The Clubhouse: Fanzine Reviews: Into the Abyss.

Fanzines reviewed: Askance # 32, Broken Toys #33, The Reluctant Famulus #101, Swill #25 and SF Echo ##19.

(Please note: Zine reviews are prepared a week or more in advance of publication of this column and may not necessarily include the latest issue available, but the link to multiple issues given at the bottom of each review probably does.)

RG Cameron Clubhouse Jan 02 2015 Illo #1 Askance

ASKANCE (#32) – December 2014 – Find it here

Faned: John Purcell. American Genzine.

A classic fannish zine cleverly published before the end of the year so it will qualify as a nominee for the 2015 FAAn Awards. Would be faneds take note! This is the sort of thing you have to pay attention to when planning your publication schedule.

A brief but heartfelt tribute to fan artist Stu Shiffman (1954 – 2014) is an example of the deep friendships formed in fandom. “I thank Great Roscoe for giving us Stu Schiffman. Scattered throughout this issue will be illustrations of his… I cannot think of a better way to celebrate his craft…”

ASKANCE is primarily a paper fanzine which happens to be available on the internet. John is not above exploiting the internet for his own purposes, as witness “Academics, Over Coffee, Over the Internet,” the transcript of a web conversation among four scholars (including John) about whether medieval literature is a suitable topic for a fanzine article. Of course it is! Zine addicts understand fanzines meander over every known topic in the universe. You never know what you are going to find when you start reading. This is what helps make zines so exciting.

At one point in the conversation Robin Reid states: “…twenty years ago I was a radical for reading and teaching and writing about sff books… now I’m almost an old fuddy duddy for reading and teaching and writing about sff books…”

Try forty years ago. In Canada fen had a hard time proving Canadian SF&F even existed (as a distinct genre) let alone be worthy of critical regard. But the point is taken. SF&F is now accepted, even gone mainstream. (I’m afraid the fuddy duddy aspect is more a product of aging rather than evolving literature.)

John contributes a Photo-Essay Con Report on “Steampunk Invasion 2014.” He writes: “…practically everybody who attended showed up in costume which made this particular event a whole lot of fun and extraordinarily photogenic. I have never seen so many costumes and cameras of all kinds in one location, and that includes years of SF convention going.”

This is a very subversive article. The photos and commentary threaten to turn me into a Steampunk fanatic. Who knew fully costumed women consuming scones could be so fetching? Who knew Steampunk music is so danceable? Who knew tea contests could be so perilous? Not I. Why, it’s positively imperial! Huzzah!

A really good poem by David Emerson is an eye-opening surprise. By that I mean it is one of the best poems I’ve read anywhere, let alone in a fanzine. Titled “When Zeus Goes Surfing” it really captures my fancy. It is short, so I won’t quote from it. It is, however, all by itself a very good reason to examine this issue at the link above.

Assorted material and a letter of comment column (the ubiquitous Lloyd Penney present as always) round things out.

Askance worth reading? – Heck, yah. A positive, pro-genre, pro-fandom zine with a light and easy touch.

( Find multiple issues of Askance here )

RG Cameron Clubhouse Jan 02 2015 Illo #2 Broken Toys

BROKEN TOYS (#33) – December 2014 – Find it here

Faned: Taral Wayne. Canadian Perzine.

Close to being a Curmudgeon zine. Taral fancies himself a genuine curmudgeon but is constantly betrayed by bursts of enthusiasm for this or that.

A large sum of money tucked into his roller (which Taral needs to assist his walking) fell out and disappeared. Taral manages to cope: “A few years ago I would have raged like an infuriated Chihuahua… But I get a pension now… It’s not the end of the world. I have food and there are no bills left unpaid, so I’ll just do without Caviar and Champagne this month.”

Arguably of greater concern to him, being a well-known fan artist, is the consequence of his preferred technique. He draws in pencil, then scans the finished work to distribute electronically. The scanner picks up every faint erasure and forces him to use “the paint tool or erasure to remove unwanted blurs, blemishes and blights by hand, and that takes anywhere from half an hour to an hour per piece.” That’s dedication for you!

This issue a typical fannish zine in that it runs on “soonest” time. It was meant to be the Halloween issue but came out late. This is no big deal. It is quite traditional, at least in fan publishing.

A delightful inclusion is the Canadian portion of Jim Mowatt’s TAFF (Trans Atlantic Trip Fund) report. He’s surprised to find aspects of Canadian life previously unfamiliar to him: “Catherine [Crockett] has given me something called Canadian Tire currency for the TAFF auction. It looks very much like real money, and I hear there are places that do accept it as currency. All most peculiar.” Don’t know why this comes as a surprise. I hear there are places in London that will accept Scottish Bank notes…

I particularly liked Mowatt’s comment “Jim Caughren and Murray Moore are sitting together. There’s a delightful air of ‘pair of naughty school boys’ about them. You feel that at any time they would be making rude gestures behind your back or constructing ink bombs to throw at the swotty kids in the front row.” Hmm. I’ve met Murray several times. Didn’t strike me this way. Must be Jim’s influence…

One of the strengths of the zine is its lengthy letter column (including Lloyd Penney), not least for Taral’s interesting responses, such as:

“I’ve puzzled by Dune’s popularity myself. I saw it as a hash of old pulp formulas that turns into hippydippy, Philip K. Dick shit at the end. At one point I considered whether or not the long novel was a concealed history of science-fiction, showing its evolution from sword-buckling adventure, to technocratic puzzle-solving, to druggy psychedelia, to environmental correctness. But nobody seems to see any merit in my thesis. But I have always been fond of the Foundation Trilogy. Obviously, not for the fine writing style or brilliantly realized characters, but for something that seemed like a grand sweep of Gibbonesque history when I first read it at the age of 19 or 20. I could not recommend it to a contemporary 20-year-old.”

Broken Toys worth reading? – Definitely. Taral is a legendary fixture in Canadian zine publishing (going back to the 1970S) and has been nominated for a fan art Hugo at least eleven times! In Broken Toys you get the benefit of his decades of fannish experience and his sharp, edgy observations. Always fascinating.

( Find multiple issues of Taral Zines & Broken Toys here )

RG Cameron Clubhouse Jan 02 2015 Illo #3 Reluctant Famulus

THE RELUCTANT FAMULUS (#101) – Sept/Oct 2014 – Find it here

Faned: Thomas D. Sadler. American Genzine.

This is a very popular genzine that has been around for Donkey’s ages. Eleven articles and sixteen letters of comment (including one by Lloyd Penney) give you an idea how much interest this zine stirs.

To my mind some of the most intriguing articles are:

Ray Nelson’s “Art of the Filloverse” in which he calls for the return of short but intelligent poems to fill those awkward spaces at the end of columns.

John Purcell’s “Mark Twain in the Age of Steampunk.” He points out “A Connecticut Yankee in King Author’s Court” is the most obvious example, but there are a number of short stories (“History 1,000 Years from Now,” “3000 Years Among the Microbes,” etc.), all of which prove Twain fits the definition of what is considered Steampunk.

Another article by Ray Nelson, “The Berkeley Coven – Chapter One” which describes the formation of an informal writer’s group. I was particularly taken by the following comment: “…back to Hillside Elementary school in Berkeley where Ursula LeGuin, Phil Dick and I made up ghost stories to see who could most frighten the other two.” Wow…

A retrospective review of Heinlein’s “I Will Fear No Evil” by Dr. Robert Aaron Bright which is very Sercon indeed and not for the light of heart. I personally don’t agree with the connections made and conclusions drawn, but it is one man’s interesting take on historical events and their influence and meaning as he perceives them.

Rick Lynch’s “On the Suspension of Disbelief” required to appreciate many genre films which are, after all, often based on either quite silly or altogether unbelievable premises. I believe in disbelief!

The Reluctant Famulus worth reading? – I think so. Maybe not all of it, but with such a wide variety of material by diverse talents I’m sure you’ll enjoy a good deal of it and find the bulk of the remainder quite interesting. Any articles skipped over will be purely a matter of personal taste. Well worth delving into every issue to see what you can find.

( Find multiple issues of The Reluctant Famulus here )

RG Cameron Clubhouse Jan 02 2015 Illo #4 Swill

SWILL (#25) – Autumn 2014 – Find it here

Faned: Neil Williams. Canadian Perzine.

This is very much a Curmudgeon zine in that it is written by perhaps the most iconoclastic fan in zinedom. Poor lad can’t help it, what with carrying on a tradition he first established in the 1980s and has now renewed with his reborn SWILL.

Let me quote from his editorial (though bear in mind he is temporising here): “In March 26th, 2014 I decided that in keeping with the unannounced theme-arc of SWILL 2014 – that of norm violation and attacking sacred cows – that the Autumn issue would be an anti-Ellison issue. On October 10, 2014, Harlan Ellison ® suffered a stroke, which was announced in the media on October 12th. Even I, the evil anti-fan editor, did consider changing the planned autumn ‘trash Ellison’ issue, due to his illness. However, as the updates continue to come in, it would appear that Ellison is recovering well, that his mind has been unaffected, and that his physiotherapy is making progress – and, he is already writing again. As this is the situation, and, after all, as this is SWILL, there is no longer any concern, on my part, that I am kicking-someone-when-they-are-already-down. This is not as mean spirited as it sounds…”

Neil goes on to admit he admires much of Ellison’s writings, but finds Harlan’s attitude toward fans, indeed, entire generations of fans, to be reprehensible and without merit. Coming from someone who is “anti-fan” himself, this is interesting. I would say Neil considers Ellison to be “too much” of a curmudgeon.

Frequent guest editorialist Lester Rainsford (the title of his regular column is “Pissing on an Old Pile of Amazings”) carries on the theme, writing:

Do you know that there is one person in the world who ever got ripped off by other people?… one person with the guts and the clear-headed orneriness to declare that he got ripped off and oppressed by the Man right in public?… one person in the whole entire world who has held on to Artistic Integrity when all the luddite know-nothing philistines have sold out to mammon and convenience?… and moreover has declared that he has been hard done by, and deserves the greatest of praise and respect thereby, to right the wrongs done to him?”

Yes, Lester’s modest column is so underappreciated.”

But to hear Harlan Ellison talk about this, he is even worse done by.”

Neil and Lester and Harlan at their best (or worst?) are kindred spirits. Certainly none of them pull any punches. Not ever.

The letter of comment column has but one participant. You guessed it. Lloyd Penney.

Swill worth reading? – Hell, yes! If, that is, like me, you find over-the-top editorializing exhilarating and exciting. That’s why I like Ellison in full fury. Even when he’s wrong he’s vastly entertaining and guaranteed to shake you out of your doldrums. Neil and Lester likewise.

On the other hand, SWILL is definitely an acquired taste and not for everyone. If you have high blood pressure reading SWILL could give you apoplexy. So beware.

One thing’s for sure. Never a dull issue. Not one.

( Find multiple issues of Swill here )


RG Cameron Clubhouse Jan 02 2015 Illo #5 SF Echo

S.F. ECHO (#19) January 1974

Faned: Edward C. Connor. American Genzine.

Legend has it that the post office objected to Connor using a special “book rate” for material that resembled a magazine, so he switched the format to something very much like a pocket book in order to justify the cheaper rate. No mistaking an issue of SF ECHO for anything else.

This issue is full of interesting stuff, including “Getting A-Long with Heinlein” by Philip Jose’ Farmer, and a lengthy poll of various sorts of “Worst of” SF literature in which many well-known fans (and some authors) give their opinions.

I was struck by Don Ayres account of the 1973 World Convention in Toronto wherein he paraphrases Lester Del Rey as saying “We should stop apologizing for being SF fans. If the literary establishment wants to browse around, fine, but that’s no reason to play dead for them or to go into orgasmic spasms over the fact that they’re paying attention to us. It is our home ground; let us rise to meet them.”

Most intriguing of all is Connor’s review of “The World of Fanzines” by Fredric Wertham, an academic mostly known for his book “Seduction of the Innocent” in which he argued modern (i.e. 1950s) comic books were destroying the moral fabric of youth and causing juvenile delinquency. This led to the creation of the comics code and industry-imposed self-censorship which destroyed EC comics.

Astonishingly, Wertham LOVED fanzines: “Poorly reproduced zines often conceal fascinating editorials or delightful fan fiction, beautiful artwork decorating awful reviews…”

Even more astounding, Wertham wrote: “Fanzine editors are not idle dreamers. They do not run away from the world… Often they show what amounts to an extraordinary amount of energy and good will. Fanzines are a healthy part of our society.”

I want this book! A tad expensive though. Copies available at Amazon run from $100 to $200 American. Still, every faned needs it in their library.

SF Echo worth reading? – Absolutely! Not for nothing is SF ECHO fondly remembered. But where can YOU read it? Dunno. The copy I accessed resides in the archives of the BC SF Association. Others no doubt exist in numerous personal collections, and may appear from time to time on Ebay.

You can find a fantastic collection of zines at: Efanzines

You can find a quite good selection of Canadian zines at: Canadian SF Fanzine Archive

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  1. Thanks Steve! My plan is to have weekly columns complete a week or more before publication so I’ll have plenty of time for editing and AND guarantee a column shows up on time every Friday.

    I agree Taral deserves a retrospective. Think of all the covers he has done for FILE 770 over the years, for instance. And I do intend, from time to time, to contribute an article in addition to regular review columns, but at the moment I’m too busy. For purposes of pacing myself I think I’ll stick with reviews for the time being. So I encourage you to write an article on Taral’s art. Plus retrospectives of other fan artists if you have a mind to. Many are deserving.

    Cheers! Graeme

  2. A well-written, cogent look at some of the terrific fanzines being produced today. Steve Stiles once again shows his colour sense and versatility as a fanartist; we still have some terrific ones. (One of whom is the curmudgeonlike Taral Wayne; maybe one of us should do a whole column on his fanart. Yes, a lot of it is that “furry” type art, but he’s extremely good at it, and it’s not all that he does. Consider the logos for Broken Toys, which are new every ish.)

    Good job, Graeme! I look forward to seeing future Clubhouses under your aegis.

  3. Graeme, thank you so much for the kind comments about Askance #32. They are appreciated. This was a nice assortment of different kinds of fanzines, giving readers here an example of the diverse attitudes and opinions available in them. In a roundabout way you extolled the virtue of writing Letters of Comment (LoCs) to fanzines: they are considered the lifeblood of a fanzine, and a healthy lettercolumn is a sign of an intelligent fanzine with an engaged readership. Some zines – like Drink Tank and Science Fiction in San Francisco, for example – at times don’t get any locs at all, but that doesn’t stop their fan editors. But I do encourage people to write locs and e-mocs (emails of comment) to at least let the producers of fanzines know that their efforts are not being wasted in a vacuum.

    So thank you for the review, and now I need to write an e-moc to Taral Wayne on his latest issue of Broken Toys. I may never catch up with Lloyd Penney’s letter-writing prodigious production, but I’ve been meaning to write on Taral’s zine for a long time. Thanks again!

    – John Purcell

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