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The SCIENCE FICTION BOOK CLUB NEWS

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 arrives.

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, yeah?

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 outmoded idea.'

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.

 

  

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January 1979 - the first of the New Era ? 

 

 

 

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April 1979 - words somehow fail me....

 

 

 

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Summer 1979

 

  

 

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December 1982 - the end, perhaps,  and descent into temporary obscurity...

 

 

    

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The absolute end?
From Bill Seabrook's collection, perhaps the last manifestion of the SFBC.
The final sale
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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 1979

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!