Now here's a fascinating thing. The casual observer might well
discard utterly the rather unnattractive SCIENCE FICTION BOOK
CLUB NEWS without a second glance as being little more than
an advertising throwaway. I almost did myself. Until I realised
that for a short bright moment it was the scene of an attempt to
bring back some of the content and quality of the Golden Age of
SCIENCE FICTION NEWS.
As indicated elsewhere the classic SCIENCE FICTION NEWS
was absorbed into the all-encompassing READERS NEWS in
May 1966. That latter title went through a variety of formats -
some later ones quite unappealling and cheap - and seems to
have disappeared by the end of 1978 at least, whereupon SFBCN
Many issues of SFBCN from January 1979 to
January 1980 have real editorial content, and more - an editorial
voice, apparently that of Paul Begg, who during his all-too-brief
time of effort and influence at the SFBC for a while gave their
Book Club's information leaflet a real connection with the science
fiction world at large. OK, we are talking about barely a few hundred
words included in a double-sided advertising sheet mostly devoted
to trumpeting the book club's wares, but it's something,
I do not, at the time of writing (5th April 2006) know for certain
when SFBCN took over from its immediate predecessor
READERS NEWS, although some internal evidence indicates that
it might have been late 1978, or even January 1979, although there
is nothing in the text of January 1979 issue to show that a new
era has just dawned. What we do have there though is a nice little
essay by Ian Watson on his THE MIRACLE VISITORS, that month's SFBC
issue, and a column of news featuring the various sf awards
of 1978, magazine information, film news, and details of the forthcoming
1979 Eastercon and Worldcon. This isn't just rubbish either, it
is real information and clearly an attempt to ensure that SFBC members
have the opportunity at least to involve themselves with the wider
science fiction community
In the early part of 1979 none of this is attributed to anyone,
although in later 1979 issues there is a specific request for letters
and information to be sent to Paul Begg care of the Book Club, so
one might reasonably assume he's the man due the compliment.
Unfortunately none of this could last. Despite an optimistic
look back at the earlier changes of 1979 (which as theorised above
implies that 1979 was a break point from RN to SFBCN)
the amount of News and editorial matter tails off gradually, and
the last News column appears in the January 1980 issue of SFBCN.
The last time Paul Begg's name features as one to address letters
to is September 1979.
Thereafter SFBCN seems just endless notices
of the month's choice, extras and other backlist options - but surprisingly
there is a brief resurgence in 1981, when from June to October
the News column is reinstated. It doesn't have either the scope
or character of what we might grandiosely call the Begg Era, but
does once include a list of 'fanzines' with a handy explanation
of what they actually are. Is this the hand of Peter Roberts, once
Britain's Hugest Name Fan and at the time a David & Charles
employee ? Probably; in Ansible 12 of September 1980
"Peter Roberts explains his
job: `No, I'm not in charge of the SFBC. As you might have guessed, nobody
is.... All 10 Readers Union societies are run together, so I write copy for the
SF newsletter along with the Sports, the Gardening et. al.... Look out for
overuse of the word `eldritch' and other hallmarks of Roberts copywriting.'
Everything, even the relentless advertising of generally lesser-quality
books by people who are now totally forgotten, comes to an end;
in this case probably in December of 1982, which may indeed be the
last issue of SFBCN though there's nothing to indicate
that in its text. All I can say is I don't know of any SFBC issues
after that date, and it may well be true that in the words
of Peter Roberts, reported in Dave Langford's Ansible 28
of August 1982 -
"The last reprint selection will be
in November, though members may be offered backlist books for some time after
that. The Sportsmans BC is due to go as well, and the Country and Readers Union
BCs have already gone. All four are (or were) reprint clubs, requiring members
to buy a specific reprinted title every month or so, and that's basically an
Well, that's about that then. A sort-of sf book club, mostly
publishing fantasy, still exists in 21st century UK but is
a charmless and characterless affair that seems to cater less to
sf enthusiasts than it does to people who are intimidated by bookshops
or can't work out how to order from Amazon. I doubt anyone will
be sufficiently engaged by its activities to reseach and write a
profile of it in 25 years time.
January 1979 - the first of the New Era ?
April 1979 - words somehow fail me....
December 1982 - the end, perhaps, and descent into temporary
The absolute end?
From Bill Seabrook's collection, perhaps
the last manifestion of the SFBC.
The final sale.
NEWS BULLETIN -
SCIENCE FICTION BOOK CLUB NEWS, APRIL 1979
SCIENCE FICTION BOOK CLUB: I would like to thank all
members who have written - from as far afield as Yugoslavia! - to say how
pleased they are with the new SFBC News and the larger number of books being
offered. This has been the first step in improving the Club and we are
currently preparing a questionnaire to find out exactly what you want the Club
to be. You should receive this during the next couple of months and I would be
grateful if you would complete it, otherwise the results may not be truly
representative. In the meantime we want to attract new members because more
members would certainly provide a greater opportunity to fulfil some of the
requests Iíve received - more anthologies, experimental sf, classic sf, 'hardí
sf, fantasy, space opera, and so on. Thus the special offer made in this News:
if you introduce a friend to the SFBC, he or she can choose any six books from
this monthís back-list for only 15p each. For making the introduction you will
receive absolutely free three volumes of Hugo winning stories edited by Isaac
Asimov. I hope you will take advantage of this offer and help us to make the
SFBC even better.
MAGAZINES: AMAZING and FANTASTIC: Sol Cohen, 68,
publisher of Amazing and Fantastic, has sold his stock in both magazines to
silent partner Arthur Bernhard. Cohen, who published Galaxy in the early Ď60s,
bought both magazines from Ziff-Davis in 1965 with financial help from
Bernhard, but they have been losing money - $15,000 in 1977 - and hehas been
trying to sell them for several years, but Bernhard has refused all offers. The
new publisher will be Bernhardís son, Allen. And on the subject of A & F,
the January issue of Fantastic and the
February issue of Amazing were the last under the editorship of Ted White, who
was Assistant Editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction from 1963 until becoming
Editor of A & F in 1968. He said he was leaving for financial reasons. AD
ASTRA: The first couple of issues of Ad Astra, a new British science
fact/fiction magazine, have suffered a degree of criticism in certain sf
circles, but in three issues the circulation has increased to 18,000 and it has
a limited distribution through W H Smith and John Menzies. The publisher told
me that he was hoping to mix articles explaining science fact in
easy-to-understand language with at least two science fiction stories each
issue. He wants at least one big name each issue - issue three has Man of
Steel, Woman of Kleenex by Larry Niven; not a new story, however - and stories
by new and budding talents.
OBITUARIES: ROBERT BRUCE MONTGOMERY, better known as
Edmund Crispin - author and editor of
detective stories and reviewer of crime fiction for the Sunday Times - died
recently aged 57. He was one time chairman of the BSFA (British Science Fiction
Association) and the first and most influential sf anthologist - you may
remember the Best SF series from Faber & Faber. BRIAN LEWIS, a well-known
British illustrator and much liked in sf circles, died on Monday 4th December.
He will be remembered for his covers for New Worlds and Science Fantasy during
the 1960s and his work on the animation of the Beatlesí Yellow Submarine. More
recently he did the technical drawings for Mechanismo by Harry Harrison.
NEWS BULLETIN -
SCIENCE FICTION BOOK CLUB NEWS Summer
AWARDS - NEBULA: A Committee consisting of George W
Procter, F M Busby, Robert Silverberg, Charles L Grant and Gregory Benford, has
been appointed by Jack Williamson, President of the Science Fiction Writers of
America, to consider changes in the procedures for nominating and voting for
the Nebula. During the year active SFWA members nominate stories and at the end
of the year those stories with the most nominations are placed on the voting ballot.
This year only thirteen pieces of fiction received more than five nominations,
which means that being a Nebula nominee is rather meaningless, particularly
when the award itself can be won with little more than twenty votes! The new
committee will consider the problem and present proposals to make the Nebula
more meaningful, but I think they are facing a difficult task.
HUGO: David Langford, who contributed a guest editorial
to the April News; has handed the task of administering the Hugo Award over
to Dave Pringle, who handles research for the Science Fiction Foundation.
Although the Hugo nominations have not yet been revealed, I gather that Dave
has been nominated for the Best Fanzine category. He publishes Twll-Ddu.
PROMETHEUS: There are numerous awards for science fiction
and now another has been added to the list. It would appear to be a meaningful
award too - at least to the winner, the prize is $2500 in gold! The first
Prometheus will be awarded this September for quality speculative fiction which
the award committee judge to best embody the values of libertarianism.
SFBC: The first half of 1979 is now behind us, although
at the time of writing the winter still seems to be here. It has been an
eventful year, seeing an improvement in the production quality of our books and
the introduction of the News. The fiction itself has been a good selection of
the best published and has featured well known authors- Harry Harrison, A E Van
Vogt, Harlan Ellison, Anne McCaffrey, Ian Watson, and Kate Wilhelm - and
relative newcomers - Richard Francis, Garry Kilworth, John Morressy, Jeffrey A
Carver and Joan Hunter Holly. The range of extras has increased and featured
some of the most accomplished authors in the field - Clifford Simak, Michael
Coney, John Wyndham, Spider and Jeanne Robinson, John Varley (I gather that
Titan - SFBC £4.50, REF 6330- is being tipped for a Hugo) and Tom Reamy (Blind
Voices is likewise a Hugo possibility).
The rest of the year looks even more promising and
features stories by Terry Carr, D F Jones, and Christopher Priest, an
interesting anthology of new short stories, a collection of articles by Brian
Aldiss, Guest of Honour at the Ď79 World Convention, and The Way The Future
Was. A Memoir, a highly entertaining look back over a lifetime involved with
science fiction by Frederik Pohl, in which, among other things, we find out
what Isaac Asimov was like when aged 18!