Today the 113th Congress scrambles to get its act together. There’s an old cliché that goes something like this: the more things change the more they remain the same. A little over sixty-five years ago former President Harry S. Truman nicknamed the 80th Congress, which operated from 1947-1948, the “Do-Nothing Congress.” So, here we are once again, still on the brink of something…still scrambling to do nothing…still waiting for a hero or heroine to make a stand and lead us away from the abyss…still….
Sixty-five years ago Congress wasn’t the only group scrambling and looking for a hero, Ziff-Davis then owners of Amazing Stories were also scrambling. Back in 1945, after the end of World War II, Amazing Editor Ray Palmer had gambled the reputation of his magazine on a hunch. He had stumbled across an odd story, tossed as of no worth into a wastebasket by his assistant editor, Howard Browne.
Palmer brushed off the crackpot story, dressed it up, rewrote it into English, and thus The Shaver Mystery was born. At first this tale of evil creatures, remnants of lost Lemuria living in the bowels of the earth, caught on and the circulation of Amazing Stories zoomed up, capturing the largest chunk of the marketplace.
But Ray Palmer was a true believer. He made the mistake of insisting to his readers that The Shaver Mystery was all true. Big mistake! Circulation plummeted. Science fiction fandom was in an uproar.
Then Palmer had a stroke of genius. He hired fledgling writer Rog Phillips to conduct a column, The Club House. It was to be a forum for fans, about them, their doings, interests, and events. It was an unqualified success. From May 1948 through March 1953 Rog Phillips boosted fandom in what was clearly a printed fanzine with the largest circulation of all, The Club House in Amazing Stories.
In the hallowed jargon of science fiction fan history, Rog Phillips, the man who was Roger Phillip Graham, became the voice of Fifth Fandom. Rog did it all. He wrote science fiction and fantasy. He reviewed the fanzines of his day, the original blogs. Not only that, he also opened doors by bringing new fans into this world, which would have been a much dimmer, sadder place without some of them. Rog brought a very young teenage Robert Silverberg into fandom.
Astra Zimmer followed with her Vampyre Club, the first science fiction fan club exclusively for females in an until then male dominated genre. She would win the first ever Ziff-Davis Amazing Stories writing contest with her science fiction story, “The Outpost.” This short story, her first professional sale, is not even mentioned or included in her official bibliography! Astra Zimmer is much better known nowadays as Marion Zimmer Bradley.
Writer Lee Hoffman credited future Amazing editor, Ted White, with bringing her into fandom when he encouraged her to edit her own fanzine, Quandry. But it was in The Club House that the world at large discovered this talented writer was a female.
Rog Phillips filled the pages of The Club House with the wonders, mysteries, and events of his day, discoursing at length about everything from mathematics, philosophy, current events, love, and of course, all things fannish.
In his first column, Rog introduced the neophyte, the beginner in this world, to the science fiction fanzine. Back in 1948 fandom existed mostly in the letter columns conducted by the major magazines. From these letter columns, and their correspondence in them, like-minded fans wrote to each other eventually expanding their letters, along with their mutual interests into printed fanzines.
Fanzines were the first blogs. In the beginning they were simple printed productions, containing editorials, letters (and responses), stories, articles, and artwork. Many were modeled after the magazines of the day, and some rivaled them in excellence and quality of content, some were even superior.
They generally sold for 5¢ or 10¢ with a first free one sent on request for the cost of the 3¢ postage. Trades were honored back then, with one fanzine editor trading his for others. Around all this post-World War II activity fandom soared and took flight beginning the long tradition of the World Science Fiction Convention in 1949. While the first such occurred in 1939, the war brought a halt to it and more, and most of all fannish activity. But that war was over, fans found each other in the letter columns, and started producing their own fanzines, trading them, sharing them, and then with the advent of The Club House, sending them in to Rog Phillips for his review.
And Rog did.
He boosted them all, lending his bully pulpit to increasing their proliferation. He did not favor one zine over the other. In The Club House he was as much a part of this journey of discovery as his reader. Rog, new to fandom, as were many of his readers, embraced it all, from the Zap-Zap ray gun (water pistols) to the Propeller Beanie. Just like a kid with a new toy, he loved it all and this quality shone through the most in his columns.
As he blogged about his journey of discovery he made new friends, and then blogged about them. He fell prey to several hoaxes, and laughed when he tumbled to the truth. His sense of humor never deserted him. It can be seen in his words and is the reason why he became the voice of his generation.
With a great deal of wit, good humor, and bonhomie, Rog helped to formulate present day science fiction fandom, helped to solidify a loosely knit group of fans, all doing their own thing, into a cohesive group, binding them together in the pages of Amazing Stories.
As far as science fiction fandom of his day went, Rog unscrambled the confusing web into a well-ordered whole, leading a new generation into the fold. He was a hero.
Sadly, he is now the best-known forgotten science fiction writer of the Golden Age of Pulps.
I knew Rog Phillips. He was my godfather, and more.
So when Amazing Stories publisher Steve Davidson recently got in touch with me and asked me to revisit The Club House, do what my godfather did with the original for Amazing, I jumped at this golden opportunity.
There we are, my friends, my readers, at the beginning again. The more things change, the more they remain the same….
Join me as I explore the contemporary world of science fiction fandom, the present day clubs and organizations, the groups and their members, the printed fanzines of today and the electronic ones, all with an eye to the social events that bring us together. If you will allow me, I will bind you all here in the pages of Amazing Stories, and we will collaborate on a consensus defining this genre anew.
With all this being now said, let us begin with the review section of this column. This week I will explore some of the electronic fanzines.
Bill Burns at eFanzines.com hosts the most, and some of the best of these. Bill launched eFanzines in December 2000, and the site recorded its 500,000th visit in December 2008. It was nominated for a Hugo Award for “best web site” in 2005, one of only two occasions that category has appeared on the ballot.
Hundreds of British and American fanzines are now available to read or download for free, including Mike Glyer’s long-running science fiction newsletter File 770 (six-time Hugo winner), Peter Weston’s Nova-winning Prolapse (recently retitled Relapse), Bruce Gillespie’s Hugo-nominated and Ditmar-winning critical journal SF Commentary and editions of the digital amateur press association e-APA.
As well as an extensive gallery of British science fiction convention badges and other British fan-historical pages, the site also includes links to dozens of related archives and other online fanzines.
SF Commentary #85: October 2013. Quarterly. Edited and published by Bruce Gillespie, Australia. The front cover is by Ditmar (Dick Jenssen) and titled “The Alien Race.” Noted U.S. fan artist, Steve Stiles has the back cover with “Lovecraft’s Fever Dream.” This fanzine is 150 pages, not the typical size of a fanzine from the 1940s or 1950s, which ran to 20 to 40 pages at best, although most were usually under 12 pages. There’s a lot going on inside this zine since it is almost the size of a typical paperback novel.
Like many of the present day fanzines, Bruce conducts his own letter column, this one is “I Must Be Talking to My Friends.” And Bruce has quite a host of friends, mostly BNFs (Big Name Fans) such as Lloyd Penney and Murray Moore.
“Friends lost in 2013” contains a touching tribute to departed fans Michael Waite from Ypsilanti, Michigan, and Dan McCarthy from Dunedin, New Zealand.
“The Sea and Summer returns” is a book review of Australian critic, novelist, short story writer and fan, George Turner who died in 1997. Turner’s 1987 science fiction novel The Sea and Summer (Drowning Towers in the American edition) is one of the first novels to look at climate change in a realistic way, and so remains relevant. Bruce tells us that it still reads very well as a serious piece of Australian literature. This book review is followed by “Favourite books of 2012” in which we find out more about present day literature. This column is followed by “Favourite books read for the first time in 2012,” “Favourite short stories read for the first time in 2012,” “Favourite films seen for the first time in 2012,” “Favourite films re-seen in 2012,” “Television (?!) 2012,” “Favourite filmed music documentaries 2012,” “Favourite classical music CDs of 2012,” and “Favourite popular music CDs of 2012.” While not all exclusively pertaining to Australian arts, Bruce does cover these subjects from that perspective. Jennifer Bryce adds her own lists of favorite things in her article “Aide-mémoire: 2012.”
Next is an article by Elaine Cochrane, “The real gosh! wow!: Some books about physics.” Books reviewed include Relativity by Albert Einstein and A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, both popularizations written by their respective authors. Dick Jenssen follows this article with a similar one of his own, “More gosh! wow! Suggestions,” continuing the theme of hard science made easy reading.
By far the letters are the best part of this zine, they run the gamut of subjects just as they also include writers from around the world. Of note: Bruce ends this zine with one of the best letters, P.K. Dick to McGoohan to Rousseau to Bujold.
The Drink Tank #356: September 29, 2013. Weekly. Edited by Chris Garcia and James Bacon. The Drink Tank was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Fanzine this year! This is a 13-page zine, with a fantastic cover by Selina Phanara. After a brief editorial in which Chris gets us up to speed he jumps to “Letter Grand Mail,” his letter column. This is followed by an entertaining article, “The One True Fandom,” by Christopher Hensley, in which Hensley tells us more about True Fans and Fake Fans. “D.A. Pennebaker’s Heroes of Cosplay,” by Chris Garcia reads like a screenplay for the masquerade at the last San Diego Comic Con. The best article in this issue “Pressure,” by Aurora Celeste, is a discussion of her ennui with much of fandom…except costuming.
Orpheum #4: September 2013. Semi-annual. Edited by fan artist Alan White. This is a 43-page zine. In his editorial column “illudo ex machina” Alan tells us of the saga of his recent desktop publishing software upgrade. Alan is a Las Vegas based fan and keeps us informed about related local culture, with an eye toward the weird in “Things Happen.” “A Very TAFFy Week” includes some thoughts about TAFF delegate Jim Mowatt coming to Las Vegas? There is a humorous account of the KatzCon, wherein a special trip to fete DUFF Laureate Bill Wright was made to “The Launch Pad,” abode of old-time BNFs Joyce and Arnie Katz—HQ of rival club Las Vegrants twice monthly enclaves “where chattery, food and booze flowed till the wee hours.” This was followed by “BrunchCon 3” at which local fans Scott and Cindy Anderson, fan writer Nic Farey, and others were in attendance. Fun was had by all, as can be seen in the group photos peppering the account of the fest, even Piehole, Alan and DeDee White’s cat, makes an appearance. Jacq Monahan tells us all about “Las Vegas TAFF Trippin’” in her amusing article. Her extensive article also includes a Con report: “As Big As Texas!” These accounts were and are the staple of fanzines, old and new, printed or electronic. The lovely DeDee White reviews selected books in “DeDee’s Book Den” such as The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaimen. “Las Vegas Comic Expo” highlights Las Vegas as a premier setting for successful conventions. “A Pair of LoCs” from prodigious fan writers Curt Phillips and Lloyd Penney finish this zine.
Fadeaway #37: October-November 2013. Bi-monthly. Edited by Robert Jennings. This is a 40-page fanzine. The stunning front cover is by Jeff Redman. John Purcell kicks off this issue with his article “All This—And Super Science, Too!” This is an in-depth look into the writing of noted editor John W. Campbell, Jr. (John Purcell publishes his own zine Askance, also available at eFanzines.) Robert Jennings and Wayne Boenig team up to bring us “You Bet Your Life.” The subtitle tells all: “How Groucho and His Brothers Left Their Marx on Network Radio.” Their article is filled with photos and movie posters of the Marx Brothers at their best. And like all good fanzines, Fadeaway has its own letter column, “Reader Reaction.” It includes gems from noted science fiction author, Jefferson P. Swycaffer, and award-winning fan artist, Steve Stiles. One of the best letters was from Joseph T. Major, who edits an exclusive printed fanzine, Alexiad. Joseph is also author of one of the very best books ever written about Robert A. Heinlein, Heinlein’s Children: The Juveniles (Advent, 2006), which was deservedly nominated for the 2007 Hugo Award in the Related Book Category. This book is available from Advent:Publishers via NESFA (The New England Science Fiction Association—one of the oldest science fiction fan clubs still in existence.) at NESFA Press. (This is a shameless plug. My father, Earl Kemp, was one of the founders of Advent:Publishers, now the oldest fan owned and operated specialty publishing imprint in existence that is still in the hands of the original members.)
Geek Girls Craft Podzine #5: July-September 2013. Quarterly. Edited by Jade Falcon, Sandy Jacobs-Toille, and España Sheriff. This is a 20-page fanzine. Subtitled “A Fanzine based on the Geek Girl Crafts Podcast.” For the sake of clarity I include: http://geekgirlcraftspodcast.blogspot.com. In “Note from the Editor…” we find this issue is focused “on conventions and fans, and those things that fans do.” Bill Howard kicks off this issue with “Community” in which he discourses about conventions, beginning with an historical overview and ending on the observation that a “good Convention has a sense of shared purpose, a feeling that you’ve come home again, a sense of Community.” There can be no real disagreement with his conclusion. Continuing with this issues’ theme Jennifer “Radar” Wylie gives us “Learning How to Run a Convention: Hotel Liason.” Although a relative newcomer, starting her conventioneering in 2004, Jennifer has come a long way. She has even endured the dreadful “SMOFpocalypse” wherein all things pertaining to conventions were thought to be determined by an ultra-secret group of hidden illuminati, SMOFs, the Secret Masters of Fandom. There will be more, much more, in my following columns about SMOFs and other esoteric in-groups working behind the scenes of fandom for generations now. Prolific fan writer, Chris Garcia, has written a charming article, “How I Do a ‘Zine: or How You Shouldn’t Try to Do a Zine.” Chris nails the difference between printed fanzines and the “desirability of eZines” immediately…the outrageous expense in printing and mailing. His article is incredibly funny and a must read for anyone planning to produce their own fanzine. Next comes Jade Falcon with her article, “Fan of a Different Color.” Jade delivers a straight-forward, no-holds-barred, commentary on contemporary social encounters in fandom, from expectations to reality. Jade Falcon returns with another gem, “Knitted Cosplay,” her detailed account of being a masquerade photographer. “Con Kibble” is an unusual collaboration, with Jade doing the forward and the recipes (yes, recipes) by Yvette Ono, for peanut butter Rice Krispy treats and bagel dogs, finger-food for conventioneers. “Mail Call” is their letter column; we are pleased to see Lloyd Penney among the usual contributors.
Science Fiction/San Francisco #144: September 2013. Monthly. Edited by Jean Martin. This is a 95-page fanzine. This is a tight appearing newszine co-published by managing editor Christopher Erickson and compositor Tom Becker for the Bay Area. The front cover “Echinacea” is by Lucy Huntzinger. Editor Jean Martin starts this issue in his editorial on upcoming fan related events in the Bay Area. Editor Emeritus Jack Avery recounts the “Wunderkammer Festival,” at which Santa Rosa Steampunks “dress up in their finery and go downtown for the handcar races.” His article is densely filled with photos of costumed participants having fun on the railroad tracks. Editor Jean Martin conducts an interesting interview with Hugo Award winning author, Mary Robinette Kowal. Read it and find out what contemporary writer Kowal is now working on. “Cars from Days Gone By” by Christopher Erickson is an interesting article about antique autos in History Park in San Jose. Jean Martin returns with another offbeat article about his recent vacation in “My Storybook Adventure in Southern Germany.” Robbie Pleasant tells us all about “Sac Anime” a staple convention for anime fans in the Sacramento area, “with two conventions a year.” For those who could not attend, Tom Becker brings us one of the most comprehensive convention reports for “LoneStarCon 3.” And in “Letters of Comment” we find Lloyd Penney again, rounding out this fanzine for us. The minutes of the BASFA Meetings 1204-7 are provided, as well as a Bay Area Fannish Calendar.
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.
—Earl Terry Kemp