This just in: Senate announces bipartisan deal to end debt crisis. Wow! In the nick of time our elected officials, pushing things to the very brink of disaster (once again), have made a deal. After many secret meetings too, I would suppose. And there’s the rub, the lack of transparency in the secret doings of these people.
As a democracy we insist on this transparency, but it seems to be a human frailty that organizations want to do things in private, in secret. There is something about secrecy and secret organizations that is very compelling. We like the “bad” guy, the person who “gets-away-with-it” or nearly so. In our fiction, as well as in reality, the “bad” guy operates in secret, or is part of a secret organization. Certainly, if they tried to do anything bad in the light of public scrutiny they wouldn’t get very far.
In one of the fanzines I reviewed last week there was a mention of the SMOFpocalypse. I was caught by this term so I looked it up online. The cautionary tale of a hoax convention bid was what I expected to find, very amusing, very funny and not at all drop-dead serious, in essence, a joke.
However, it was not as simple as that, things rarely are as simple as they appear at first look. Underlying this hoax was an intentional deception, a lie perpetrated by a group of conspirators in secret on the innocent public in order to do one thing, demonstrate that these self-styled SMOFs (Secret Masters of Fandom—what a misnomer if there ever was one) were the smartest, the most clever, kids in the room. Gee, they were so smart, brilliant, and clever they just had to show everyone by gulling them.
And this is one of the fundamental problems with our entire society, we like these bad guys. We still like them when they are bugging the opposition’s headquarters in order to win another election (former President Nixon). We like them when they are stealing the money from their employees and investors (Enron). And then there is my favorite example of a bad guy, another secret master, who nearly got away with it, anti-porn crusader Charles Keating.
Charles Keating was the smartest kid in the room. He gulled the unsuspecting public by posing as an anti-porn crusader, posing as a good guy. He was the best. I know he was because he told everyone he was. He told all the pensioners that invested in his bank, American Savings, that he was better than anyone else. He told these innocent pensioners that everyone else was sloppy, stupid, too dumb to walk and talk. And when he finally had convinced them with his lies, he stole nearly $3 billion dollars from them. Keating was a secret master, no doubt about it.
So, what is the point?
At issue is the difference between publicly doing good things, such as boosting fandom, and encouraging new fans by saying good things about their efforts (which is the only object of this column) or being a SMOF. A SMOF pulls strings in secret, their demonstrable goal is not to boost fandom or encourage new fans (or even to encourage old fans), but to show the world that they are the smartest kids in the room, that everyone else is too sloppy, too stupid, too…well you get the drift.
I know the concept of boosting fandom is a difficult one for many of my readers to grasp. In order to grasp this simple act of human kindness, if even for one brief moment, it requires embracing the fact that everything is not about you, and for you.
This is all a matter of perspective, of either looking at the world through a lens of our own selfish interests (SMOFs), or through the eyes of the people looking back at us (fans). Perspective is a two-way street.
So, what do we know? SMOFs are the smartest kids in the room. We know because like all secret masters they tell us so. We know because they always need to prove it to us, whether by lying to us, deceiving us, scamming us, hoaxing us, or in some fashion gulling us as they insist that they are the best and whatever they do is the very best thing. Gosh, doesn’t anyone see that all of these self-styled secret masters are wearing the Emperor’s new clothes?
So, what is a SMOF? A Secret Master of Fandom. Now on one hand, the name of this secret exclusive in-group in science fiction fandom could be a gag, meant in jest, not to be taken seriously. But every member belonging to this group that I’ve met has been drop-dead serious, with a go-for-the-juggler attitude of opportunistic attack that make sharks seem like tame tabbies.
We must consider that SMOFs are real, and thus should be considered as secret masters. It is an important observation. If these secret masters of fandom, those who are in control of everything and every event, are not nice people, but in fact malevolent characters, this is something that the public should be aware of, and not put their faith in these self-appointed dictators.
What intrinsic good do any of them do or say?
No wonder they are “secret.” To see them is to know them, and see the Emperors new clothes for what they truly are, made out of smoke and mirrors, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
So, I was thinking about Rog Phillips, my godfather, and what he’d think about the present day world of fandom controlled by the malevolent dictatorship of the SMOFs, and I found the perfect example in his columns.
Rog Phillips had one goal in his column, The Club House, to boost fandom…a good thing! Rog wanted to bring people into fandom, not to drive them away as SMOFs demonstrably want to do. (Being the victim of a hoax, no matter how witty or clever, or being the victim of a rant, no matter the ostensive cause, will always leave a bitter taste behind for the victim.) Rog boosted fandom! He did it with wit, good humor, bon hommie, talent, and ability, without rancor, deceit, lies, or fraud.
Did he make mistakes? Constantly. After all he was writing a fan column, not an academic doctoral thesis. He was not trying to demonstrate to all via his column that he was the smartest kid in the room. He left that role for the secret masters….
In his May 1955 column, which appeared in Other Worlds, Rog wrote this review. It is a typical display of his good humor showing him boosting fandom, demonstrating that he always had something good and nice to say about the fans and their fanzines. No matter what the circumstances, Rog was 100% behind them and their fanzines:
MINI: 10¢; Jacob Edwards, 1010 Tuckahoe St., Falls Church, Va. I might have passed over this zine except that Ted White and Bob Stewart and Larry Stark seem to be picking on the poor guy. In a letter to me, sent behind Jake’s back, no doubt, Ted White says, “if you review Jacob Edwards’ fanmag, I’d appreciate it if you stressed the poorly done columns…in short, will you please pan the entire zine?” Pretty low, I calls it. He lives in the same block as Jacob Edwards, too, at 1014 Tuckahoe St., and publishes ZIP. Well! Guess I’ll skip reviewing ZIP this time. Too bad, too. It was a real nice issue of ZIP, 10¢ with thirty mimeographed pages, including a couple of nice stories. Come to think of it, Falls Church is in the greater Washington, D.C., area, and if this feud with poor Jake is typical of fan politics at the Capitol, they should have nerve enough to bid for the 1956 World Con! Ha! Why don’t you send Jake a dime for his MINI? If it does nothing else, it will make Ted White’s expression quite purple.
The Fancyclopedia II at fanac.org tells us:
Jacob Edwards was a mythical neofan. Originally a pen name under which Ted White reviewed stf pbs for his fanzine, Zip. In the fall of 1954 TEW and Bob M. Stewart decided to create a real hoax, and Edwards began to publish his own fanzine, Mini, and feuded with White. The hoax was very successful, since the Jacob Edwards personality was far more evident and White was a nonentity at the time—so much so that most sided with Edwards in his imaginary battle, and White dropped the hoax after one issue of Mini had been published.
Later in the same column Rog again demonstrates his good humor and wit:
EPITOME #2: 10¢; Mike May, 9428 Hobart St., Dallas 18, Texas. Mimeo, with a mimeo cover illo by Ted White, (Ooops! I wasn’t going to mention Ted White any more after the snide trick he pulled on poor Jacob Edwards.)
Rog handled this hoax with his typical sense of humor, still boosting Ted White and his fanzine. Taken at face value, Ted White asked Rog to show bias and pan a competitor’s fanzine. “Pretty low, I calls it,” is Rog Phillips response. There was no way that Rog could have known that a fraud was being perpetrated by Ted White, although Rog came close when he spotted the same address in use, but dismissed that and took Ted at his word.
Abraham Lincoln used to ask visitors to his great office a simple question in order to determine their perspicacity. “If you call a horses’ tail a leg, how many legs does a horse have?” Many people would answer: “Five!” To which Lincoln would respond: “Just because you call a tail a leg doesn’t make it so.”
Calling a hoax by some other name in order to justify it does not diminish the act. It is still a hoax.
But then when I agree with Lincoln I must appear pretty simple minded, and I am. Like Rog Phillips, I just want to boost fandom in a positive manner. I know that I make mistakes, and will continue to make them, but I make them without rancor, without ill will, without bitter, rankling resentment.
Thus I am most definitely not a SMOF. I don’t demonstrate a sufficient surfeit of malevolence. I know I’m not the smartest kid in the room. So, don’t put your trust in anyone who claims to be a secret master of anything. Caveat emptor!
And if you, my reader, think that I’m writing about you, well let me suggest that you are vain as well. This column is absolutely not about you, and never has been about you. This column has only one object: to boost fandom.
This editorial has been about Rog Phillips, his wit, tact, and ability. The point has been to demonstrate the difference between self-styled SMOFs and their negative impact on fandom, and between someone like Rog Phillips who spent his career boosting fandom, as demonstrated in the good words and cheer with which he constantly and consistently did so. QED
Now, let us finally move on. We know what it is all about at long last, boosting fandom, bringing new people into fandom, being positive and saying good things about them and their works. And we know all about SMOFs now, and how to identify them, by their malevolent acts and words. So, let’s boost fandom and the good works and actions of those editors, writers, and fans in this weeks fanzines:
Lake Geneva #1: October 2013, Bi-monthly. 18 pages. Cover by Georgia Lloyd & Clarice Houseye. Edited by “Lake Geneva’s First Consul/Editor” Pablo M.A. Vazquez. In his first editorial, titled “Welcome to Lake Geneva,” Pablo wishes his readers an entertaining read…and delivers. In what has got to be one of the funniest parts, a page added onto their link at eFanzines, Pablo tells us that LG’s staff encourage “letters be sent email@example.com that death threats be labeled in the subject as ‘Spam’, but they also encourage you to enjoy Lake Geneva and let them know how they can improve for the betterment of fandom everywhere and so they don’t become total pariahs.” Off to a brisk start, things just get better with “Cordwainer Smith’s ‘The Dead Lady of Clown Town’ A Visit” by Warren Buff. Warren gives us an in-depth retrospective of Cordwainer Smith, pseudonym of Paul Linebarger, and an analysis of his story, “The Dead Lady of Clown Town.” Keeping up the brisk pace of this zine, James T.M. Griffin provides us with a review, “StarCraft: The Dark Templar Saga: Book One: Firstborn.” This is an intriguing article about Blizzard Entertainment’s hit sci-fi real-time strategy game, StarCraft. This is followed by a story, a fiction story! Long a tradition in fanzines, fan fiction seems to have become lost, but Matthew Stuart Boren brings us a welcome short piece entitled: “’A Shaman For All Seasons:’ An Esoteric Tale in A Cyberpunk Detroit.” Let’s hope that Boren keeps contributing more fiction! And then Pablo, writing in the third person, gives with “Lake Geneva Recommends,” wherein he…well…recommends music, books, and films. Pablo’s column is followed by a review from veteran fan writer, Chris Garcia, “’The Substitute,’ AKA Danish Science Fiction Genius.” Chris reviews the Danish film, “The Substitute,” directed by Ole Bornedal. Chris makes this film sound very interesting; I can’t wait to see it. Wow! Lake Geneva is a great zine!
BCSFA #485: Monthly club newsletter of the British Columbia Science Fiction Association. October 2013. 28 pages. Edited by Felicity Walker. This is exactly that, the OO (Official Organ) for the club. Kicking off with “This and Next Month in BCSFA” and followed by “About BCSFA.” The first article outlines the upcoming production schedule for this zine, and the second gives with the officers of the club. “Letters of Comment” follows with notable contributions from John Purcell and Lloyd Penney. A rather long, and very detailed “Calendar” of up-coming events is appended to the end of the letters. “News-Like Matter” informs us of many fan related items of interest. And then there is “Notes from September 2013 BCSFA Meeting.” Michael Bertrand delivers “The Worst Movie Ever Made, Act 1: The Post-Screening Meeting.” This is truly entertaining, well worth checking out this zine, even if just to read this, part II is to follow. So, if you are a fan in the Vancouver area, this is the zine…and club…for you.
Pips #10 and Pips #10.5: Summer 2013. Quarterly. 32 pages. Edited by Jim Mowatt. Pips #10 is mostly about Jim’s upcoming trip across the Pond to LoneStarCon3 in San Antonio as TAFF delegate. Jim is a very amusing and entertaining writer. It’s well worth going back in time and reading this zine. Among his amusing writing is a long and very detailed article, “How to format you fanzine for e-readers” which also gives the careful reader a couple of tantalizing clues about the inner workings of fandom. I was intrigued to find that Mark Plummer and Claire Brialey, producers of the (hard to obtain in any format) fanzine, Banana Wings, are now also producing an ebook version. “Easter in Bradford” is Jim’s diary-style British Eastercon convention report, another very entertaining read. Once again Jim demonstrates his wit and good humor, and that he can write too. Next Jim tells us about his arduous athletic adventures in “Running and the Tricksy Brain,” on his harrier way to become a marathoner. “How The Cat Lost Its Roar,” is a short-short piece of fiction about hubris. Followed by “Will You Not Even Be Coming Thursday?” another short-short concerning the reality of dreams. “No Convention Reporting Please” is a more serious piece about con reports, the do’s and don’ts, as well as the what-ifs, as in what if I write another report, what will my peers think? And finally “Letterthings” brings us another gem from the pen…ah, typewriter…ah, computer…of Lloyd Penney. Pips #10.5 is a 2 page, stream-of-consciousness nearly random series of impressions Jim had before and during his TAFF visit to the U.S. Maybe he took the input from his peers about writing a con report too seriously, although this reader hopes that he takes the time to write one in his inimitable style and entertain us once again with his wit, wisdom, and humor.
Well, that’s it with all the zines this week, but not with this column.
Of note is the upcoming Corflu, the annual convention for fanzine fans, which next year will be held in Richmond, Virginia, May 2nd to 4th 2014. The July 28, 2013, two page Progress Report #0 is available. For those in the area, or planning to attend, here’s the skinny.
In the upcoming weeks, now that I’ve written about one of the many secret fan organizations, I plan to write about the public ones, SAPS and FAPA, two of the last holdouts for the printed fanzine. Articles about the various science fiction fan clubs, such as NESFA and NFFF, are also in the works, so send me details of your organization so that your fan club can be included.
Well, folks, that’s all for this week. If your fanzine or your favorite one was not reviewed, look for it in the weeks to come. If you want your printed fanzine reviewed, contact me via Amazing Stories for details. And most important of all, if you would like a review or mention of your science fiction and/or fantasy related fan club, please send me all the details.
—Earl Terry Kemp