Blast from the Past, or: Two Forgotten Aussie Zines.

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Talk about a misleading title!

Forgotten? Hah!

The people who wrote and published them haven’t forgotten them.

The people who read them haven’t forgotten them.

People familiar with Australian fannish history heard about them and haven’t forgotten them.

And everybody else hasn’t forgotten them because they never knew anything about them to begin with.

On top of which the title sucks for sheer lack of originality (though bear with me because I plan to turn it into a running gag). So what inspired me to write this article? What is its genesis?

Simple. You know me. I’m self-indulgent. I write about what I feel like writing about. And what better to write about than something I enjoy reading?

I’ve got nearly 8,000 fanzines in the BCSFA/WCSFA archive I’m in charge of, at least half dating from the 1970s and 1980s, an era predating the birth of many a modern fan. Legitimate history, folks. And there’s nothing I like more than revealing fannish heritage to modern fen.

Besides, when I want to truly relax, to become absorbed in someone else’s reality, I grab a fanzine and read it from cover to cover. For me this is a form of time travel, plunging back into the views, discussions, worries and feuds of old-time fen.

The kicker is, many of the fen mentioned in these zines are still active fen, some still publishing or at least writing for contemporary zines. If that isn’t proof of the worth of fanzine fandom as a hobby I can’t imagine what would be. Longevity. Once the hobby grabs hold of you it’s almost impossible to let go…

Hmm… I suppose that makes fanzine fandom sound addictive… or worse, like some form of alien mind parasite…

Nah. My alien overlord informs me he’s merely hitching a ride… Without further ado, two zines chosen at random :

CHAO (#15), AUGUST 1974, EDITED BY JOHN J. ALDERSON, out of Havelock, Victoria, Australia.

RG Cameron May 30 illo #1 'Chao'

This is a ‘perzine,’ or personal fanzine. The whole point of a perzine is to impact fandom with an idiosyncratic point of view. In this case, a curmudgeon, or perhaps a gadfly…

Andy Porter (famous for his newszine SF CHRONICLE and still an active fan today) writes: ”I wouldn’t change CHAO for anything. One of its best points is the personality you inject into it…”

Fellow Aussie Ken Ford: “You manage to present a character through style and content… I do not mean that you are cold and emotionless, uncaring, but that you are you…”

Canadian fan Mike Glickson (Hugo award winner) reveals: “After being fooled by you in our earlier meetings in print, I’ve swung the other way and now regard you… as completely tongue-in-cheek. This is probably just as ridiculous as taking you seriously, but… I get the added enjoyment of… seeing other readers getting all steamed up over your often provocative statements.”

Quite the controversial writer it appears. Like all good perzines CHAO consists mostly of assorted articles by the editor. To examine a few of them:

The Watershed of History” mulls over the historian’s habit of dividing history into defined eras and whether or not people at the time are ever aware they live in a transition period. Alderson suggests we are in the midst of drastic change and that the coming era, after fossil fuels have run out, will be known as the era of “Implosion” as population, productivity and creativity decline to levels not seen since the dark ages. He admits an atomic war would speed the process, but that “it will be difficult enough salvaging information without hydrogen bombs,” thus hinting that a new dark age is inevitable. Hmmm, maybe.

There follows a number of book reviews, separated into “World of Dreams” (fantasy) and “Nightmares” (dystopian fiction), the latter including the novelization of the film ZARDOZ, about which Alderson comments:

The theme has been worked to death, the aftermath of a world destroyed by nuclear war. If anything will prevent our enlightened rulers from plunging the world into such a war it would be the threat of another book being written on the subject and they having to read it.”

Unlikely, but amusing point to make.

Several pages are devoted to local birds, of minimal interest to me, but I was struck by the statement: “I have only the one pair [of Kookaburras] on my property.” Never mind being awakened by song birds. I should think the incessant cries of Kookaburras would drive one insane!

Next a review of a 100 page tribute (also in the BCSFA/WCSFA archive) edited by John Bangsund, another Aussie fan, to the career of famous prozine editor John. W. Campbell:

“…part of the book concerns the reaction of lesser fry like myself… To most of these writers Campbell was an institution and science fiction was unthinkable without him. That of course was the rub to way-out perverted rebels like myself who saw him as a traffic cop pointing the traffic of science fiction down the wrong road, and that it was time he was run over… Campbell was well out of date when he began his career… Campbell was of the previous century… Campbell who ploughed on in his Victorian way…”

Them’s fighting words to many, an example of the sort of provocative jape Glicksohn commented on.

The last article Alderson contributes is “McLuhan & the Enemy.” From my point of view my fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan always WAS the enemy, what with irritating pronouncements like “The medium is the message.” Annoying man.

Which reminds me, local fan Michael Walsh, while Philip K. Dick was (briefly) staying with him after VCON 2 in 1972, played a record by McLuhan consisting of scattered fragments of sound and conversation, a veritable babble and cacophony of noise and concept, thinking it would amuse Dick. Instead, Dick clapped his hands to his ears and shouted “Turn it off! Turn it off! It sounds like the inside of my head!”

Feel that way about McLuhan myself I does.

Anyway, Alderson considered McLuhan’s view that the printed word was doomed had itself already “been exploded,” arguing that the usefulness of audiovisual material in lieu of books was grossly inferior as a means of preserving and providing information. Far easier to scan through pages of a book than a microfiche or, even worse, an eight hour audiotape. Plus a book is far easier on the eyes. Arguments which can be used today in reference to computers and the internet (at least, by me).

As for McLuhan’s concept of “the Global Village,” sheer nonsense. Alderson dredges up “Aristotle’s lecture-room joke that a city of 100,000 would be impossible because you could not know everybody,” and that the maximum number of people any one individual can usefully interact with is less than a hundred, so instant communication will not lead to better communication so much as simply overload people with too much communication.

As for the ‘Enemy’ in the title, it is ‘Time.’ Rapidly evolving technology means unreadable technology. Books last longer. The key to passing on information from one generation to another is comprehensive libraries and archives.

Alderson concludes with: “I am afraid that too many SF writers are carried away with the gimmicks of technology and they burden the future with types that would destroy the possibility of even having a technology.”

Where else, other than the classroom, does an individual have the chance to express personal views on topics as weighty as the above? This is the great advantage of perzines, an opportunity to debate in reasoned speculation with your peers. Intellectual stimulation I tells yah!

CHAO is an excellent example of a perzine at its most personal. Well worth emulating.

THE MAD DAN REVIEW (#6) OCTOBER 1976, EDITED BY MARC A ORTLIEB out of Elisabeth Downs, South Australia.

RG Cameron May 30 illo #2 'Mad Dan Review'Essentially a perzine but somewhat of a genzine (general zine = multiple contributors) with a couple of articles and several poems by others.

Ortleib begins with “Asimov’s Stolen Histories,” a provocative title. A quote from a poem by Asimov is most revealing:

So success is not a mystery, just brush up on your history and borrow day by day. Take an empire that was Roman, and you’ll find it is at home in all the starry Milky Way.”

Ortleib then examines Asimov’s FOUNDATION series and equates the following: Terminus/First Foundation = British Empire; Four Kingdoms = The Vikings; Trantor/Second Foundation = Catholic Church; Hari Seldon = Christ; the Mule = Napoleon; Independent Traders = American Colonies, and so on. Not so much the Roman empire as such but what it produced, the consequences as it were, transplanted to the stars.

Well, maybe. It’s been so long since I read the FOUNDATION series I can’t say. Correct or not, this is certainly sercon (serious constructive speculation) stuff by any definition, but NOT done with a typically sercon spirit, as Ortleib points out:

You know how it is. Those who can write, write. Those who can’t write pull other people’s writing to bits… But it’s hellish fun!”

Which, indeed, is the whole point of fanzine fandom, in my opinion.

Next up, surprise, surprise, is an article by John J. Alderson (of CHAO fame), titled “A Shepard is an Abomination.” Even more surprising, it is a gentle (for him), humorous discussion of keeping sheep. Seems that was what Alderson did for a living.

Not that it’s a lucrative living. He quotes from a poem by Banjo Paterson:

It’s grand to be a squatter / And sit upon a post / And watch your little ewes and lambs / A-giving up the ghost / … / And pluck the wool from stinking sheep / Some days since they have died.”

Perhaps for this reason “The shepherd was an abomination to the Australian. Only those charitably regarded as deranged ever became shepherds. The bulk of men, even to avert starvation, would not become a shepherd, and the bulk of shepherds, if not mad beforehand, went mad soon after… or got speared by the aborigines.”

One wonders why Australians bothered. The New Zealanders seem to have been more successful at keeping sheep. Better climate I suppose, less desert and less drought. Still, Alderson managed, though he did wish the price of wool would go up so that women would find him sexy (as opposed to mad).

Those of you unfamiliar with fanzine fandom may well ask what do sheep and shepherds have to do with science fiction? Not much (apart from John Brunner’s THE SHEEP LOOK UP).

Rephrasing your question: what are sheep doing in a science fiction fanzine?

This is one of the paradoxes of fanzine fandom (and part of what makes it difficult to sell SF fans on the concept of publishing their own SF fanzines), that some of the best fannish writing is not about SF as such, or even about SF fandom, but about the editors themselves, their lives, and their interests beyond fandom.

The standard fanzine editor is a born essayist. When you consider that so much of SF is derived from fields as diverse as history, archaeology, planetary geology, economics, sociology and philosophy, it is not surprising that fans often write about topics others find unexpected and even irrelevant.

But science fiction is not a ghetto. It encompasses everything under the sun (and beyond) and so do most SF fen whose single unifying nature is not so much interest in SF but rather a wide-ranging curiosity, the eternal quest to stir their sense of wonder. Grand hobby that.

How to Bluff Your Way into Australian Fandom” by Ortlieb encapsulates the state of Aussie fandom in 1976, describing individuals and clubs and how to approach them.

I’d say THE MAD DAN REVIEW is less bumptious than CHAO, but just as interesting. Many zines published today are as good or better.

Check out http://efanzines.com for examples of such.

NOTE:

CHAO (#15) cover by Kevin MacDonnell

THE MAD DAN (#6) cover by Shayne McCormack.

Both are marked “SW” = from Susan Wood Estate.

1 COMMENT

  1. Strangely enough I haven’t forgotten either of these fanzines 🙂 As for what sheep have to do with sf, Cordwainer Smith springs immediately to mind – stroon – though I guess we tended to annex Dr Linebarger as one of our own, despite him being a septic.

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