Got Me Down on the
More Wild Ideas
The King is
Dead, Long Live the King
Rider on a Stone
Real Life in
in memory and sentiment again
Fandom is just a
Fiction Book Club: scary or wot
FIAWOL—fandom is a way of life, for the ignorant. That’s
more or less my state right now, but then I haven’t anything better to do.
Though the point is, once you’ve fallen in deep with fandom it’s awful
difficult to throw it off again for several reasons. For one, fandom offers an
almost idyllic ersatz existence for people too lazy or inadequate to take on
the big world as it stands. Only in fandom is it possible to become well-known
or even ‘famous’ by doing so impossibly little of worth or consequence. And I
on no account exclude myself from that unhappy (?) band of refugees. Of course,
fandom offers lots of things in varying degrees, and all in all I’d say that
fandom is a damn sight better life than pushing peanuts up the Pennines with
Got Me Down on
the Killing Floor
It’s Saturday 31st March, and I’m mooning about aimlessly in the remainder section of Claude Gill Books in Oxford Street, trying not to look like a shoplifter while Linda rifles through the Children’s Section giggling and cooing. All I can see is the usual junk that no one would ever buy full price and hardly anyone will give remainder price for either. Why hasn’t Easy Travel to Other Planets been remaindered, I think grumpily to myself. It came out about two years ago, was paperbacked recently, and probably didn’t sell hardly at all, because despite being an excellent novel it had too many fringe-SF attitudes and concepts in it to be acceptable or interesting to the kind of fiction critic to whom the publishing of a new Roth or Heller or some other boring Jew is a major event deserving enormous areas of considered prose and therefore wasn’t publicised at all hardly and so wasn’t at all likely to sell was it because no one fucking knew about it did they?
Anyway, it isn’t there, not that I expected it to be, so we trudge off to the Forbidden Planet around the corner and I make excuses about why I’m not buying the new and last-but-new issues of American Flag just yet and Linda goes pink with fury and says You’d Better Buy Them Before I Go Back To America In Three Weeks Or Else, and I say all right all right all right and wonder why?
Later on, at home, a telephone call from Roz Kaveney. We talk about the great M F K Fisher (buy Art of Eating at once all of you) and why her Frank’s contribution is going to be late (isn’t everyone’s, I sigh wearily) and then she lets slip the Big One. Oh, She Says, have you seen that great big pile of copies of Easy Travel to Other Planets (Ted Mooney, Cape) (publishing persons really do talk like this, no shit) in Booksmith in Oxford Street? Only 99p each, what a surprise etc. etc. etc. Immediately I start going arrrgh and fuck and shit and so on because Booksmith is exactly halfway between Gill and Planet and I actually stood outside it wondering whether to go in or not and didn't bother because none of these bloody remainder shops have anything worthwhile in them anyway fuck turds chiz wotabringdown.
Then it is Monday. Lunchtime and I am rushing like a madman with my pockets bulging with old Safeway bags down the road from Holborn to the junction of Charing Cross Road and Oxford Street. Flinging people aside I cannon into the shop and right in front of me are piles and piles of the same old boring shit that’s always there and no matter how hard I look and ferret about (even lifting things up and looking underneath in case ETTOP is hidden beneath The Naughty Bits—an anthology of all the bits you buy expensive books to read) and even ask the assistants, something I rarely do as it is as invariably futile as it is now, there’s nothing. Null. Bloody Kaveney.
By 5 PM and quitting time I’ve had more ideas. Maybe Kaveney had it all wrong and it wasn’t Booksmith but some other remainder joint in Oxford Street. So I trudge down the entire length from Holborn to Marble Arch and discover that even all the other remainder shops that used to be there have obviously given it up for a bad job and quit. This is a real drag, especially as I now have to travel back to Ealing on the Central Line which is noisy and cold instead of my nice comfy usual Piccadilly and by the time I’m home I feel sick, have a headache, bark at Linda, refuse to feed Rastus and tread on the teapot.
It is amazing, though, how indomitable is the human spirit. By the next day I am so obsessed with the idea of getting at least a dozen copies of this supernovel (not only for myself, but for resale at purely nominal mark-up prices ho ho at Mexicon, which convention was (honestly) partially inspired by Mr Mooney’s ace piece of work) that I look up other Booksmith branches in the telephone directory and come lunchtime set off to trudge around them.
Well, at least it isn’t raining. I fling myself on and off buses, some of which actually get where I want to go faster than I could have walked myself. I know I shouldn’t be, but I am astonished that there are so many, many copies of the same wholly uninteresting books around. Do these publishers actually have no idea of what might or might not be saleable, do they overprint deliberately, or is the whole thing done as some kind of elaborate tax write-off? Whatever, the whole effort is worthless; the dimwitted assistants I interrogate have never so much as heard of Ted Mooney so that shows how interested in the current state-of-the-art they are, and I stump off surrounded by a sort of Kirlian aura of anti-Kaveney imprecations.
Naturally enough I get lost on my way back to work, and finally navigate myself back by orienting on the enormous massive Ministry of Truth bulk of the High Imperial Gigantic Worldwide Masonic Lodge-to-end-all-Lodges or whatever it is down Long Acre (what do they do in there anyway? Have we got, despite the stern refusal in Franks 1, any secret Masons in our midst? Glen, is it anything like Morris dancing?) and just as I cross the street to get back to more familiar ground I see an unfamiliar and new bookstore, with, surprise surprise, heaps and heaps and heaps of the usual boring remaindered trash stacked in the window. I go in anyway, and gosh wow it isn’t just the usual but lots of interesting stuff as well, like hardbacks of Hubert Selby novels and Sladek and Truffaut and more quite useful books on the cinema and even some reasonable-looking books of jazz that I’d buy if they were a bit cheaper but probably will buy anyway next week, and hoopla hurray, a substantial and neatly laid-out secondhand and rarities section at the back. Not bad for a place that from the outside looks like a poofy hairdresser’s salon or a tearoom (and you can take that whichever way you want, as they say in the British Library). Nestling right in there amongst all this is not only a copy of The Alexander Woolcott Reader, but a copy of Wit’s End (lotsa pictures of Alexander) and boggle boggle a copy of the 1947 second impression biography of A W by Samuel Hopkins Adams, incredibly hard to find and I’ve never even seen one before. Only £4 too, bargain. I rush with these and a book about Harlem in the Twenties and Thirties (Black Renaissance is the in thing round at Lawrence Road this week) to the owner who immediately sees a good thing and drags out several other Woolcott-related items from the stockroom, all of which I have, unfortunately. Amazingly he’s quite familiar with the Woolcott legend and persona, unlike almost everyone else I’ve ever met, and we chat about the nasty/nice little owl for a while and mention the likelihood of him getting a copy of the rare-ish Edwin Hoyt biography The Man Who Came to Dinner, which I’m sure I’ll be grossly overcharged for if he ever finds one. It is surprising to me that a man with such evident good taste has never heard of Easy Travel to Other Planets but he assures me he’ll try and lay hands on some for me, especially after I say I want a dozen, minimum. What a nice man. He even agrees with me when I say that my informant was probably telling nasty little fibs all along. There is obviously a lesson here that could be learned by many shopkeepers in these rude and unhelpful times.
So, it wasn’t all useless. I may have ended up spending a lot more than I would have on even twenty copies of ETTOP but I found a neat store I’ll be happy to patronise in the future, and a couple of books I’ve wanted for years. All I need now is for Kaveney to come clean and admit it was all some perverse kind of April Fool gag all along, and I really wasn’t beaten to the post by some other scurvy amateur bookdealer who, unburdened by my genuinely altruistic zeal, will resell these tasty items to you all at an even more grotesquely high profit.
That was a genuine anec, number 2 in a series.
More Wild Ideas
I don’t often think of Darroll Pardoe; indeed, when I do it’s a sort of accident, like pouring the hot water into your cup instead of the teapot. The other day, though, I was rooting through some old fanzines and I thought of something Pardoe told me many years ago. Apparently, and he swore this was true, he not only threw away most of the fanzines he’d been sent, as being of no more than one-time-only interest, but from the rest tore out and kept only the bits that seemed to him, at the time, worth preserving. This seemed unbelievable and weird at the time, and now, looking back on it, it seems more so, plus frightening and actually socially irresponsible.
You don’t need a terrific intellect to figure out why. A big run of a fanzine is a couple of hundred—perhaps as much as five hundred copies in some cases. Probably more copies available at time of issue than there are people who want it, but that’s not a situation that always pertains. Copies are lost, vanish into collections, are discarded by people who have no true interest, are junked by relatives when the receiving fan dies or even moves away from home. That initial print run rapidly becomes a number of extant copies substantially smaller than the number of people who want or ought to see them. When you have ‘fans’ like Pardoe, and probably dozens of others who casually discard or deliberately destroy their accumulated fanzines, it makes a bad situation worse.
I don’t think there’s any real qualitative difference between a good fanzine and a first edition P K Dick or W S Burroughs or an Edward Hopper painting or the last original print of Metropolis. All these things are precious in and of themselves, never mind any artificial commercial value, which is, unfortunately, all that most people can understand. A copy, for example, of Eye, Grue, Speculation or Void has no perceptible value at all to anyone but a fanzine fan, but to the one who wants it it is a rare treasure indeed.
So I feel anger, hurt and frustration when I think of the classic fanzines that few of us will ever get to see because there are no copies left in circulation, partly because people who should have known better tore them up or dropped them casually in the trash. I’ve occasionally given away, with a three-armed abandon I would later regret, fanzines I no longer wanted or of which I had duplicate copies. I’ve once or twice stood by and seen—as at one of the Yorcons—large piles of old fanzines left neglected and apparently unwanted at the end of conventions, probably to be thrown away by the hotel as trash, because no one on the committee knew what to do with them. And I feel guilty about that still, ten years later. I have never, though, thrown away or otherwise destroyed fanzines. (This is a lie. Not only did I stand by at conventions knowing large bundles of fanzines were going to be abandoned, but after the 1987 Worldcon I threw away a couple of hundred Australian fanzines that I just could not get rid of any other way, and had dragged around conventions for years. Even the garbagemen hefted the sacks unwillingly. I also threw away the last two fanzines Michael Ashley sent me. I am not so ashamed of that.)
So what? Are all old fanzines good? No. Are all old fanzines virtually irreplaceable first editions? Yes. Would fans, active and aspirant, be improved by access to and the attentive reading of the work of previous generations of fandom? Certainly. My concept of fandom was radically informed by getting hold of some—too few—of the best fanzines of the fifteen years prior to my own involvement. They showed me that there was a background and culture to work within, they demonstrated that some things worked and others didn’t—and even though that didn’t stop me from hacking down a few trees it meant I didn’t have to go to the laborious effort of sawing them up and making something that rolled, unsteadily and backwards. They showed me that continuity was important: this was more a revelation at seventeen than it would have been to someone entering fandom older. Also, by seeing the differences as much as the similarities, I readily grasped that there was no need to slavishly copy what had gone before, but to use that body of thinking, attitude and ideas to generate something that was of me and of my time. (That latter may not seem a particularly wild idea to many, but there are people who seriously propose that no heed whatever should be paid to fan-activities of the past and everything should be reinvented afresh every few years. If you argued this should apply to any other art form or science they’d be up all night contending it. I guess that’s what Fandom Is Just A Goddamn Hobby really means, at the death.)
Actually, what I regret is that I didn’t get more old fanzines. This is partly due to the fractured structure of British fandom in the middle-to-late Sixties; most of the ‘established’ fans when I came in had actually been on the scene barely five or so years themselves, a large number of them less than that, and few had any particular interest in or access to collections of older—pre-1964—material. There was little or no reference to or discussion of anything other than the present or the immediate past. Good lord, old time fans in 1969 meant Peter Weston, for god’s sake, who’d been active since the dim recesses of the past, 1964. Not that I helped much; when I started the situation was so weak and insipid—all those dull PADSzines, Mary Reed and Oxo fandom, happy-days-toytown fandom—that there seemed no other course than to draw a line and start again. In doing that the thread of continuity was buried if not broken.
That meant that startlingly few fans in the following decade-and-a-half were even so much as aware of, never mind sought out or actually read, anything published before, say, 1968. OK, OK. I can hear the restivity from here. Get to the point, already, before you start trying to make a case that even the Sixties fans showed no awareness of Fifties fandom (arguably true, at least from 1965 on) or that Fifties fans never saw a copy of Novae Terrae. You can stretch this a bit far, says the Body of Fandom.
All right, all right. Well, I was wondering, as you do, between planning my huge Encyclopaedia Of British Fandom (I'm up to C already. Clarke, Joy. No, not that one, the one who did the really terrible fanzine in Manchester or somewhere; anyone remember? Bloody big problem these Encyclopaedias; wait ’til I get to W), and compiling an index to my monograph Hansen—The Married Years; anyway, I was wondering, why not collect old unwanted fanzines? And give them away again. Like a sort of Salvation Army of the fannish mind. It all made a sort of sense. I’d make the populace in general aware that I would take their unwanted fanzines, sort them, issue simple lists on a regular basis, and anyone could have on a first-come basis anything they wanted for their own collections or whatever. So I wrote to my friend and advisor Vince Clarke who said:
‘A clearing house for old fanzines. Not many people collecting these days, and even some of those who have sizeable collections—like Keith Walker, Howard Rosenblum, or Brian Burgess—are just sitting on them. Peter Roberts has given up, so presumably has Harry Bond. Ken Bulmer has a lot, merely because he can’t get up the energy to sort them out. Current collectors are Connor, Hansen, self—damned if I know any more. So I don’t think there’d be any takers for your scheme.’
Which might be true and all that, as far as the right now goes. What I’m afraid of is that there’s not much duty now for the future going on. If it’s hard, verging on the impossible, to get twenty-year old fanzines now, what’s the situation regarding ‘now’ going to be like in that scifi year of 2018? I can see a lot of this stuff just sliding down some landfill somewhere between now and then.
So I’m going to give it a go anyway.
Here’s my plan. If you—or anyone you know who is now or has ever been a fan—has any quantity of fanzines that you don’t want, ship them to me, address as inside front cover. I will sort them, and issue a list, probably bi-annually, available on demand, giving an outline of what’s in stock. All fanzines will be available free on a first-come first-served basis, though postage will be charged at cost. A portion of multiple copies will be available for fan fund-raising in the case of the more famous items, and other overstocks will be assembled as representative bundles again available on demand.
I am prepared to repay the costs of shipping fanzines to me whenever necessary. It could cost you nothing other than a little time to contribute your unwanted fanzines to this scheme, which I might as well call Memory Hole. What I’ll get out of it is satisfaction that I’m doing something that, while it may seem futile today, may have some long-term benefit. Oh, OK and maybe a few fanzines for my own collection.
This is not a joke; I know it sounds a bit crazy but I think it’s a worthwhile idea. I’m willing to be proved wrong but I’ll at least know I tried. Memory Hole should be looked at as a supplement to Vince Clarke’s Fanzine Library, and indeed a first priority would be to ensure gaps there are filled. I am able to do what Vince can’t, though (I’ve got the time and space and he hasn’t), and set up a collection and redistribution service that might—with co-operation—be of benefit to all fanzine fans, now and forever.
King is Dead, Long Live the King
This is from Jim Linwood’s letter in this issue. It is worth printing twice.
‘I think that Arthur more than any fanwriter was responsible for the image of British fandom in the Fifties and Sixties.’
It’s Arthur Thomson he’s talking about, of course. The Arthur who died four years ago this February. It usually sounds mawkish and vaguely disgusting to talk of people who, after their death, are still with us, but I feel that about Arthur Thomson. Like Jim, I hardly knew Arthur as a whole man, ‘just’ as a fan, and then not long enough or close enough, and that’s something I now know, too late, that I will forever regret. But his impact on the consciousness of fandom was simply vast.
He was, effectively, the spirit of British fandom, the true spirit of fandom, the sprite of Trufandom, have it as you will. When I think of Fans I don’t see in my mind’s eye the spectacled bearded lumpen stereotypes who clutter convention corridors, but wide-eyed beamers, goggling lasciviously with propeller-beanies at a rakish angle, lips curled in a psneer as they reach for their water-pistols with one hand and a beer with the other. Or more typically, perhaps, the Thomson-twins double act, trading baffled one-liners about the bizarrely incomprehensible behaviour of one of their fellows, capering madly in the background wearing a Chinese mask and frogman flippers. They’re decent guys, these fans and fannes, cheerful and interested, happy with their little activities and fannish concerns. They’re Trufans all right. And they are the very image of fandom for me, what comes instantly to mind when I think of fan-meetings and conventions. The true reality slips over gradually, like a cloud across the sun, like some evil empire that never ended but persists despite our best intentions; it’s not real in the way that Arthur’s artlessly unposed snapshots are. You can see the mechanisms in the overlay-world; Arthur’s people are soft and warm.
‘It’s impossible to imagine fandom without Arthur Thomson...’ said Dick Eney in 1963, annotating the results of a Fan Poll in which ATom got unanimous first-place votes in the Artwork category. ‘... ATom has given us more than prolific production without lowering of standards; he’s given us humour without cruelty, satire without malice, wisdom without arrogance, and good taste without ostentation. We don’t know how lucky we are.’
In my heart and mind there is not a day goes by I don’t regret his passing; I miss him a lot, but then I think—I believe—that as long as I am a fan, as long as any of us are, he’ll always be with me, with us.
Rider on a Stone
It must be a consensus thing; that life of quiet desperation the mass of men are supposed to lead has descended on me. What to do, what to do? I’ve been messing around for ages here, tidied every scrap of paper in this room, done everything but pick the cat-dandruff off the floor by hand, all because I can’t get started. There’s something wrong with our bloody fanzine today Rastus. You’re lying there a bit too bloody torpid for my liking, settling into far too simple a routine. It’s not good enough. Need to bring a few more shrews in once in a while.
The trouble is I’ve got myself so anxious about not getting on with RJC 6 (which of course from your point of view I have done) that it overrides my every waking hour, vague misery and guilt about it spreading like a damp cloud over all other of life’s tiny pleasures, from bacon sandwiches to old issues of The Fanscient. Why am I doing this, I fret in a half-hearted panic, when I ought to be speeding through Ventura, copyboy copyboy roll them presses. I can’t even claim that I’m overrun because This Fanzine Has Taken Over My Life; until I started actually working on it in early June I’d looked forward to the task with happy anticipation. Mind you, a string of computer failures on all our machines at once hasn’t helped. The difference between being unable to pub one’s ish and not really wanting to any more is less than my patience with Colin Peter Harris.
This must be the difference between Fandom is Just a Goddamn Hobby and Fandom is A Way of Life; your true hobbyist would just say Oh the Hell With It and go off and do something more immediately achievable, like reading this month’s Interzone. I work myself into a state of stalled guilt. Mind you, I reckon all this has come about because I’m not listening to enough music these days. As we haven’t the cash to indulge our record-buying habits we’ve subconsciously cut down on our listening—mustn’t get too enthusiastic about things—and I think it’s having a bad effect on my fanning. This might be imperceptible to you as a reader but I perceive my fanwriting as a sort of improvisation, where one word fires off the next, with a definite melody and beat that drives me on through the paragraph. If I think too much of a string of words, rather than a stream of ideas and beats, I get jammed and lose the thread, the spring, the meaning of what I am trying to convey. You might argue that I don’t convey a fucking great deal withal, which is another level of failure I’d just as soon not tackle right now, thanks.
What I’m getting at is although reading fanzines is a great inspiration to want to write, if I think about words too much when I’m trying to write, I block up. Play a few sides of Miles Davis, though, or Johnny Shines, and the fingers become positively limber, the thoughts trot briskly from brain to keyboard. Is this what Ornette Coleman meant when he talked of Dancing In Your Head?
Real Life in
It dawned on me for the first time yesterday that when we today talk about FIJAGH as opposed to FIAWOL, it is almost invariably in a positive manner, as if anyone other than a whey-faced loon should easily apprehend the idea that Fandom is not a Way of Life fit for fully-formed adults. Leaving aside the problem of finding any of those, I think it’s useful to remind ourselves that as I understand it FIJAGH became current as a counter to those who thought, Degler-like, with antecedents in Michelism and all the other Communist-inspired notions that Wollheim and his gang propounded in the Thirties, that either a truly separate social construct could be devised around fandom, or that fans specifically held some particular understanding or ability that not only set them aside from the common herd but would in time place them in their natural position à propos it, i.e. in charge. (Both these ideas are at least arguable, given the current state of the world.)
But these days—certainly since the Sixties—FIJAGH has come more to mean that fandom and all its activities are not worth taking seriously, do not deserve the time and attention spent on them, and by extension do not demand to be done well, or to the full extent of the individual’s abilities. An excuse for a load of slipshod rubbish. Well, realising that Fun isn’t the same as Frivolous or Trivial shouldn’t be beyond the star-begotten intellects who read SF in the first place. The other meaning of FIJAGH is that fandom is a temporary aberration that should be sloughed off with all speed and ruthlessness because, irrespective of how satisfying it seemed at the time, it is in fact a dangerous illusion and, well, stunts your growth, I guess, and grows hair on the palms of your hands too I shouldn’t wonder.
To be honest I see nothing wrong with Fandom as a Way of Life, in the sense that it is the most important thing in life after food, shelter, and decent relationships. Why should people who would blandly accept an individual’s fascination with gardening or archaeology find something incomprehensibly alien about the whole idea of FIAWOL? What’s the difference? Is it merely because immersion into fandom gives less commonality with the people you associate with at work or in the supermarket? But isn’t that the case with any other than the most commonplace pursuits? This is all obvious—or should be. What perhaps isn’t is why so many fans should contend that there actually is something pernicious about FIAWOL, and why so many bitterly renounce fandom when they have `got free’ of it—do they really, as some think Chris Priest does, think that it was all a waste of time, any more of a waste of time than anything else, that fandom somehow prevented them from becoming wonderful winged creatures sparkling high in the sunlight? Perhaps the fear simply is of being contented, of being quite happy to potter about with one’s fan activities, rather than hard-charging towards Success.
Allied to this is the idea of fandom as Small Pond, in which one might be a Big Fish, which is of course a Bad Thing because... well, because people who aren’t fans don’t think it’s important, that’s why because. Oh right, I thought there must be a good reason. Well, yes, of course, once one leaves fandom all sorts of joyous successes and recognitions are there for the taking, aren’t they... Of course not; this is drivel. Few people achieve or attain anything of any worth in any context of their life whatsoever. Virtually no one has power and influence anywhere. Leaving fandom does not guarantee success outside it, no more than staying in it does within it. A Big Fish in the Small Pond of fandom is virtually certainly an Infinitesimally Tiny Fish outside it, no matter what they subjectively think.
Success as what anyway—a telephone exchange supervisor? No, that’s not what they mean at all, is it? Success as High Profile Author, International Publisher, Media Tycoon, that’s what we’re all supposed to get outside fandom. That’s Success. Nothing dull and common and herd-like. Don’t dwell on the fact that no matter what your achievements virtually no one will really know or care, except whichever other peer group you associate with. But for the love of god remember it’s a peer group, not a fandom; that’s really important...
The vast mass of us live small, impotent, infinitely replaceable lives within the world society; this is perhaps worth remembering when it next becomes clear that the person who is telling you to wake up and get your success outside fandom is someone who thinks of themselves as in control, someone who in reality is more likely to be your boss than working alongside you.
It’s significant that it is more likely that people who believe, almost certainly wrongly, that they have limited but genuine control over their own lives and actions who will tell you that fandom is such a tiny restricted space, where they could not function to the full flower of their ability. You will rarely hear much of the same from clericals, assembly-line workers, hired hands of all types. There’s no control, no space for them in success-consensus world.
So is fanactivity an escape from the hard rigours of reality? Only if in some manner I can’t quite comprehend this desk, these papers, this computer, you readers, my friends, are in some way less substantial than the electricity bill I got this morning or the people who live down the road whose names and habits I don’t know and care less about as long as they don’t throw their garbage into the street. Of fucking course fandom isn’t an escape from the real world; it’s an unbelievable conceit on the part of its detractors to claim that they have developed or matured into something better.
What’s so damned great about consensus reality anyway that we should all cling to it like a lifebelt? There’s something really primitive about a notion that says you’ve got to stay in a particular world-view no matter how stupid and tedious it might seem. Hell of a lot of self-determination there. Next stunt is probably the jam-tomorrow the Christians have been serving up for two thousand years. Yeah, great.
It’s also a tacit acceptance of the classic Thatcherite con-game that tells us we can all be at the top of the heap at the same time, as well as affirming the prejudice that people who aren’t like us, just aren’t people.
I have the feeling everything went wrong when fans forgot that it was Other People who were supposed to think fans were malformed social inadequates fascinated by the playthings of children, deranged with impossible visions, and hopelessly out of touch with the things that matter most in life (i.e. what everybody else does). Too many fans took the wrong cues and started to have even greater contempt for fans than mundanes were believed to. They also developed the idea that the failings they perceived in fans were in some way unique to fandom and unrepresentative of the real world (which of course fans are presumed not to inhabit). A really incredible reversal of the Fans Are Slans theory; no longer better than the rest, fans are in fact worse. This became a perhaps subconscious desire to Tom it up, to be more scathing about fans than even the most unsympathetic mundane—to cleverly, perhaps, distance themselves from the worst excesses of fandom by being the first to loudly proclaim them.
The picture of fans, then, changed from a group united in interest in SF, space travel, the future, and a better world to one of ill-dressed malcontents distinguished only by their inability to dance and screw women who work in Woolworths, wear bright make-up, and white shoes. From the chrysalis of Beanie Boy should come Essex Man, perhaps.
Much of this, in Britain at least, had its roots in the quaintly anti-establishment activities of such cutting-edge fans of the Sixties as Graham Hall, Charles Platt, and Graham Charnock, all of them contemptuous of the past, be it fandom’s or anyone else’s. Strutting around conventions mumbling ‘Goofbitl’ (Get Out Of Fandom Before It’s Too Late) and ‘Cwof’ (Campaign for Wiping Out Fandom) seemed a revolutionary act then, I guess. There’s a case to be made that this layer of fandom’s utter ignorance of its own inheritance is what separated later intakes (including myself and what was later known as Ratfandom) from the manifest treasury of talent that had gone before; as it was all they handed on was a tendency to scorn fandom’s simpler pomposities and beliefs without offering anything else in their place, other than perhaps an idea that fandom is not for real people, is not Real Life.
There’s not a damned thing especially new in much of the foregoing; this has all been debated off and on for years with no resolution. My point is that the question is wrong to start with; not Why be a Fan, but Why Not? Just think of it as Virtual Reality—is that modish enough; does that make it OK?
Richard Geis said, more than thirty years ago, that it is not the size of the pool that matters, but its relative—to oneself—quality. I know where I am Harry. FIAWOL sounds OK to me.
in memory and sentiment again
I was just cleaning my Shield of Umor.
No, honestly, I was. It’s been in Catherine’s gardening shed for a while (now how fannish is that, eh) because for one damn reason or another we’ve been short of a bit of wall to put it up on. Anyway, to cut a long story short I’ve found a bit of wall and now all I need is a couple of big hooks and we’re away to the races.
The Shield is in pretty good condition considering it hasn’t been used for a while—a bit dusty, some strange aluminium-type corrosion on the backside, but the legend and the cheerful face are A-Number-One. Looking at it brings all sorts of times and places and people back to me—maybe I ought to be using it as a meditation piece, an aide-memoire to put myself back into a time when fandom was, if not a nicer more interesting place, then at least one I felt at home in. As opposed to the one with too many boring shitheads in it that I seem to see whenever I open the gate. Sorry, should have been more moderate there; must go and gaze into the Shield again and see the funny side of it all.
I’d love to say that my Shield of Umor appeared by my bedside one night years ago when I was but a tiny fan reading a few pages of All Our Yesterdays with the commitment of a convert every night before I forced myself to sleep at three in the morning, homework undone (yes, that's why I’m a poorly paid clerical at best, instead of running the country) but many scifi magazines read. I’d love to, indeed, and I wonder sometimes if it did. But the real story—as I remember it anyway—is more prosaic, but still charged with a kind of fannish fervour.
The Shield I have—I would say ‘own’ but that’s not strictly true—originated with that person from Porlock, Peter R Weston. I can’t for the life of me remember why Peter had one of his skilful minions in the door-handle factory run him up a Shield of Umor—it was almost certainly his entrance into a fancy dress competition as Jophan (well, that’s obvious isn’t it!) but I definitely don’t recall when. I was probably in the bar at the time anyway. But it must have been before June 1983, since the cover of one of the two issues of Peter’s rather good little fanzine Prolapse issued that year featured a cartoon of him plus shield.
Anyway, time passes and we arrive at the 1987 Worldcon in Brighton. For no doubt positive reasons Peter donates his Shield to the fan fund auction, which takes place in the Fan Programme Room towards the end of the convention. I was Bossing the whole fanroom set-up during that convention and, like many of the staff, I’d got a bit overwrought about it all—it was a peculiarly stressful convention in many ways, and far too many people got far too carried away with it all, sometimes in quite the wrong directions; we won’t even go into the paper planes, for example. Or the unknown young twerp I had in a strangling deathgrip at one time. Let’s just say that we had our little war, then and there, and fanrooms have never been quite so Involving ever since. Some of them have been fucking useless, it has to be said.
Anyway, there we were, wired up tight like that and the Shield of Umor comes up for auction. Immediately this great light goes on behind my eyes and I’m thinking of this as just the most Fannish Damned Thing ever to have existed on the planet—in my state I’m probably convincing myself that it actually is the Shield of Umor itself. It is a wonderful thing; it seems to glow with a deep internal brightness, and the murky surroundings and dulled and exhausted faces of fans who have had Too Much Fun seem illuminated by its very presence. To cap it all, the first bidder is bloody Moshe Feder. Bloody hell, the man’s an American, for gods sake. OK, he’s a fan, and he’s a right guy as far as I can tell (hangs about with publishers a bit much for my taste though—but you have to make a living) but crikey that means that the Shield of Umor will leave the fucking country!
Of course this can’t happen. I instantly resolve that whatever happens the Shield will be British. We need it for gods sake; we take fandom so seriously here. (Oh how I wish I’d actually thought that at the time—as it was I was just roaring away on a huge wave of fannish nationalism: this was Our Worldcon; we’d just run a pretty damn fine fanroom; we deserved a Symbol, a rallying point, something that linked us directly to the heart and soul of The Enchanted Duplicator!) So whatever Moshe bids I top, thinking the hell with it, I will win and worry about the consequences later. We rapidly charge up the scale—fifty pounds passes and the damn thing is now more valuable than a double room in the convention hotel—sixty, the price of two nights drinking in the hotel bar—seventy, two nights drinking and a hotel meal—eighty, drink, meal, and enough cash to waste on books.... Moshe wavers; he obviously hates to let it go, but I also sense he thinks I haven’t got infinite reserves (well, I haven’t, but at this point I don’t give a damn) so he pushes it up to 82 pounds (drink, meal, books, and the price of medication for liver failure...) in the vain hope I’ll crumble. But no. My 85 pounds is too much for him, and with obvious disappointment he lets it go. (Of course he claimed later he only kept bidding to keep the price up and make sure some substantial money went to TAFF or whatever it was... yeah, sure thing...).
The Shield of Umor is mine. It’s part of British Fandom now and forever; it is a wonderful moment. I’m genuinely elated and I carry the thing to my hotel room with real pride and tears in my eyes, and no doubt nonfan convention attendees passing me in the corridors and halls perceive me as a crazy man.
Later, while in the bar, I discuss the idea of the Shield being owned cooperatively by British Fandom—part of me already wondering where the hell I’m going to get 85 pounds from, but overall I genuinely want it to be an Our rather than My thing. There’s a chorus of agreement to my suggestion that a group of us contribute towards the actual cost of the Shield; I certainly don’t expect any cash at the end of a pretty damned expensive convention but feel, in my position as fanroom Boss, that all of these people, all of whom had been in my team, all of us flushed with Unit Pride and a job well done in the fact of almost overwhelming hostility, will make everything all right. The responsibility won’t be mine alone; we will share the burden, work together.
Of course it doesn’t turn out like that in real life. Within days it’s all forgotten. The fans who were so behind the idea at the time appear to have no memory of it—except, oddly, one A M Berry (Master Locksmith). Tony Berry comes through with a small sum of money—ten pounds or so (or was it £12.50?) and from thenceforward owns a proportion of the Shield of Umor. It’s almost unbelievable how bizarre this is; not that Tony is an especially humourless individual, but he’s more known for his dour cynicism than anything else. But he has done the decent thing, and eventually even more; some months later he presents me with the Sword of Angst, a peculiarly British-fandom complement to the Shield of Umor. Made with his own hands from a sturdy wooden pick handle, its name neatly painted on and well-varnished, I have it still, and for years it rested along the top of the Shield when we had a wall to put it on.
So here we are today. I didn’t consciously extract the Shield with any fannish motive—I was just cleaning out Catherine’s gardening shed—but I do feel I need it more now than ever. I must try to see the joke; I don’t have any problem with picking up and pointing out the fundamental foolishness of life in every other circumstance, but setbacks and disappointments and collision with unsavoury fools and unpleasant shitheads in fandom bring me down very low.
It isn’t that I need to convince myself that It Doesn’t Matter—I don’t want to do that because it does matter and if it didn’t, bloody hell, I might as well just take up gardening or collecting typewriters or steel helmets or some pointless shit like that—but I have got to be more reasonable and balanced about it all, not want to discard the whole business because of disappointment with things or people. I must be more reasonable—I will see the Joke—I will look into the Smiling Face and remind myself of what I liked about fandom, and try to find some evidence for it around me.
Maybe everything will be all right in the end.
Fandom is just a
Dave Locke wrote>>On the other hand, to me being ‘currently active’ means participation in the online forums. I do other fanac of various sorts, but definitely I’m a ‘walking fossil’ when it comes to doing any further general-distribution fanzines. I might do an online equivalent of one, but it’s been three years now that I’ve been taking notes on a re-do of http://www.angel-fire.com/oh/slowdjin/. I’m in PlaceHolder Fandom.
And the reason this has stuck in my mind is because of course I suspect I have done one hell of a whole lot more written fanac online since 1996, and particularly with regard to MHML, than I have ever actually done anywhere else, which is vaguely frightening, shaming, and peculiar.
I began written fanac (as opposed to running conventions and like that) back in 1968, when as previously mentioned I did stuff for early Peter Roberts fanzines.
Soon after that I began publishing Fouler, influenced by, it’s true, Leroy Kettle, but the fanzine was definitely edited by myself (and it’s about time Robert Lichtman grasped this!) and ran for six issues between September ’70 and September ’72.
Next came Ritblat/Grim News which was just two issues in 1974, and then Stop Breaking Down (my favourite fanzine title) which ran for six issues between March ’76 and March ’78, with a belated number 7 in 1981.
Then came Rastus Johnson’s Cakewalk (the name most definitely loaded with hidden allusions, one of my criteria for a good title) which did seven issues between September ’93 and October ’94. That was the last fanzine I actually produced.
Interspersed in all this were a dozen or so one-offs and APAzines, some of which do not really bear detailed examination, frankly.
One thing that’s quite conspicuous in its absence is a roll-call of contributions to other fanzines. To be honest there aren’t a hell of a whole lot, and I wonder how I’ve got away with it for so long. Apart from a few pretty dire things in Morfarch and suchlike (oh, I was young and stupid, but then so must Roberts have been to publish them) there was, um, a piece about the first British Star Trek con in an Egg, a contribution to a Peter Roberts tribute one-off, a fanzine review column in Zimri (which didn’t half piss off a lot of American fans as I remember!) and that’s about the size of it. I really can’t recall how many there have been—more than six and less than twenty, most definitely. Eeeek. Small anthology, that one. Not that good either.
LOCs? What’re they? Honestly, if you think it’s incredible that I’ve been able to get away with so few contributions to other fanzines then it’s probably a crime against civilisation, nature and fandom generally that I’ve managed to produce barely a dozen LOCs in the last 33 years of fandom—that’s probably about as many as some people did in a day way back when there were that many fanzines your postman needed a handcart just to deliver them all.
In truth I’ve always had a bit of an aversion to writing LOCs— I’ve always taken the view that if I was going to produce something cleverly written and full of interesting commentary and asides (this is all going on in my own head, note!) then why the hell entrust it to some nut who’ll edit it down to the best part of fuck-all and maybe even make bits up themselves. (NB: I only ever did that when the LOCs weren’t good enough to start with; Willis told me it was OK so that’s all right then innit...).
No, seriously, I find writing such a pain a lot of the time that if I ever produce something I think is publishable then I'd just as soon run it myself rather than let some other spotty herbert fiddle about with it behind the bikesheds. And LOCs are hard anyway.
So, strangely, doing this sort of thing (MHML and like that, pay attention!) actually suits my style down to the ground. I can produce the piece, work it up a bit, find most of the typos and errors and the crap bits of style that even I don’t like, and then we’re away to the races, rattle rattle click click and it’s off, and quite a large proportion of the people I want to read it may well do so, as well as a bunch of others who’re just reading over their shoulders.
And there’s no doubt that all told I have produced maybe more and maybe better stuff for MHML—particularly in the last few weeks—than I have at any time in the last three-and-a-bit decades. Ought I be admitting this? Yes. This is attempting to prove my point that I am an active fan.
Quite obviously too it is MHML that suits me best of all the online options. I don’t have enough time left in my life for RASFF or whatever it’s fucking called and who are most of those people anyway (they’re not active in my fandom)? Timebinders just doesn’t seem to have any heart to it, and frankly you couldn’t pay me to get involved in some of the others. MHML was secretly intended to be my covert fanzine right from the beginning, and while I’ve been appallingly delinquent in doing the leading from the front (AKA ‘editing’) too much of the time—witness the dire periods of the Eney controversy and suchlike—the last month has been extraordinarily successful.
So where does this leave us in terms of ‘being active in fandom’?
Well, it depends on what one means by ‘fandom’. It’s certainly true that with MHML we don’t have the permanence of print or the serendipity of discovery that print donates uptime to The Ages, but from my point of view I’m still hitting much of my intended audience (and I wish I could work out a simple way of covering the others without actually producing the damned fanzine...) and that to me counts as being ‘active in fandom’. In fact whichever way you look at it that means active in fandom.
When you look at the generally crappy nature of some of the fanzines being produced by people who are perceived of as ‘active fans’ then without blowing my own horn too damned hard I can claim to be at the very least as active in fandom as some of them. And to a damned large extent more concerned with fandom specifically.
Of course the problem is with the conflation of active fandom in terms of fanwriting and publishing on the one hand and socialising fandom on the other. Some people—even including me sometimes; old habits learned young die hard—feel that to be an active fan means being a social fan, meeting all the Right people, being in all the Right places, generally doing the social rounds and equating relative status according to who is seen where and with who. When looked at dispassionately, of course, this is bollocks—it’s got nothing to do with fanac at all and no matter how many hours of drunk or drugged jabber you add together they aren’t as much use or ornament either now or in the future as a good wellcrafted bit of fanwriting. OK, there’s an illusion that one might be in with the Movers and Shakers, but I’m not so certain as I once was that that’s much more than a very small hill of beans. A lot of talk is usually just that. And I do not necessarily exempt convention runners from this—if conventions were as wonderful proportionate to the amount of time spent talking about and planning them we’d all want to fucking live there.
Anyway, what I think is that we’re just as much active fans as anyone else; it’s simply that fandom has been so thoroughly balkanised by the variety of different special interests and with the option of creating different online communities that it is no longer possible to say that there is a core fandom to be active in. There simply isn’t 'fandom' any longer, so we all have to measure our activity by our own peer yardstick—honestly, whose opinion really matters to you? Think of the number of total farts and shitheads who are ‘active in fandom’ and consider whether you really care what they think about any damned thing at all, much less their opinion of your own fanactivity.
So we (and I use the term loosely—see previous para) don’t have to ‘get back to being currently active fans’—we are. It just depends on whether we accept the change, the move away from true generalism, or fret endlessly about things that in fact don’t matter a toss.
Yeah verily, I am an Active Fan. A legend in my own living room.
Nothing changes, eh.
Fiction Book Club: scary or wot
It was all a dream really. There we were at Winsel recycling dump, and we’ve dropped off all the really rubbish rubbish into the appropriate pits, and I’m walking across the tarmac with a couple of things that might actually be of use to someone to put into a local charity’s walk-in container.
As I slide them inside I notice there’s a couple of boxes of books and can’t resist hopping in for a nose. Imagine, if you can, and I am sure you will, my utter astonishment when I see that amongst some typically useless junk there are a couple of dozen first and second series (you know, the ones with the bi-colour swirly and the white ones with the tree-rings) SFBC editions, all of them in damn-near perfect condition—better than the copies I’ve got myself as a matter of fact. And a copy of the Dobson edition of The Analog Anthology which by incredible coincidence Catherine and I were discussing just the other day, tangential to a conversation about Christopher Anvil.
Anyway, there I am just about freaking out totally. (Well, I exaggerate for effect of course—it isn’t like the fabulous fannish moment of finding for example a complete set of Jazz Monthly in the local charity shop at a fiver the lot, but it is the closest I have been for a long time now.) I can’t decide whether I am looking for any of the eight or nine titles I have missing from my set, or whether I am looking for the possibly rare and really valuable ones (like The Martian Chronicles) or whether I am just going to lift the lot, or what.
Or whether I am going to Do The Right Thing and walk away. After all, Frame is a genuine local charity (local aid for local people if I might almost coin a phrase) not some faceless trans-national, and it would just be Bad—and anyway think how embarrassing if challenged by one of the attendants, all of whom know me at least by sight (wood-scavenging, don’t you know).
Anyway, it’s hell. To tell the truth if I hadn’t had to walk twenty-five metres back to the car carrying two boxes of books I obviously wasn’t holding when I went into the container I’d probably have been a Bad Person. As it was I just felt really sick about the whole thing all day. And that was even before I started thinking about some poor sod who had probably kept those books for well over thirty years and now they’ve been dumped—like so many of our collections—like so much useless pulpwood.
Now, a sensible person would probably wait a few days until the stuff gets cycled into the charity shop; I have another plan. Maybe. You didn’t read this here, right?