A Fan’s History — Fanzines, Continued….

Fanzines, continued: Okay, Mr. Smartypants, what’s a “sercon” zine? Actually, I’m glad you asked that question. It’s another of those annoying (well, to an outsider) fannish neologisms and acronyms. In this case, we have “serious” and “constructive” all smashed together to form “sercon.” (If they were complete words, we’d have what Humpty Dumpty called “portmanteau” words. What? You’ve never read the original Alice stories? Go now, and do that. You’ll find a pair of related stories that remain fresh and original even after more than a hundred years. Betcha a lot of modern writing won’t do the same!)

New Venture #2 © New Venture Publications
New Venture #2 © New Venture Publications

So why did I bring up “sercon”? Because I was browsing one of the online auction sites (okay, it was eBay. I get a lot of cool stuff cheap off eBay) and found a couple of copies of my own fanzine, New Venture, for sale—but only the second issue. There were 5 in total, back in 1975-76, but issue #5 is as scarce as hens’ teeth. (New Venture #5 was our Special Art issue, over 100 pages, with a colour Kelly Freas cover and about fifty or sixty b/w or greyscale images of art by many SF and fantasy artists, famous and not. Actually, there are about 25 mint copies left, and I have them. I figure once I die they’ll be worth a bunch of money, and I’ll be rich!)

The eBay sellers described NV as “sercon”—but we didn’t really think of it that way; sure, we were trying to be serious and constructive, but we also wanted to have a lot of fun along the way—which is why the somewhat pretentious “informal journal” line on the cover. And fun is what keeps people in fandom! Herewith the cover of NV #2, drawing by Kelly Akins.

Okay, enough reminiscing for one blog entry, let’s get onto the fanzines. To begin with, I’m going to hop across the pond and review a zine from David Langford, who lives in Reading, Berkshire, UK. (It’s pronounced “redding,” I believe.) David’s been putting out Ansible, his newszine, for something like 30-plus years. (An “ansible” is a type of FTL communicator—derived, I think, from James Blish’s “Dirac” instantaneous FTL communicator—invented, fictionally, by Ursula K. LeGuin, and either “borrowed” or “homaged” [is that a word?], depending on who you ask, by Orson Scott Card.) It’s a newszine-plus, by the way, as it includes an amount of humorous and/or wry and witty commentary.

The current issue (August 2013) is number 313. Let’s take a look at the contents: beginning with actual news articles, like “Arthur C. Clarke will make it into space after all,” (some strands of his hair); “James Frenkel is no longer an editor at Tor Books” (I’m going to have to look up the background of this one); “H.P. Lovecraft will join Neil Gaiman and Frank Herbert as a place name.” (Apparently, Providence—“haunted Arkham” to Lovecraft—is going to name the intersection of Angell Street, where he lived for many years, and Prospect Street, as H.P. Lovecraft Square. Along with other news bits scattered throughout the zine, we get a bunch of R.I.P.s (like Eileen Brennan, who to my surprise was a Laugh-in alumna), lists of upcoming conventions and fan-related events—some as far away as 2014; I particularly like the name of the “Nine Worlds Geekfest,” at Heathrow airport on Aug. 9-11. Some awards, like the Munsey (“for the betterment of the pulp community,” to Garyn G. Roberts); the Prometheus (libertarian, to Cory Doctorow); the Mythopoeic (fantasy, to Ursula Vernon and others) and so on.

Then there are the commentary/news bits, which I won’t quote here, because you really should read them in situ for full impact. It’s these, plus “Thog’s Masterclass,” that really give Ansible its particular flavour. What’s “Thog’s Masterclass?” I hear you cry? I will quote from thog.org to answer that: “Who is Thog? Thog the Mighty, a not terribly bright barbarian hero, is the creation of John Grant (Paul Barnett) in his ‘Lone Wolf’ fantasy novels loosely based on Joe Dever’s gamebooks. Thog first appeared in The Claws of Helgedad (1991), and attained front-cover stardom in The Book of the Magnakai (1992). What is Thog’s Masterclass? This regular department of the sf newsletter Ansible enshrines gems of ‘differently good’ prose from (mainly) science fiction and fantasy. It is to be assumed that the chosen selections are stuff which brutish Thog really likes.”

Here’s an example of Thog’s Masterclass from this issue (fanspeak: “thish”) of Ansible: _Eyeballs in the Sky._ “Be quiet,” Alison Marie whispered, her eyes darting toward the door so quickly that she thought they might tear themselves  from their sockets and continue on without her. (Barbara A. Barnett, “Memories of Mirrored Worlds,” _Daily Science Fiction_, 5 July 2013 (PB).

That, my friends, is purple prose at its purplest; “heaving breasts” have nothing on Alison Marie’s darting eyeballs. Thog’s Masterclass is one reason, if you’re a lover of good—and a connoisseur of bad—prose, to read Ansible. If you wish to subscribe, it’s free, although PayPal tips are welcome to help the author support his website. Just send an email to “ansible-news-subscribe [at] googlegroups.com” and reply “yes” when you are asked if you wish to join the group. In my less-than-humble opinion, it’s well worth it!

Okay, a zine blog entry that doesn’t mention the “Newspaper of the Science Fiction Field,” as Locus bills itself, would be kind of incomplete, even though Locus hasn’t been a fanzine for lo! these many years. Back in 1968, Charles N. (I knew him as “Charlie,” though not very well) Brown founded a one- or two-page sheet of SF/F news and convention doings. Over the years it just got bigger and better; soon it was offset, and now it’s what’s known as a “semiprozine,” because “fanzine” just doesn’t describe it and it costs a lot more than any fanzine. If you’re seriously interested in science fiction, you should check it out. You can look at their online presence at the link above. You can subscribe to the actual print (or even e-zine) magazine at that site.

Locus had (and still has) publishing news, author news, interviews, convention listings, book reviews and much more. Charles Brown, alas, died in 2009, and now Locus is edited by Liza Groen Trombi, and the magazine is a glossy, photo-filled treat for the science fiction fan, professional and would-be professional. You can find out what’s going on with almost anyone active in SF/Fantasy writing and publishing—including TV and film. And a quick correction, after looking at their website: Locus now bills itself as “The Magazine of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Field.”

Back when I was really active in fandom—both fanzine and convention—there was at least one contender in the semi-prozine stakes with Locus, and that was Andy (Andrew J.) Porter’s Science Fiction Chronicle. Like Locus, it became a semiprozine, and it covered most of the same stuff as Locus, but with a different editorial bent. After doing some research, I find that Andy—after recovering from cancer—has finally gotten his Hugos and the Big Heart Award (more on SF awards in a later entry), and alas! SFC has apparently gone the way of the dodo. Sigh.

File 770-161, cover © Grant Canfield
File 770-161, cover © Grant Canfield

But for fannish news North American Style, there’s still Mike Glyer’s File 770! For right now, File 770’s best viewed on their website; because the most recent copy on eFanzines is the November 2012 issue, while the website is very up to date. With a cover by Grant Canfield, of a group of robotic-looking living places (which, in its use of line and economy thereof, reminds me of the late Moebius—Jean Giraud—somewhat. Canfield has always been one of “our” best artists.) Anyway, issue 161 has, as its contents, the following, plus a ton of art by Steve Stiles (another terrific artist!), Bill Rotsler (ditto), Alexis Gilliland, Taral Wayne and many more:

Fan news, including deaths, CoAs (Changes of Address), photos, who’s had surgery, and so on; more general SF/F news, including an interesting tidbit about why J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t win the 1961 Nobel prize for literature—“Critic and jury member Anders Österling declared the prose of Tolkien ‘has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality.’” An article titled “Harlan’s Back!” by John King Tarpinian about a November 2011 appearance by Harlan Ellison has photos that show Harlan in all his performing glory—although he’s a great writer, I’ve always loved the way he can capture an audience. That’s followed by an article about how the North American SCA settled a lawsuit regarding incidents of abuse that happened more than a decade ago.

Then we get into some more fannish meat: the fanzine news section, with reviews, awards and so on, followed by an extensive obituary section (current as of November 2012); I won’t go deeply into that, because most of us are already aware of the wonderful people who have died over the last few years, including Rusty Hevelin, Leo Dillon, and many more. Following that are a couple of con reports: LepreCon 38, by Francis Hamit, and ContraFlow 2011, by Guy H. Lillian III.

More fannish news and more con reports: CapClave 2012, by Martin Morse Wooster, and Renovation 2011 by Taral Wayne, which basically took up the rest of the zine, a matter of about 25 pages! (Of course, this includes lots of photos and drawings, a couple of excursions into cars and collecting, and various trips and excursions that weren’t actually part of the convention itself.) One of the most interesting parts of Taral’s con report was the part about his tenth Hugo loss for best fanartist. His various trips and excursions, including one to my old stomping grounds, Sonoma County (in Northern California), were told in loving detail; Taral’s an interesting writer and a better artist, though he mostly confines his art to drawing furries of the feminine persuasion.

All in all, a very interesting newszine, and well worth the look.

Moshe Feder at Renovation © by Taral Wayne
Moshe Feder at Renovation © by Taral Wayne

If I haven’t pointed it out before, which I think I haven’t, one of the things I look for in a fanzine is art; large expanses of type are easier to read when broken up by a few well-placed and well-done illustrations. Fandom has always had more than its share of great fanartists—more than a few of whom double as pro artists both inside and outside the genre, like the aforementioned Grant Canfield, who sells/has sold cartoons to non-genre magazines. I just might have to cover that subject in a future blog entry!

Don’t forget the URLs for reading fanzines online; I’ll repeat the links here in case you missed them last time: for Canadian zines; and non-Canadian zines.

Coming up: more fanzine reviews, fannish fandom,  and other stuff. Till next blog entry!


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  1. I might have done so. Those days we were young(er) and very much full of ourselves. I’m older now. I suspect I’d be more accommodating these days.

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