do and what sort of audience is there and is it worth it and can I afford it and so on and on. But despite these bursts of hysteric enthusiasm nothing ever quite got done. It was as if some barrier existed between the idea and the actuality. Even the cleverly engineered discovery that five hundred duplicator stencils found lying around unguarded at work fitted neatly into a Safeway bag didn’t quite kick my interest into activity. Continual aggravation from people like Linda and Roberts Hansen and Holdstock did little but inspire me to think of reasons why I shouldn’t do anything.
And those reasons weren’t hard to find, either. After all, it was a long time since I’d cranked my duplicator handle for anything more than a booklist, and things had far from stood still. If anything they’d gone bloody backwards, but that’s another story entirely. Whatever, things had changed. Different faces, different names, different fanzines—and I had trouble matching them all together. A lot of the people who’d been around at the time of my last activity had either dropped out entirely or receded so far I couldn’t even see where they’d been (though some who I rather wish had dropped off the set unfortunately still persist) and sometimes I began to feel like Eric Bentcliffe or Terry Jeeves, and I’d start thinking, ‘This ain’t fucking fair, I’m not even thirty yet!’
So there I was, disconnected and confused. Serves me right, really, for being inert for so long and not even so much as sending a begging letter for new fanzines or a letter of comment to those few fanzines that came my way. It was kind of disturbing to check through lists of fanzines and have proven my suspicion that lots of stuff was passing me by entirely—indeed, the people who were sending me fanzines were either working from ancient mailing lists or were desperate to get rid of the excess copies of their fanzines, even to burnt-out old fans like me. Gloom would descend. My darkest predictions would suddenly become correct. I had been overrun by a new generation of fandom, submerged without trace by a new wave of dynamic, literate individualists whose talents were not to be constrained by the ideas and attitudes of bygone fandom, which they would now squish casually beneath their ever-onward dancing training shoes. The only slight light to all this darkness, I thought, was that at least I had the wisdom and grace to see and accept my position, instead of pretending it was either not happening or that even if it was my position was unassailable, like some dull old fans of my once acquaintance tend to do. And anyway, I could always fall back on the good old standby of ‘Who cares, what’s it all matter anyway, fanzines are an expensive drag, who needs it man...’ and like that.
Well, all this heart-searching and self-delusion is a dangerous line to start walking, because if you're not careful you suddenly find you’re spending all your time staring out of rain-streaked windows at blank brick walls whilst listening to Swedish solo saxophonists, a way of life that sounds fucking grim to me. So what you’ve got to do, if you’ve been in fandom since 1968, secretly enjoy doing fanzines, and would rather like to do it again, is get off the pot and do all your window-staring from behind a typewriter. Things may not be the same, the fanzines may not be as good as the ones you remember, the writers may not be so sharp, and your brain might well be closing down on you without sending a final demand, but, shit, it’s too late to stop now.
* * *
So here we are again. I’ve carelessly abandoned my usual pattern of fanzine production in two ways. Instead of the usual two-year gap between runs of a fanzine time and circumstance have stretched it out to over three, and rather than jamming a new title on the front of what is always more or less the same old fanzine inside I’ve pulled good old Stop Breaking Down up from the past. It’s my favourite fanzine title ever, and it’s nice to have something to feel comfortable with on this dodgy venture. The first six issues of SBD between March ’76 and April ’78 were bloody superb fanzines (and I have absolutely no shame at all in saying that) and my main hope for this new series is that they don’t let the old firm down too bad. Things are different now—there was more light and fire in the fanwriting of those days, I think—but there are a few class acts around these days too, and I’m working on the case to bring them out.
I dunno, it’s only a fanzine, but I like it.
On the run-up to this fanzine I was planning on continuing the tradition of publishing convention reports as main features that was such a highlight of the first series of Stop Breaking Down. It seems a shame that long narrative convention reports have fallen from favour in recent times, especially as when done at their best they were not only fascinating stories in their own right (there’s nothing more engrossing than something in which one might figure as a surprise star) but had a lot of revelatory things to say about how people behave and conventions occur, and some of them were rather impressive pieces of journalism in any light. However, neither D West, Malcolm Edwards, Graham Charnock, or Leroy Kettle came up with anything for this issue. Principally because I didn’t ask them, having some sort of inane idea of doing it myself. Never done a con report before, I reasoned. Exciting new departure. New fields to conquer. Opportunity to say lots of cogent things about fandom. Easy to do, as well. Just remember the basic outline and a few good gags, trim up with some flash and glitter, and away to the races. Ah, sweet idiocy.
Of course any fule kno it is not that simple. Inevitably at conventions I get so out of it that months later I’m hearing new stories of what happened to and around me. Most of the things I can remember are the sort of things that should be in fanzines but no one has quite the courage to set down in cold duper ink, what with having to face people afterwards and so on and so forth (but one day, maybe...). And, truthfully, I probably didn’t see nearly as much of the Leeds Eastercon as I should have done to write about it—though I do wonder whether conventions have now got so big and fragmented that any sort of all-encompassing conreport is no longer possible, and is this why no one writes them any more?—having spent virtually all my time in either the bar or the fanroom.
So no convention report as such (shame on my idleness) but there were a couple of things that came up that are worth ranting on about a little.
Like the fanroom for instance. Now John Collick is, despite the deranged gleam of his little black-button eyes, a bright and intelligent individual. So why on earth didn’t he kick up more shit about the lunatic idea of actually putting the fanroom in a bar—especially a bar that was the only one open—for some time during the convention? I mean, here’s a concom gone head over heels right into the darker reaches of fannish mythos. I know the party line has it that fans are incredible piss-artists, but this is ridiculous. A bar in a fanroom would have been the most popular stunt for years, but the other way round it was just a fucking nuisance. Not that I was too disturbed about not being able to hear certain fannish personalities or even that boring old radoteur Dave Langford wambling on eternally over the ostentatious prattle of a million Little Jimmy Fans demanding real ale in thin glasses, but the sort of dual purpose area Collick had to deal with gave him little opportunity to develop any true fanroom atmosphere. Up until then (or rather, since 1977, when fanrooms as a functional entity began) a fanroom was a specific place that people went to for specific purposes, and did specific things by choice. Now I'm all for conning people in by all means, but jamming them in because it’s the only place they can get a drink serves nobody very well. Also, because the fanroom was more of a public place than usual, there seemed to be a lot less in the way of decoration and displays than in the past. Also there was virtually nothing on the sales table. I don’t know whether Collick had neglected this facet of the fanroom, or maybe no one was being co-operative, or maybe there just weren’t any fanzines about to be brought for sale or display, but it was a damn shame nevertheless. This was the worst part of the whole affair, as far as I’m concerned. Fanzines are hard enough to get when you know more or less what they are and roughly where to get them, and for someone on the ‘outside’ the situation is more difficult. One of the best things about the institution of fanrooms has been the availability of fanzines, not only showing a vital and alive face of fandom, but giving easy access to the uninitiated. Collick’s one table covered with a thin layer of scruffy-looking flyers somehow didn’t quite carry on this socially useful image. Still, it was the only real failure.
The events of the fanroom went over very well, especially the Trufan Factor, and even the panels seemed to attract good audiences that weren’t entirely composed of inert and unresponsive lumps. The worst thing about fanroom panels is that you get three or four unreconstructed smartasses up there going on and on whilst the audience, trained no doubt to passive receptivity by years of reading science fiction, look on, despite constant enjoinders to intervene. Occasionally someone will lumber to their feet and offer what we might kindly call their thoughts, but the mass remains unmoved. Either this means the panellists are invariably experts who sum up the situation so conclusively no further comment is necessary, or no one really gives a fuck in the first place. In either case I think it’s time there was some heavy investigating done. However, occasionally something sticks in the brain.
Like, for example, at one point when I was on the fanzine reviewers panel (close to the end, so I suppose exhaustion had something to do with it) I found myself hovering dangerously on the edge of good-old-daysism. This is a sort of hysterical attack that makes everything one says sound like an assertion that everything was better ‘then’. This ‘then’ has a lot of similarities to ‘them’ (which can be quite a lot, depending) and needs to be used with care or credibility vanishes like a Harrow student when in danger of buying a drink.
What I was saying, or what I meant to say anyway—it’s hard to tell what comes out halfway through a convention—was that back in the middle of the Seventies a whole bunch of people working in fanzines consciously felt, and had their feelings bolstered by the then current preoccupation with fanwriting standards, that what they were doing was not solely entertaining in its own right at the time but was in fact setting out a standard for writing and thinking in fanzines, and because their material can be looked back on with great pleasure today, the implication of the founding of new standards should also be taken as correct. The whole point of these 'standards' (which were, of course, never talked of as such, or ever named) was not to coerce fandom at large to write about any specific things, but to make it clear (as if it really wasn't obvious to anyone with half a brain in the first place) that in writing to a fanzine there was no reason whatever not to apply the same standards as one would (or should) to anything else. That is, for christ’s sake make it literate, make it interesting, make the logic hold up, make the characters live, don’t assume that it’s just a fanzine, so it will be okay to produce some shit you’d be outraged to see anywhere else. Some basic standards of ability and consideration, that’s what it was all about; that and the essential idea that just putting out a fanzine isn’t enough, it has to be good as well.
Of course, what went wrong—and the reason why all this now sounds to some of the people in that fanroom audience, and even to me a bit, like good-old-daysism—is that the unexpected happened and the continuity of it all lapsed. No one ever imagined that some great disaster might overtake our complacent little world and civilisation as we knew it might be swept away partially renewed by what might be the lower orders, straggling in the mud, groping Riddley Walker-like towards the truth about time back way back (or are they? Was there a time back way back?) and creating their own funny little civilisation that such as I might happen into and discover that, just like that utterly unlikely alternate world where things are different, things are not like they were. Of course the villain of all this is the Worldcon. The great divider of fandom in recent times. It’s just as if everything was H-bombed flat and fandom as it was vanished without a trace, creating a gap in which there existed nothing for the new rising sons of fandom to see as good fanzines and gauge their own efforts against—across which I now point and make incoherent noises that sometimes sound embarrassingly like good-old-daysism.
The trouble with all this, though, is that everyone comes to fandom and fanzines as if they’ve just invented it for themselves, which is not only alarmingly solipsist but also as far as I’m concerned is totally fucking stupid. It would never occur to me to try and do something without checking on how it had been done before, and moreover not doing it at all if I felt I couldn’t at least equal the people who’d come before me. Which is why I was outraged when some character at the convention said, more or less, to hell with the past, we don’t need to know, man, we do it all our way etc. OK, fair enough, if you can do it better, by all means abandon the past (as indeed British fandom did in the early Seventies), and while you're at it kick out any obsolescent ideas and attitudes too, but do it carefully. And remember, just because it’s a fanzine doesn’t mean it’s good or even interesting.
Fortunately I didn’t spend all my time in the fanroom locked into that sort of nonsense. Although some other sequences were, essentially, just as farcical.
At the first Yorcon in 1979 there’d been a party in the fanroom that had exceeded everyone’s expectations. There’d been some drink, and some music, and a bunch of people, but for once it all came together quite spontaneously and before anyone really knew what was happening it had turned into a real party. This was as much of a surprise to Ian Williams, who was organiser for that year, as anyone else, and typically enough certain strong-arm measures had to be taken against him to prevent him turning down the music and turning on the lights, and thus fucking everything up completely.
Crazed with desire to emulate this happy accident John Collick in 1981 decides to organise it this time. And not once, but twice. Like fools or suckers looking for free action (or essentially good-hearted and helpful all star-fans—take your choice) Linda and I agree to organise them for him, and provide music and drink. The closer the convention gets the more stilted and artificial the whole idea gets, so boxing clever I get Collick not to put ‘Parties organised by...’ in the programme book. I got enough trouble already; better to do this one undercover, if at all. Of course the whole thing is doomed to failure.
I have this handy-dandy recipe for a fairly foul but strong punch for occasions like these, composed of sherry, vodka, and cider. As we (or at least I) was always late in setting up the drink table there was always a horde of desperate dipsomaniacs at the mixing bowl like dying men as soon as I poured in anything at all. I’m sure no one at all got anything remotely like the correct mixture, most of them going away with cups of neat cider or vodka or sherry or halfassed mixtures thereof. Yet they still returned for more, more desperate with every visit, and they even drank absolutely fucking gallons of Mike Dickinson’s utterly unpalatable homemade wine, which I guess proves that something for nothing is all right whatever it is. Of course everyone pissed off right after all the drink vanished, so Collick’s vision (and ours too, honestly) of happy little fans dancing the night away vanished right quick. The only people who stayed were a bunch of sort of neo-hippies or something who got awkward when we got pissed off with it and turned off the music and split. Good intentions are not enough, and I think this is another point where the essentially public nature of the fanroom this year worked against things. If we’d all been in a real room elsewhere would people have stayed and played, like before? Maybe.
The only time I went into the main programme hall—apart from the disco—was to see who won the Doc Weir Award, and I wished I hadn’t. When Bob Shaw said John Brunner had won it I felt like I’d been hit with a brick. I wasn’t so much astonished as shocked. It just didn’t seem possible. There was no way at all I could see any point that could justify his winning it. OK, he certainly does attend British conventions regularly, and takes his place on panels willingly whenever invited; and yes indeed, back in the Fifties he was a fan and put out his own fanzine and so on, but this is fucking 1981, and as far as I can perceive any essentially fannish activity he may involve himself in is so slight or rarefied as to be invisible. This is, remember, a person who on being asked to lend his name to a presupporting list for an Eastercon bid, declined—saying, ‘That’s fan business, isn’t it?’ In fact I was so taken aback by the whole business I got on my high horse and went about asking people whether they’d voted for him or did they know anyone who had. Virtually no one I asked had voted at all, and all those who had had voted for other people. Indeed the only person who I found that had voted for John Brunner was one Ina Shorrock, who had, fittingly, herself won the Doc Weir Award in peculiar circumstances (i.e. no one could understand why) back in 1976. So what’s going on?
Now, to clarify things, I have nothing whatsoever personally against John Brunner, and he has made it quite clear at the time, and in letters to fanzines since, that he was as surprised as anyone else to have taken the Award. And I’m sure he was pleased to accept it in good faith. But as far as I’m concerned the very fact that he got it without a good reason—or any reason at all in a fannish context—just makes the whole affair ridiculous and is probably the sign we all needed to make clear that things like the Doc Weir. Award have lived out their time and should be abandoned.
OK, so it’s arguable that the Doc Weir Award has any value at all. Few people have any clear idea of what should be considered when casting a vote, and the majority of people at a convention either don’t know about it anyway or don’t care. According to the official notes the Award is presented to a fan ‘whose activities have not been previously honoured’. The important bit here is fan, which I take to be someone whose activities (whether or not they are to be honoured in any shape or form) take place primarily in the arena of fandom proper, which means fanzines, conventions, or just generally contributing a lot by force of personality to these essentially fannish pursuits. And no matter how much I stretch my credibility I can’t fit Brunner into that.
Now, we all know the Doc Weir is a rig-up anyway. The way it goes is that every year little bunches of people get the idea that so-and-so ought to win and they then go about conning and coercing all and sundry into voting for them. I know this is true because I’ve done it myself, and I’m sure it was done on my behalf when I won in 1978. Note that, on my behalf. No one has ever canvassed votes for themselves, or proposed themselves for the Award—it’s always done by a group or person on behalf of someone else, who is always kept as much in ignorance as possible. This, in fact, is the only way the thing can continue. Without these little pressure groups no one would ever remember to vote. Winning depends at least as much on how many people look favourably on you as much as what a hot-shit fanac artist you are. The real point is, though, that in every case since the beginning in 1963 the recipients, with the signal exceptions of Ina Shorrock and John Brunner, have actually been real live active fans who had, either during the year immediately previous, or for a substantial period of time beforehand, done notable and interesting things within the context of fandom at large, and have, in most cases, continued to do so ever since.
What I’m getting at here is that the Award isn’t just another popularity poll or award for long service, or a prize for con-attendance. And it’s for a fan. And, really, it has to be for someone who, when winning it, can actually be pleased to get it because they know, in their hearts, that they deserve it, that they have done things in and for fandom that deserve a bit of praise in public.
This year all these notions seem to have been abandoned, and as far as I’m concerned if no one any longer knows or cares about the real point of the Award (which becomes increasingly likely), rather than just let it peter out into something meaningless we ought to junk the whole damn thing completely.
Fandom has probably outgrown it all anyway.
Wow, you know, this is really dramaaatic, man! Here I am just about to do my first ever fanzine (on photocopy, anyway) and the whole, like, plasticity of the medium is just crying out to be exploited (or do I mean abused?).
No more that good old safe quarto; we’re onto new, modern, dynamic things here now. Just think, at any time the print could go in all kinds of different directions, be overlaid to the point of illegibility with pictures cut out of magazines, or just fade gently away into oblivion because I’ve run out of toner for the machine.
Actually I’m far too old and farty for that sort of stuff. Give me straight lines of print that don’t take too much following and I’m OK. It’s trouble enough working out what people are on about under the best possible circumstances, never mind when there’s a sort of graphic guerrilla war going on at the same time. I do feel some slight compulsion towards the pictorial, though, and I even went so far as to search out the old sheets of Letraset I bought back in 1969 for my never-to-be-released super-fanzine New Pembrokeshire Review, which as Robert Hansen has kindly pointed out no longer needs any consideration as John Owen is doing it all OK with Crystal Ship. The trouble is that my creative visual imagination extends about as far as having sexual fantasies—and even they are about people I actually know—and whilst I think I know what makes for good art and graphic design I can’t actually do it myself. Given that slight difficulty I was quite pleased to find myself writing this at the very last minute with no time at all for clever shit like picture and headings. I’m kind of sorry about that, because it does rather deny the advantages of photocopying, and I certainly will try a little harder next time, despite the heavy sarcasm of the first few paragraphs above.
It does all seem rather strange to be typing this onto paper rather than duplicator stencil though, but at the moment I’m quite happy to be typing it at all.
I have had, you see, a block. A huge lumpen monolithic obstacle between me and my typing fingers. I just couldn’t get down and with doing this at all. I even took two days off sick last week to get some serious fanning done, but all I did was lie on the floor in the living room and listen to records and play with our new Teletext receiver (which is really neat and every home should have one). I was beginning to think of Frank as the sort of lodger everyone could do without. The very idea of writing anything sent me into a blank paralysis, and the more Linda said useful things like ‘Just get in there and do something!’ the less I wanted to do it. I got sort of hysterical towards the end, and would leap up and rush into the bookroom and type a few lines only to rip them from the machine and drop them into the wastebasket in one practised movement. It began to get really depressing. I know it is about two-and-a-half years since the last time I wrote anything more creative than my name on a cheque, but that was ridiculous. Eventually, though, I took the Queen of the Women’s Periodical’s advice and started just typing names and addresses and all that dolesome drudgery. And it all came back. Fluency! Staccato sentences! Hanging clauses! Lost participles! All the old ungrammatical tricks of my fanwriting style. I was actually able to put words in a line once more. The only problem left now is to find some way of making them mean something. Shit.
I was There on
So was Linda, because she actually belongs to CND, and so was Rob Hansen, who was sick of people telling him if he’d didn’t believe in nuclear weapons why didn’t he stand up and be counted, or whatever the current jargon is. I was there because Michael Heseltine really pissed me off with his patronising dismissal of the anti-nuclear movement, and because I really think nuclear weapons are astonishingly dangerous and no use at all as any kind of rational national defence not fundamentally based on a sort of ‘I’ll shoot the nigger’ suicidal lunacy.
So there l was, emerging from Blackfriars station to trudge along with hundreds of thousands of others. Concerned suburbanites, housewife groups, students, determined trade unionists, flying squads from the more out-of-touch political fringes, they were all there. Looking like, well, concerned suburbanites, students, loonies, and so on. I found it very hard indeed to penetrate past the tangible naiveté of it all even for a moment. It was almost as if none of these people had much idea of the real implications of what they were doing other than on the simple terms of atom bombs being bad medicine to be warded off by some sort of colourful ritual. I looked around as we wandered up and down the throngs waiting at the start line for something I could realistically attach myself to, like maybe some outfit like Frank Barnaby’s Just Defence, or at least something that looked as if it was serious and not play-acting. In vain. As we waited for almost two hours the only time I felt myself moved at all was when a small woman near us played the bagpipes; extraordinarily martial-sounding for that context, and maybe that’s why it brought a bit of thump to my heart. You see, the whole business, from the aimless milling-around of the start to the tacky showbusiness of the speechifying at the end was just too carnival for me altogether. This was fucking serious business and there were all these loonies in silly costumes carrying flags and thinking in slogans and waving cardboard missiles and all this fucking junk and we’re supposed to be making some sort of serious point goddammit.
Eventually we trailed off, and clearly there were a hell of a lot of people even though at times the flow got so thin that at some points amongst the canyons of Whitehall there were more police lining the pavements than marchers passing in front of them. Nothing at all happened except for a brief encounter with some rightist headcases at the top of a building opposite the Whitehall theatre, and we eventually found ourselves in Hyde Park. When I saw all the people settling down for a picnic with their quiche and bottles of Evian water on the one hand and on the other the church groups full of knee-jerk jerks with their faces painted I knew this was too much altogether. Then we were told how wonderful we all were by Joan Ruddock and Bruce Kent, and generally reminded of all the things we should have already known and believed in anyway or we wouldn’t have spent the time and money getting there in the first place. At least at rock concerts all that ego-stroking is honest in some sort or sticky showbiz way, but in this context it just seemed, well, if not evil, then simply wrong.
I don’t think things like this should be taken lightly. This is a very dangerous time in world history and it may be our last. There isn’t any room for fun in anti-nuclear demonstration; I believe that three thousand people walking silent and in close ranks through London would be more disconcerting and ominous to those in control than this sort of happy rabble would ever be. I don’t believe it should be too passive either. When faced with a bunch of Thatcherite creeps bombarding me with taunts and sneers about being a coward or a gullible dupe of the Kremlin, or being unpatriotic (in the best sense) my initial feelings were to storm up the building and kick the shit out of them and then find out who’s the defeatist or coward around town. The fact that they are clearly as dimwitted and misled from an opposite direction as those they were so joyfully abusing is no consolation. They have a sort of moral rectitude on their side that the wishy-washy liberalism of the peace-marchers just couldn’t measure up to. I may not want nuclear weapons but I’m not taking any shit from anybody.
And why for christ’s sake don’t they just erect a line of turnstiles at the endpoint of the march so everyone can file through, make their point, and then piss off home without the tiresome obligation of listening to hackneyed exhortations and third-rate entertainment? And there’d be no argument about the numbers.
* * *
No Direction Home
What I have in mind, really, is nothing so wild and wonderful as a ‘deterrent’ force, because by its very virtue of being something that can match the opposition it can easily be construed as an ‘aggressive’ force. What appeals to me is something that by its very nature is so designed to be simply a revenge weapon. This immediately puts it all into a different class altogether. No need any more for complex, accurate, and expensive delivery systems. If all you intend doing is to provide the means to put real bad hurt onto someone it’s as well to do it with a club as a rapier. All we’d need, literally, are the bombs—of which we have plenty right now, quite ample for the purpose to which they need be put, and the means to deliver them. And as far as that goes strapping them onto any aircraft that can actually make it to the target is as good a way as any. There’s no need to be too complex about this, no absolute necessity for hi-tech boxes and gear to do anything other than keep on going and avoid what the pilot can see coming at him. After all what’s his worry, the only reason he’s up there on this one-way trip at all is because there’s nothing left to come back to. Remember, we’re not doing this first, we’re doing it after all else has failed, and our asses have already been fried.
It’s probably perverse of me, but I see a much higher level of nobility and sense of purpose in the vision of a scratch force of RAF and civil jets winging it one-way from a ruined country on an admittedly futile mission of revenge than I do in all the bullshit, evasions, and lies that people like Heseltine, Thatcher and Reagan and their appalling henchmen expect us to accept unquestioningly. I’m not against defence; I’m not prepared to believe we will not be attacked (I am prepared to believe the attack could come from any direction), but I just do believe that the way these people are going about preserving what they endlessly call our liberty is incredibly fucking dangerous and ought to be stopped right now.
What I really want to know, though, is where will all these people be in the aftermath of any attack? And how do I get there, with my weapons, to see they get what they deserve?
Search the House for
Over the last few months I’ve read a lot of back issues of fanzines. This has been a wonderful thing in itself, but has also made evident a continuous background susurration like the regular flushing of a toilet, coming to a climax of sorts on a roughly biennial round; Where is Fandom’s New Blood, it goes, Fandom is Moribund, Fandom isn’t as Good as it Was and so on and so forth in sepulchral tones of doom and despair that echo until the next fascinating new fan of genuine wit, warmth and talent happens as much by accident as design onto centre stage. And suddenly everyone is bathed in golden light once more, the gafiates reactivate, the fanzines flower, and everything is again wonderful, with the clouds white and the sky blue over Trufandom, Willis as ever in his heaven, guardian angels Clarke, White, Shaw, Boggs and Moomaw sturdily beside him.
It is indeed the case. I have recently read hundreds of fanzines covering the Thirties to the Sixties, great times off and on for both SF and fandom, and I kid you not, it sometimes seems like every fortnight some damn idiot has got his foot caught in a bell-rope and started tolling the knell of doom. Great lord amighty, I realised with a genuine shock, even I was doing it about this time last year after having looked vaguely around the Novacon and seen no fresh-faced neofans scurrying about clutching their cruddy firstishs and mocking their elders. Of course, that was before I looked twice and realised that talents like Bridget Hardcastle, Mike Siddall and Jackie McRobert had already sneaked onto the deck of the flying bomb and were producing all sorts of stuff fit to stand with much of the best that fandom has ever been capable of.
And what the hell is the point of worrying about the shortage of particularly young fans anyway? In a recent letter to Attitude Pembrokeshire’s greatest living fanwriter David Redd warns that teenagers will not be flocking in droves to either that fanzine or RJC—as if they did. There has always been an influx of young fans, but handfuls rather than droves, no more or less than you might ever expect to take an interest in fanzine fandom then, now or in the future. And not many of them have been teenagers anyway; I was once the youngest of my time at seventeen, but the usual age of a ‘young fan’ has been somewhere around late teens to early twenties. It is also the case that most young—under twenty—fans in Britain (things have been dramatically different in the USA) have rarely produced anything worth a damn, and have been more notable for the noise of their passing rather than its legacy (we are all guilty). Indeed, there’s a good case to be made that the very best, the most admirable in all senses, fan activity has been the product of people who were comparatively mature in both years and tastes when they entered into their fan career. As evinced by David Redd his own self.
Anyway, as we age we automatically think of the young as being a great deal younger than ourselves; after all we’ve still got the interests and involvements we had so we’re obviously not old, and therefore the young must be a great deal younger indeed. Babies, virtually, these days. All is relative, and hallucinatory. There’s no point in fretting on about whether email or virtual reality or even virtual fandom will supersede fanzines any more than agonising over whether the helicopter will replace the bicycle; their similarity is superficial, each provides for different needs and temperaments and nourishes varying spirits. Enough potential fans will find what is for them within fanzine fandom; they will hear those little voices echo down the decades through the hektoed, mimeod, or laser-printed pages, they will experience that startling thrill of contact with the home planet, hear the beep of the beacon, know that there’s something special and specific here for the taking. They’ll be making it all right, in their own time.
So perhaps we should confine our worries to the actual numbers of incomers rather than their relative ages? Well, maybe not worth the bother after all—all we really need is a few individuals (like those named above) of talent and ability to remind the rest of us who have been around for years and are in danger of being jaded, losing our edge, and forgetting the genuine wonderfulness of fandom, just what it is really all for and about. Just a few of them every couple of years, a natural counterbalance to the inevitable contempt that familiarity brings in all cases. The more the better of course, but a few is enough.
There’s a big error here too in assuming there ever were many newcomers to fandom in any given time period. Remember, in considering active fanzine fandom we’re talking about quite small numbers of persons anyway, maybe three or four hundred worldwide. A ten percent influx worldwide would be of the order of 35 people per year; if you assume British fanzine fandom to be around 100 people (the basic domestic mailing-list of the average fanzine) that’s just ten new people a year average. Of course you can do all your finger flapping and say there’s only been so-and-so and himandher since last Eastercon and that doesn’t add up to ten does it so where are the rest then, but that’s inconsequential as the losses are at a lower rate overall than the replacements. It’s a turnover rate that certainly would not cause the collapse of morale in a frontline combat unit; it might be a Zero Population Growth scenario but bloody hell we’re skiffy fans with an eye to that sort of futurian society and everything’s OK, keep calm. Of course the numbers of both established fans and newcomers look pretty sick compared to the 10,000 people who’ve never heard of Walter Willis, never mind Rob Hansen, and are waiting at the burying ground with handfuls of dirt to throw on fanzine fandom’s grave, but who cares? What we're up to is no more their concern than their activities are aimed at us. It is not our fault that they’re not attracted; it is not our duty to impress them, though if they find our doings interesting then all well and good. More people would be nice, but not essential.
We’re in serious danger here of hypnotising ourselves with this numbers game into thinking we’re a diminishing and endangered part of the science fiction community when in fact nothing of the sort is actually happening; yes, we are obviously a smaller part of the whole than we once were but that’s just because the whole has enlarged so much. Once we were 90% or more of the entire SF fan community—a fact that some people are too young, too dumb, or too politically motivated to accept—but, as small a proportion overall as we are now, we’re still occupying much the same ground as ever. We ought to get right and realise that fanzine fandom—which is largely old-fashioned generalist fandom with interests in comics, films, television, books and magazines—is a definite entity within its own right and should not intellectually, emotionally or physically have to be parasitic on the body of any other element of SF fandom in the large sense as it exists today.
If all the other elements of fandom that exist now were to vanish overnight, nothing at all would change from our standpoint—except perhaps we wouldn’t have to be fucking endlessly justifying ourselves and could get on with running conventions and putting out fanzines by and for ourselves without having to put up with a load of crap from people who resent us for having been here in the first place but will still condemn us for elitism and wall-building if we go off and run our own business elsewhere.
So perhaps we should worry solely then about how new personnel arrive? There absolutely have to be ways that science fiction readers can find out about fanzine fandom. Now we’re on more contested terrain. It appears to be that one of the more recent gateways into active fanzine fandom, the fanroom, has let us all down more than somewhat over the last few years. Whether this is because convention committees don’t care enough to ensure that the right people do the job for the right reasons (it is not a little prison to keep those irritating fannish fans out of the way) or that the right people don’t want to do it, or incredibly perhaps there are no right people available, I am presently unsure. Bloody hell, it is not that hard a task, given a decent room, a small budget, and space in convention literature for announcements. There’s something funny going on here, as I have said before, but I doubt that the truth will out, for there are sins to be hidden, advantages to be taken, and obfuscation is the order of the day.
There are people who might in other conditions be called quislings or fifth-columnists who suggest that the fanroom is an unnecessary and obsolete thing. To be fair they’re probably right if it does not fulfil its mission requirement. But if the fanroom in its proper incarnation as an information bureau, meeting place and gateway is discarded, then the only certain development will be even more pissing and moaning from the general populace about how hard it is to find out about fannish fandom and fanzines with attendant conspiracy theories about how it is All Being Kept Hidden and on endlessly on.
Once upon a time people who joined the BSFA would write off for fanzines, but somehow that doesn’t seem to happen much; virtually no one reports requests for their fanzines after BSFA reviews—mind you, in my own experience I’ve had damn little in the way of requests resulting from highly laudatory reviews in leading fanzines, so if persons already familiar with fandom can’t be bothered to send off a SAE why should we expect anyone else to? There’s a problem here; are fans who are already au fait somehow reluctant to ask for a fanzine that they somehow think they should have been sent already? Too cool to ask, maybe. Ask and it shall be given. That’s what I had to do when I was a baby fan and it’s made me the man I am today, har har. As to why more or less complete neophytes don’t respond to, for example, Matrix write-ups is another problem altogether. I don’t know. Maybe they just don’t care.
Sewers for Harry Lime
We here in fandom today have got two mutually incompatible ideas in our heads at once. One is that both science fiction and fandom, together and separately, are one-all all-one unitary wholes, with everyone interested in a part being potentially interested in the whole. The other is that there are many forms of science fiction, and as many forms of science fiction fandom, and the whole business has now got so large and diffuse that there is no reason for a devotee of one element of it to give so much as a brass damned-thing for any of the others. The first proposition is highly arguable, but the second is obviously true; even within the sector-within-the-whole of written-SF you’ll find there are people who, although professing great enthusiasm for science fiction, will barely recognise a SF magazine other than Interzone and who would treat an enthusiasm for Wonder Stories with disbelief verging on outright contempt. And there are those indeed whose enthusiasm for such classics as David H Keller’s The Yeast Men—a startling foreshadowing of Philip George Chadwick’s epic novel The Death Guard—would lead them to see anything published since 1950 as arriviste claptrap.
We’ve got to get to grips with the idea that, just as there’s no reason these days to assume that any two random persons’ ideas of what is ‘science fiction’ are the same, there’s equally no reason to assume that any two fans’ ideas of what ‘fandom’ is should be any more congruent. It seems to me that in a world where all sorts of SF, sci-fi and skiffy can in the large sense be accepted as SF then we have to assume that any enthusiast of any element of these or any activity derived from them is a ‘fan’. OK, that’s all well and good provided we also think this is intrinsically a marvellous thing. Now, I don't think all aspects of SF are either interesting or worthwhile and I have my sphere of interest and others have theirs. I am not especially interested in convincing others that my view of SF is any more right or valuable than theirs, though I will certainly try to demonstrate that my SF follows on from a direct line of descent from ur-SF, the romances of Wells and Verne, and the SF magazines that were inspired by them. This is a problem only in as much as it is exclusive of certain subgenres, and that in itself is a problem only in as much as adherents of those subgenres feel rejected by bastards like me who aren’t especially interested in the television manifestations of SF (a particular problem for me as I am both an enthusiast of television and science fiction and I see almost all TV-SF as usually bad television and worse SF).
I can sympathise with them, coming as I do from probably the last generation of persons to whom an interest in that crazy Buck Rogers stuff was automatically stigmatising, but there’s no getting away from the truth that nowadays SF imagery is common as dirt and if you use the widest catch-all possible for being a SF fan that makes absolutely fucking millions of them now. We’re in danger of accepting a lowest common denominator viewpoint of science fiction caused by the extraordinary proliferation of SF imagery in every damned nook and cranny of contemporary culture; ideas and concepts that thirty years ago would have been found only in hard-to-get Ace paperbacks or badly distributed magazines are now part of the cliché vocabulary of television and literature. Once upon a time we’d have dreamed of this as a glorious day, but would never have realised that the price of that heaven on earth would be people whose sole interest would be the equivalent of Jack Gaughan’s superficially attractive but endlessly repetitive artwork, or who thought the formula adventures of Captain Future the absolute acme of scientifictional endeavour.
I don’t yearn for the good old days when it was the few of Us against the teeming Them and we had a Knowledge that they did not; in fact I still think, as I did twenty-five years ago, that it would be a wonderful thing if more people actually contacted and absorbed the true wonderment and genuinely consciousness-expanding power of good science fiction. SF imagery has become popular certainly, but, if this is not too esoteric, I would refer the reader to the back cover of many issues of Galaxy magazine from the early Fifties with its little Bat Durston saga.
The problem is that the trad SF fans are stuck, and it’s probably our own fault, with being the umbrella organisation that covers all of these SF offshoots. The Eastercon, for example, is now compromised to a large degree into catering for them. Personally I blame the Scottish fans for this; they were the first to make an issue of bigger-and-betterism, the very scale and expense of their plans making it necessary to draw in more and more sideshows—media, gaming and so on—to get the money to pay for them, and of course the more things you put in the more money you need to raise and the more people you’ve got to attract and so on and on. This is a roundabout that does not stop.
The problem for the traditional fans, and this includes fanzine fandom, is that we’re shot if we run and cut if we stand. If we simply say, oh the hell with it, there’s nothing for us at the big conventions any more, and go off and do our own thing—like for example Mexicon, a science fiction convention of the old school, concentrating on books, which drew much of its membership from fanzine fans because they are almost by definition more interested in the written forms of SF than the others—then we’re condemned as elitist and exclusive because we deliberately run a convention which just like perhaps a Blake’s Seven convention concentrates entirely on part of the enormous science fiction world. (What Mexicons did was state clearly what would not be part of the convention’s remit, so as to avoid disappointing persons who came expecting something different; no person or group was ever banned or turned away from the Mexicon. Some people apparently believed that they were banned from the Mexicon simply because the convention did not offer media, games, or fantasy programming. This seems paranoid verging on the outright crazy; it wouldn’t strike me I was barred from a Babylon Five convention because it offered nothing I’m interested in.)
Right then, leaping dramatically headlong into the past of this discourse, why should an Eastercon (or Worldcon) provide space and probably funding for fanzine fans to set up and run a fanroom? Well, for a start because the event is for better or worse the general convention of the British SF world, and a fanzine-fans facility is another special interest of the type that would be catered for without a second thought if it were Space 1999 or Jet-Ace Logan fandom (to go from the ridiculous to the sublime). It should also do it because the historical foundations of science fiction fandom as a whole rest on the antecedents of today’s fanzine fans. OK, lots of people don’t want to know about this, and all right why should they; history began this morning, nothing before the first screening of Star Trek matters a damn, fanzines are just full of people writing and so on. Well, that’s fine, forget all that then; but if I join an Eastercon what am I getting, and how much of my membership fee is going on some person or event I have no concern for and less interest in? Or is that the sort of question that shouldn’t be asked?
The answer might well be to consciously discard the whole concept of the fanzine fans being the descendants of the generalist fans of the past, and accept that there’s nothing but the most superficial commonality between us and the members of any other special interest fangroup. This will be bad in that the links with the past, with the actual history and evolution of the SF fan microcosm, will be severed, probably terminally. This might be a tragedy, but necessary, like atom-bombing London in order to destroy both the Conservative party and that hideous Blair fellow in one fell swoop. Free of the preconceptions that ride with it, we’d simply be able to go about our own business, organise our own conventions, claim time and space at Eastercons along with all the other special interest groups. Stop acting as if we had something the others didn’t. OK, I know a lot of individuals will be saying here that this is a total load, and they never thought that fanzine fans ever had any historical responsibilities in the first place. But examine the idea and yourselves: even if we, the fanzine fans, never articulated the idea ourselves, a lot of the other fandoms acted as if we had; they perceived the reality of the matter, that the fanzine fans—the generalists, the written science fiction people—stood in direct line of descent from the Beginning of the Science Fiction League and all those fans from the Thirties and Forties who by trial and error founded the ideas of fanzines and conventions. Everybody knows that, whether they admit it or not. The trouble is that it’s bringing us more damned grief than it’s worth these days.
Frankly, I despair; in a macro sense I have in recent years come close to the conclusion that the criminal exploitation of both the planet and all its life by mankind should be allowed to continue unhindered, indeed encouraged and unregulated, possibly spurred along by a new breed of eco-terrorist that actively encourages oil-spills, toxic waste dumps, deforestation, and uncontrolled genetic tinkering. Only that way will the inevitable holocaust be hastened and the criminals—us—swept from the planet. The innocent of all species will suffer and die too, but that’s too bad and anyway it always has been so. The result, a planet that will over time return to a natural balance, different but better, would be worth the period of maximum discomfort. I feel much the same about the divisions within fandom. Not that everything should be swept away, but that we fanzine fans should simply all shut up about it, abandon any overt presence at general interest conventions, go about our own business with our own smaller conventions and meetings, and let individuals percolate in as and when they can. This solution demands that the rest of fandom equally shut up about the nasty exclusive and elitist fannish fans; I’m tired of this no-win situation where if we go about our own business we’re exclusive and if we demand a place at the table (the table we built, moreover!) we’re accused of trying to get something we don’t deserve. Shit on it all. I’m beginning to take an extreme view on this.
On Sat, 27 Oct 2001, Nigel Rowe wrote:> In an effort to continue the original discussion about how Greg (and I) thought Authentic was a fun prozine with a variety of fan related content, I’ll pose the question: What were the good prozines from the viewpoint of them interacting and documenting fannish endeavour?
On a slightly oblique line (some would say wildly tangential, and I bet I could tell you who one of them would be) has anyone else had my peculiar relationship with Interzone? Oh come on, Interzone, British SF magazine, published in Brighton, David Pringle, oh bloody hell, you know...
Anyway, there’s been Interzone now for years. Longer than I can remember and I was virtually there when it was born. Well, I remember having a detailed conversation about the ins and outs of starting a new British SF magazine with David Pringle in his back room in Leeds. Which goes to show how long ago it was, Pringle in Leeds, associating with fans...!
Anyway, at the time (and we’re in the turn of the Seventies here) I’d been deeply in thought about the hows and whys of starting a small publishing outfit to bring back Lost Classics of SciFi into the hearts and minds of people born since 1960. I actually can’t recall a great deal about it now but it all seemed to revolve around the idea that getting the reprint rights would be fairly cheap (as indeed it has proved since then) and printing shortish runs costs hardly anything does it, the only problem being distribution. Amazingly I never solved that one no matter how many long bus rides I took to contemplate it, so nothing ever happened. As usual; and then Malcolm Edwards stole the idea.
I was also fascinated with the idea of a new British SF magazine, a cross between Vargo Statten and Ambit, no, no, I mean a bit like F&SF and New Worlds in tone, but with more departments. Kind of like F&SF is now, as a matter of fact (did Gordon Van Gelder ever go to any British conventions, or travel on the 65 bus through Ealing, one wonders...). It all seemed quite sensible, fairly small print-run, simple but sophisticated layout, departments full of real information, a letter column worth a damn, and the kind of short fiction I wanted to read myself. Wouldn’t have made a dime, but could have covered its costs, maybe.
Somehow I didn’t entirely recognise Interzone when it appeared later, born in flames. (I must have been a bit dense then because I remember saying something like ‘Interzone? That’s a crap title...’ and me a Big William Burroughs fan...). Maybe because although there were fans involved they weren’t really my kind of fans. All Leeds people. There were people like John Clute along as well (‘I don’t need fandom, I already have a social life’) which didn’t charm me much. But, that being said, the first few issues were rather attractive. I particularly liked the covers—non-representational, blocks of colour, looked like something grown-ups would pick up. And some of the fiction was good too—Malcolm Edwards’s short story... which I have momentarily forgotten the title of... still sticks on my list of Best Shorts of all time.
But although I kept buying it I read it less and less. And the covers, dear me... OK, it may be a damned sight cheaper to get reprint rights for crap paperback art, but it’s not an attractive characteristic. Eventually I never read it at all, and if Catherine hadn’t bought a Lifetime Subscription during a moment of both financial stability and solidarity with British science fiction I’d never have seen a copy since about 198-whatever.
It got so it would show up here and be lucky to get taken out of its envelope. Even then just a look at what the Ansible column had been edited down to for Interzone readers would suffice, with possibly the frequent observation of ‘Fucking hell, they’ve still got that pompous showoff Nick Lowe doing film reviews!’
There were, though, brief moments of activity with regard to Interzone; I once had an acrimonious email correspondence with Pringy-poo (as he used to be known back in the good old days when he was a fan and having a long-term affair with Christine Atkinson) about why the hell Interzone invariably cut all mentions of fan affairs from the version of Ansible it printed—it turned out rather to my surprise that it was DRL who provided the adulterated version, but no doubt based his editorial snippage on Pringle’s strongly expressed viewpoint that Interzone readers were not fans and therefore not interested in who Redd Boggs was and why it was a sad thing he was dead.
Well, I guess making decisions like that is what an editor is for—one should, of course, choose the party line of one’s magazine and stick to it. It just seemed to me that—given the fact that Interzone sprang from fans, was financed in its initial stages by fan money (one of the Yorcons; and what a load of ag that created too, I can remind you!), and to a certain extent owed its existence to British and hence international fandom—then at least some fucking nod of recognition of all this would be appropriate, even if all it were was a willingness to provide the readership with the occasional bit of information that hinted that there was such a thing as fandom and it might conceivably be interesting. However, all the evidence is that Pringle is quite clear about his determination to ensure that no evidence of either the magazine’s or his own connections with fandom is in public view; and in fact he goes to some lengths to keep this particular veil drawn.
Which is sad. As not long ago I realised that Interzone was a fanzine. Oh, OK, its rationale is that it publishes fiction, everyone knows that, and it’s published some rather outstanding stuff too (Hail Sheena, viva SRB!) but come on, look at the rest of it—I mean where do you see so much book commentary, so much stuff on films and TV, so many readers’ letters talking about SF? This isn’t a fucking issue of Analog we’ve got here. This is quite possibly one of the best sf-lit fanzines being published today, certainly the most frequent. And regular.
Quite apart from that its circulation is not enormously larger than some fanzines (I mean, it’s never been eligible for ‘Best Prozine’, has it?) and it’s pretty clear from the tone of the thing that it’s a fanzine—quite apart from the heavy dependence on departments, just look at the art—I mean, you only get art that crappy in fanzines! Even most of the fiction is dire, the sort of stuff that any fanzine editor would reject. OK, it does publish Baxter and Barry Bayley, but then Baxter’s that sort of guy and who else will publish Barry?
Anyway anyway, since I realised what it really was I’ve developed quite a soft spot in my head for Interzone. I still think Nick Lowe is a berk, and that Pringle is a self-serving quisling, but say what you like Interzone is fannish.
Gone—A Christmas Presence
It wasn’t Happy Christmas. That wasn’t the first thing we said to each other, but we both woke up with the same thing on our minds. Catherine said it first, because as usual she’d had the Little Voices of the World Service talking to her all night. There’s been no signal from Beagle, she said. And that was going to have been my first question. Oh well, we decided, avoiding talking about it, we can’t give up hope yet.
The Christmas period proceeded, and so did the listening watch for the Beagle lander, but still no response. We were enormously excited when it was announced that the Jodrell Bank radio-telescope was to be focused on it. Jodrell Bank! Massively symbolic of the white heat of British technology of the Fifties and Sixties, a truly science-fictional part of our youth. How perfect could it have been if Jodrell Bank, the real Big Dish, could have picked up the signal from Beagle when all else had failed?
We’d been following the efforts of the charismatic Colin Pillinger and his gang for years, as in the face of general governmental and public apathy and disinterest they’d built and finally launched, on a European Space Agency rocket, the first ever serious British space probe—to Mars, that superbly Baxterian planet. There were so many times we’d seen the rehearsals and the animations, and followed how it was going to do This and then That, it seemed almost a foregone conclusion that after the long and uneventful journey—capped with that genuinely stunning bit of video from Mars Express as the Beagle capsule detached for the final drop (only a million kilometres, nothing at all)—it would in fact arrive, safe, and sturdily enter into its tasks.
But it wasn’t only the apparent lack of signals that boded ill; we had been given, as a genuinely surprising Christmas gift by Mark and Claire, an excellent book entitled Backroom Boys by Francis Spufford, a celebration of some aspects of British Big Science and engineering since the Second World War, which of course I read backwards. The final section is the Beagle 2 story, as inspiring and sad a tale as you could imagine if you, like me, believe that properly funded space exploration is one of the things any advanced society (and I take the slight liberty of including the United Kingdom in that small company) should be engaged in. But it was the final paragraph that was both touching and foreboding:
From here on, one of two things will happen. It may well be that something goes wrong. There are enough candidates, if you consider the flowchart of events that has to be negotiated. If any element in the logic of the descent fails, they all fail. Then, the whole investment of time and tenacity in Beagle will go hurling on down, unbraked or inadequately braked, to shatter on the rocks of Isidis, to end in a brief plume of dust. In that case, all that the scientists waiting with fingers crossed in Milton Keynes will ever hear is silence. Or it may be that the pilot ’chute will stream out cleanly, and impart just its calculated increment of drag before tugging free; and the main ’chute will flower out just as it should, as the explosive bolts fire to detach the heatshield and the top cover. Then, in sudden hush, Beagle will be hanging beneath a wide canopy, closing with the ground at only 60 kilometres per hour, so slowly compared to the first mad rush of the fall that it seems to halt altogether, and to be floating there like thistledown, in the thin high whistling of the Martian breeze, while the red lines and planes of a new world wheel by below. Down it will glide, down until the ridges on the horizon stand higher than it is, down and down onto the soil of Isidis. About two hundred metres up, a unique lightweight altimeter in the lower skin of the craft will bounce a radar pulse off the ground, and get an answer it likes. The airbags will puff up to beachball fatness, and Beagle will hit the cinnamon sands with an elastic bounce. A wild arc back into the air; a smaller hop; a slow roll down a gentle incline; standstill. A pause. The bags disengage. Beagle’s shell is unharmed. Cautiously, its lid opens. A British suitcase is on Mars.
Of course the days wore on and nothing happened. Even Jodrell Bank went back to its workaday tasks, picking up pieces of the jigsaw of the Universe. We’ll never know—for a while anyway—whether Beagle crashed, failed, fell down a hole, or whether there’s really something funny going on up there. I kept thinking—where’s the Spirit rover going to be, can it actually go and take a look? But I guess that was expecting a bit much...
By the time the first 2004 issue of New Scientist came out things had gone from bad to worse—even the best and brightest hopes were gone. Mission manager Mark Sims was quoted as saying: ‘That’s the worst thing—Beagle could be sat quite happily working on the surface of Mars, but for some reason we don’t understand it is not talking to us. In the ideal world, if we’d got another 5 kilos, we could have put on a beacon or a blackbox recorder, but Europe didn’t have the resources.’
I know it is probably wrong in some fundamental way—that I actually don’t care about—to anthropomorphise these little machines the way I do, but I do, and happily. I am enormously thrilled at the way Voyager has persisted long after anyone expected it to have failed, and is even now on the very edge of the Solar System, and will soon be entering into true Interstellar Space. I defy anyone not to be exalted by that—if they’re not they’re really quite worthless, as empathic human beings and as science fiction fans. And I equally find it hard not to feel an enormous sense of loss about Beagle, out there on its own, maybe.
It is dangerous and bad, we are told by out self-appointed cultural superiors, to attribute what are assumed to be uniquely human emotions and reactions to non-human animals, and worse to do so to machines—mere constructs. But in a world full of ‘human beings’ who would—frequently it seems voluntarily—fail any variant of the Voight-Kampff test it is hard not to. Which is why I still, beyond hope now, wish Beagle well, just in case.
I hope, really, that one day—in my lifetime—one of us will trudge across that Martian landscape and find that ‘British suitcase’, or maybe a scattering of wreckage spread across a Martian plain; perhaps a battered and dusty box that never turned on right, or maybe even a machine that simply sat out of sight at the bottom of an unsuspected hole, carrying out all its tasks, telling its story with cheerful regularity, but blocked from us by a chunk of the Martian landscape it had come to investigate. It’ll be a part of the recent past, I hope, and that many of us here today will see the pictures and hear the end of the tale.
Fannish. Yes, that’s me. Fan of quite a lot of things actually, including, increasingly, indo-jazz.
Yes, we’re back here in the cultural byways of MFP albums and possibly-dodgy raga-jazz fusion stuff from the 1960s.
Remember I mentioned an outfit called (unlikely as it seems) the Indo-British Ensemble and their wholly unlikely Music For Pleasure issue Curried Jazz? Well, I followed up a hint from Dave Wood and this week got possession of a nice nearly-mint copy of the LP. Which is actually surprisingly good. Oh OK, you could probably make a case for it being neither fish nor fowl, and maybe not a very good example of fosh either, but dammit I like it—it’s tuneful, interesting, and nice to listen to. It makes me happy. And it’s kinda funky too. And certainly if you like any of the John Mayer/Joe Harriott Indo-Jazz Fusions sets you would learn to love this one.
I’d be happy to provide a CD dub to anyone who wants it. But you should bear in mind that one of my favourite LPs is the London Jazz Four’s Take A New Look At The Beatles, and we know how well that one went down among you...
And talking of favourites and old friends, I also got my hands on a copy of Ornette Coleman’s Who’s Crazy? No, not the almost impossible to find issued for twenty minutes in 1986 Japanese CD issue, but a vinyl copy on Affinity from, well, way back when. In fact it’s the same issue I sold a copy of a few years ago under the impression that such an important set would be definitely out on CD any minute now. What a fool.
Anyway, it’s even better than I remembered it, even allowing for the fact that this particular pressing seems to have grit in the mix it’s so noisy. I’ve been listening to it with a lot of attention over the last few days while transferring it to CD, taking out as much of the noise as I can (and not doing too well as I don’t actually understand the software that well, I have to admit). I am a big fan of the Coleman recordings from the Izenzon period anyway (Golden Circle 1 and 2, big fun!) but this may actually be the best. It actually swings (between the rather less settling violin and trumpet interjections), and it’s so obvious on this set that Coleman used to play in R&B bands when a lot younger. Oh, funky, most definitely; I’m actually thinking of trying to edit it down Silent Way-like to one long cut of really thrilling sax-led trio jazz.
Just thought you’d like to know that.
Of course scientifiction has been Big in my life also. Old fanzines, at least. And quite accidentally, sorta. I was trying out some new OCR software the other day and wanted something really difficult so pulled out a copy of Sam Youd’s Fantast from 1939. (Later co-edited with the recently deceased Doug Webster—see how it all fits together...!) Of course Fantast for all its qualities (which are many) was duplicated in the very perfect formulation of British Grey duper ink, so frankly the OCR resembled more a Lovecraftian chant rather than witty discourse of the 1939-scifi scene. To be fair, it’s actually pretty difficult to read with the old Mk 1 eyeball, so it was an unfair test.
Anyway, while leafing through Fantast 5, August 1939, I came across a serial titled ‘Fanopolis’ by ‘Fantacynic’ (later revealed to be Sam Youd... who we all know better as John Christopher) which is a sort of fan-fiction set in a sort of parallel universe in which fans and fandom are, well, sort of gods or something (I told you it was difficult to read). It has some of the flavour of The Enchanted Duplicator, bizarrely enough, with a quest for enlightenment. And somewhat influenced by a movie that fans of the day would have seen more times than they had hot dinners. (And that kept its popularity well into the Fifties in fan circles, if accounts of 1950s minicons are to be believed.)
And therein lies my question—does anyone know of this and, more importantly, was it ever finished? I have parts 1-5 in Fantast 2 to 6, but part 5 ends with the fatal words ‘We hope next month to conclude this serial’ and thus far I haven’t been able to figure out what happened, despite having all the next 8 issues of the fanzine.
Was it ever ended in some other fanzine or was it just forgotten quietly because Youd just couldn’t come up with an ending? Has anyone ever heard of it? Does anyone know?
Anyway anyway—there are greater surprises, as later on in the run of Fantast, in issues 12, 13 and 14, there as another serial (yes, they were very big on them in those days, despite the fact we’re talking of things maybe 3,000-words long, max. It was all different then) called ‘A Short History of Fantocracy’ by one Arthur C Clarke, which is about fans taking over the world. Or something. I really must read these things with more attention. But that’s amazing, eh? Totally forgotten as far as I can tell, no mention of it (or of ‘Fanopolis’) anywhere.
Oh, I tell a lie; the Clarke has a fleeting reference in Harry Warner’s All Our Yesterdays, but that’s it.
Should these be webbled, I wonder, and I wonder even harder whether I’d have the will and energy to actually copy-type them, as alas, all my experiments show that OCR is totally out of the question.
Even after getting the new BSFA mailing and feeling totally out of touch with reality. The world is yours, Geneva Melzack, don’t drop it.