Deep in the Heart of Texas, Part 1

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Before I really get into the meat and potatoes of this entry, allow me to apologize for being absent a few months.

Since some readers might know me – which on this website may not be very many people –  they know what’s been going on with my life so far this year. That means the rest of you need to know that I am finishing my doctoral dissertation right now: my goal is to defend the sucker in either late September/early October this year so that come December 2013, I will be Dr. John A. Purcell with a PhD in Education, TLAC, from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. (Brief aside: does anybody besides me pronounce “PhD” as “Fudd”? Just wondering.)  This has put a serious damper on my style, as has teaching full-time at Blinn College in College Station’s northern neighbor city, Bryan. Thus these two items have kept me pretty busy this year.

At the same time while this graduate/career lunacy is galloping along, our 22 year old daughter got married at the end of January, and then on May 26, 2013, at 5:21 PM she made my wife and I first-time grandparents! He’s a beautiful boy, and so taking care of that little fellow and his mother has eaten into our time as well. As if all of that wasn’t enough, I accepted a challenge to research and write an article for Bob Jennings’ wonderful fanzine Fadeaway about the Arcot, Wade and Morey stories of John W. Campbell. Besides doing some background digging on Campbell and these stories, this meant actually *reading* those stories. (There’s a fine article lurking underneath here, but that’s for another blog entry — or fanzine article. Or LiveJournal entry. You know what I mean.) Plus – wait, what? there’s more? – my wife of 23+ years had neck surgery in mid January (the week before our daughter’s wedding, no less) to fix three compressed cervical vertebrae, so I’ve had to deal with her recovery/therapy from that. Now that my wife has sort of recovered, she has me lugging around straw bales and 50 pound bags of topsoil and fertilizer as she starts up a straw-bale garden in our backyard.

In the words of Lily von Shtupp, the Teutonic Titwillow in Blazing Saddles, “Gawd damn it, I’m exhausted!”

Oh, and have I told you yet that I’m hosting the fanzine lounge at this year’s 71st World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, Texas, a.k.a., LoneStarCon 3? Yes, that’s right: I’m doing that, too, on top of everything else going on. And that is what this particular blog entry should be about, not a string of excuses for why I haven’t been on this website for three months.

To be honest, I am extremely stoked to be going to a WorldCon for the first time in 35 years. LoneStarCon 3 will be only the third WorldCon I have attended: the other two were MidAmericon (1976 in Kansas City) and Iguanacon (1978 in Phoenix). Both were wonderfully fun, and this year’s convention should be likewise. The difference this time, though, is that I am actually involved in working on the con, which is something I rarely do. Of course, what I am doing requires not too much mental or strenuous effort – which is good, considering that the month after it’s over I will be preparing for my doctoral defense – but there is still planning and communication to do, and these take time. So what I am writing here is not only to give everyone a bit of an idea of what I’m hoping to do while hosting the Fanzine Lounge at LSC3, but also try to explain as best I can what the purpose of a Fanzine Lounge is. Thankfully, one of the other bloggers here is Christopher J. Garcia, who has hosted one before, so maybe he will share some of his ideas, too.

The idea behind having a fanzine lounge at the World Science Fiction Convention is certainly not a new one: WorldCons have had these for over a decade now, I think. If anything, the first World SF Convention (Nycon I, held over the Fourth of July weekend of 1939 in New York City) was partially the result of fans corresponding and sharing ideas back and forth through their fanzines and letters. The generally accepted first fanzine solely devoted to the SF genre was The Comet (1930), put together by Raymond Palmer and Walter Dennis. It wasn’t long before other science fiction fanzines developed, and by the mid-Thirties, many titles were being published. These amateur publications were never meant to be money generators; in fact, most of them tapped out whatever financial resources a fan had on hand. Still these zines were produced in greater numbers because fans enjoyed doing them; some of these were even done in letterpress, and considering the times, the production values were sometimes astonishingly superb. These early fanzines were not only a means of sharing ideas and keeping in touch with other, but they were also proving grounds for some of the finest professional writers the genre has ever known: Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Frederik Pohl, Cyril Kornbluth, Donald Wohlheim, Damon Knight, Harlan Ellison, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and so on. At any rate, eventually the idea of fans gathering together to celebrate their love of science fiction came to pass, and this led New York City fans to put the convention together. (By the way, a huge kerfuffle – a feud sometimes described as fandom’s Hatfields and McCoys – erupted between the New York City Futurians fan group and the fan group led by Sam Moskowitz, which led to the infamous 1939 Exclusion Act, but this is a subject best researched by reading Moskowitz’s book The Immortal Storm, Harry Warner, Jr.’s All Our Yesterdays, and many other texts devoted to the history of science fiction fandom.) The lesson to be learned here is that fanzines pre-dated conventions and became a primary method of disseminating information about forth-coming cons and reports on those that had occurred.

As a result, fanzines and conventions grew alongside each other. It could be argued that if it wasn’t for fanzines, science fiction conventions may have died early deaths if  fans hadn’t written about those cons in their fanzines. By the late 1940’s the convention report – or conrep, in the parlance of fanspeak – quickly became a staple of many fanzines, if not one of a zine’s most popular features. A proper con report would cover the the writer’s lead-up to attending, getting there, what happened there, who was met there, what they all did there, what they ate there, what happened there, then what happened on the way home from there. Very linear progression, but it was one way for fans to literally “see” each other through the eyes of a writer who had been at that particular convention. To this day, convention reports retain a prominent role in fanzines, although their format has evolved, and give us an unique historical view of earlier conventions, the people involved, and what interested them.

Which brings me to why the World Science Fiction Convention, and larger regional conventions (like Westercon and DeepSouthCon, for example), have fanzine lounges. In fanzines we have documentation that tells us so much about how this genre and social group, this subculture has evolved since Amazing Stories first appeared in 1926. So one function of a fanzine lounge is a place where our culture’s history is shared and maintained. Quite possibly, it can be said that science fiction fandom is literally history in the making. In the grand oral tradition of ancient story-tellers like Homer, we keep passing along the tales of our legendary heroes and events.

Not only that, but fans are, generally speaking, a fairly gregarious lot among themselves: they enjoy each others’ company because of all their shared interests. This fact likewise underlies the existence of fanzine lounges. This is also a place where not just SF fanzine fans congregate, but many SF fans can gather to relax, chat, and talk about whatever. In many cases, it is in the fanzine lounge where people who have corresponded with each other for years can finally meet each other face to face. And at a world convention where attendance runs into the thousands (last year’s ChiCon 7 was over 5000 bodies strong), it is A Good Thing to have a designated place where these meetings can occur outside of a consuite. (Sorry. More fanspeak: convention suite, a.k.a., hospitality suite. Another potential blog topic. *sigh*)

Naturally any member of the convention can stop in at the fanzine lounge and see what’s going on and meet and talk to whoever is there. Fanzine fans are not an exclusive club: it may sound like it, but that’s not the case at all. The sad truth is that the actual number of dyed-in-the-twilltone (a cheap kind of paper zines were commonly printed on back in the day) fanzine fans is dwindling due to age: many long-term fanzine fans are passing on to that Great Convention in the Sky. But the good news is that electronic publishing seems to be keeping the faith alive; go to www.efanzines.com, a website devoted to storing old and new fanzines online maintained by Bill Burns, to read a virtual plethora of past and modern science fiction fanzines. These literary mini-masterpieces don’t seem to be going away, which is another Good Thing.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. What you will find at this year’s WorldCon fanzine lounge will be a lot of stuff. There will be tables of fanzines old and new, and these will be available either for trade, sale, or free. The plan is to have one fanzine freebie table where anyone can come by and pick up either a current or old fanzine that their editor/publisher wants to get rid of distribute at the con. Another table will be the Fan Fund table (my next blog entry will be about the fan funds: what they are, how they work, and who are this year’s representatives), which means these fanzines and other fannish memorabilia will be either for sale or auction to raise money for, you guessed it, the Fan Funds (namely TAFF and DUFF. Like I said, these shall be explained in a few weeks). Each day will also feature a demonstration/display of the technology fans have used over the years to produce their zines. My plan is to take a historical approach because as communication technology has changed over the years, so have the means of producing fanzines. So one day will feature a good, old-fashioned typewriter with carbon paper, then other days will have demos of using a hectograph (that’s gonna be a mess!), spirit duplicator, hand-cranked mimeograph, and desktop publishing. I hope to make the fanzine lounge as interactive and hands-on as possible, so people are heartily encouraged to participate.

Which accurately describes the fanzine aspect of science fiction fandom: it is highly participative in nature and therefore interactive. So the fanzine lounge will be one of many places where people can have fun together (I hope!). So if you’re at LoneStarCon 3 (August 29-September 2, 2013) deep in the heart of Texas, come on by the fanzine lounge. Browse the tables, grab a freebie fanzine or buy one (proceeds can be dedicated to the fan fund of your choice), sit and read, chat with folks there, and give it a try. Fanzine fans don’t bite. Some of them do drink a lot, but that’s another story. Or blog entry. Or listserv chat. Or tweet. Heck with it. You know what I mean.

I look forward to meeting people, old friends and new friends, there. Come on down all y’all and set a spell. Chew down a Lone Star beer or Shiner Bock ‘cos we’re fixing to have a good time.

—-

[Giving credit where credit is due:  The Elmer Fudd image is from tinytoon.wikia.com; the LoneStarCon 3 image is by Brad Foster and is from the LoneStarCon 3 website home page.]

[Editor’s Note:  Fan History and Fanzine Lounges were reintroduced to Worldcons by Gary Farber at Suncon, the 35th World Science Fiction Convention in 1977; your humble editor managed the Hugo Awards Banquet at that same con, but spent much of his (limited free) time in that very same Fanzine Lounge, becoming acquainted with some of the great ‘zines of yore and many of their legendary writers, editors and publishers.  That experience, more than any other at a Worldcon, brought home to me not only the importance of fan history and fan tradition, but also the true meaning of FIAWOL; fandom – TruFandom – is not just a collection of shared experiences and similar interests, it is a culture of self-expression, shared effort, broad acceptance and an embodiment of the ideal that we can always be and do better.]

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A professor of English and ESOL (teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas, John Purcell has also been at various times in his life an insurance assistant underwriter, worked at a pig-packing plant in Iowa, and a professional jazz musician. John gave that last one up for teaching because he needed a steady paycheck to take care of a growing family. Yes, he is married – for 23 years now – and has three children, all grown. Well, almost; the youngest is 17 and still living at home, but as soon as that kid is done with college and gets a job, he gets the boot.

John currently publishes the online fanzine Askance, which is available for viewing and downloading at www.efanzines.com, and has been involved with science fiction fandom in one way or another for 40 years now. He is hosting the fanzine lounge at the upcoming World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, Texas – LoneStarCon 3 – and is looking forward to attending his first world con since 1978!

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