The Clubhouse; Fanzine Reviews: “Fanzines have never been so accessible”


Fanzines reviewed: ASKEW (#11), and SCIENCE FANTASY REVIEW (#18).

(Please note: Zine reviews are normally 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.)

#1 Askew

Askew (#11) – February 2015 – Contact John here

Faned: John Purcell. American Perzine.

As stated on the cover, “a paper-only fanzine.” Not available online. But you can receive it in the mail because it is “available for trade, letter of comment, upon request, cash (for first-class postage), et cetera, et cetera. But always for a beer. Dark Lager preferred.”

This is traditionally known as “The Usual.” Originally fanzines were, in imitation of prozines and also out of desperate need to cover publishing costs during the great depression, available only by subscription. Often a year’s worth of issues for a quarter, allegedly most often submitted taped to a postcard. Hence the phrase “Sticky Quarter” used, I’m guessing, to describe any zine worth its subscription price. There was even a zine called “Sticky Quarters” published by Brian Earl Brown long after the phrase had become obsolete.

Purists would point out that back then you could also trade subscriptions, i.e. your zine for someone else’s zine. But if you didn’t pub your ish, cash was your only option. Till it occurred to someone to offer their zine in trade for articles, art, locs, or even just anyone who wanted to read it. Question is who came up with the idea first?

Generally Robert W. Lowndes’ “Le Vombiteur” published in the late 1930s is credited with the concept, though as fan historian Harry Warner Jr. wrote “…but that was an awfully small fanzine, and for years after its appearance, its influence wasn’t fully felt. I suspect that an untitled single-sheeter that Les Croutch mailed to a lot of fans in 1945 provides one of the first full statements of the attitude that was taking control of fannish thinking…”

Leslie A. Croutch was the number one Canadian fan in the 1940s, most famous for his zine “Light.” Evidently his single-sheeter was a promotional gimmick designed to increase readership. Harry quotes the particular paragraph that struck him as the first significant description of “The Usual.” It also strikes me as a darn good explanation of why publishing fanzines is worthwhile. So here it is.

“If you want to receive Light, all you have to do is drop me a line, a card will do, and say so. You don’t have to send money. I am not after a contribution, though if you ever send me one I’ll be very appreciative and read it, though I won’t promise to take it and use it. I don’t even ask you to write a letter in return for every issue, though I do like to get them and feel that if I spent time on this publication and send it to you, you should drop me a line now and then. You needn’t feel duty bound to say nice things when you do, either. I want honest, truthful letters, even if they do nothing but criticise. My return for this? Well, this is a hobby. It’s a sort of avocation. I like publishing. I like to show what I print for others. I like to write just for fun.”

Yes! Yes! Yes! For fun! That’s zinedom in a nutshell. If you don’t do it for fun, then why the heck are you doing it? It’s not a job. It doesn’t pay. It’s just a hobby. Just a hobby? The best of all possible hobbies if you ask me. (I’m a trifle biased.)

Anyway, “Askew” is very much an old-fashioned traditional fanzine, never available online, intended to brighten your day when it lands in your mailbox. As John puts it “Producing these minor pieces of literata – or illiterata, if you prefer – is an enjoyable pastime that might otherwise be spent doing other necessary functions, if you know what I mean.”

Actually, I’m not sure what he means. I think, possibly, he’s saying that if you don’t pub your ish you’ll just waste your time doing ordinary, mundane things, and who wants to be condemned to do that?

Truth is a paper zine is a satisfying artifact of your fannish enthusiasm, a long-lasting, hold-in-your-hand piece of evidence you once lived and thought. Yes, I’m saying it could well outlive you and be read with pleasure by fen yet unborn. Internet ephemera cannot offer the same. Especially if printed on acid-free paper, a paperzine can form part of your legacy.

However, sadly, printing and mailing costs have driven many faneds to publish exclusively online. Myself, for instance. Another example, Dale Speirs of “Opuntia.”

But if you do publish a hardcopy zine, you won’t be doing it in isolation. John lists the paper fanzines in his “to read” file, zines that came in trade for his own. Zines with names like “No Sin But Ignorance,” “Lofgeornost,” “Living Free,” “Fadeaway,” “Banana Wings,” “a Meara for Observers,” “Tetragrammoton Fragments,” and “The Reluctant Famulus.”

As far as I know, with the exception of “Fadeaway” and “The Reluctant Famulus”, none of these zines are available online. Some faneds, such as Robert Lichtman of “Trap Door,” publish the paper version first and the online version later, often many months later. Even so, I think it’s fair to say that MOST modern zines eventually appear online. Fanzines have never been so accessible. If today is the “last hurrah” of genre zinedom, it is also a kind of golden age.

Getting back to “Askew,” John includes his essay “Who’s a fan of who,” which is all about his attitude toward the popular British TV series “Dr. Who.” He doesn’t hate it, he doesn’t dislike it, he just doesn’t happen to be a fan. It doesn’t interest him. I understand where he’s coming from because I feel the same way. Heresy I know, especially since I pride myself on being a general interest genre fan.

Fact is, one of the dirty little secrets of SF&F fandom is that you DON’T have to be a fan of everything. It is OKAY to skip over items of little interest to you even if they are enormously popular with others. Just pick and choose whatever you like and share your enthusiasm with like-minded fen. That’s how you remain keen year after year. Works for me.

“Askew” is only 8 pages long, so a quick and fun read. Half the pages are taken up by a lively loc column, including (surprise!) Lloyd Penney.

Askew” worth reading? – Yes. It is very much like a letter from a long-time pen pal friend, with the loc column carrying on the personal, conversational tone. If that’s what you are looking for, this is the zine for you. Get in touch with John at the link above and take part in the “Askew” dialogue.

Note that John is also the faned of “Askance,” an excellent genzine I reviewed here.


#2 'SF Review'

Science Fantasy Review (#18) – Spring 1950 – Find it here

Faned: Walter Gillings. British Reviewzine.

This is an exceptionally good fanzine (18 issues 1947-1950) that could easily be confused for a prozine, or the equivalent of a small literary zine such as universities are wont to publish. It was a continuation of sorts of his earlier fanzine “Scientifiction” (7 issues 1937-8), being very similar in format and content. The first 15 issues were titled “Fantasy Review,” changing to “Science Fantasy Review” with issue #16.

Somewhat confusingly, when Gillings was offered a job as editor of a new prozine called “Science-Fantasy,” he folded SFR into the new zine as a special fannish section, even transferring subscriptions. However only two issues later he lost his job to John (Ted) Carnell, a fellow fan. This must have been quite humiliating, as he and Ted had been at logger-heads for quite some time. In fact, fan historian Harry Warner Jr. credits legendary Belfast fan Walt Willis with bringing “the 15-year-old feud between Gillings and Carnell to a head so that Gillings retired from publishing…” Never underestimate the power of a fan feud! Sad, really.

Fannish politics aside, SFR #18 is a real treat. The first article in this digest-sized 40 page fanzine with incredibly tiny print is by fan #1 Forrest J Ackerman. He reviews George Pal’s “Destination Moon” which, as we all know, was filmed on the basis of a script by Robert Heinlein who also acted as technical advisor. As Forry explains: “This space-flight of 1960 has been filmed for audiences of 1950—and the greatest miracle of all is that Hollywood seems to have done the job right. There is no girl stowaway, no sabotaging villain, no bug-eyed monsters on the Moon—and no atmosphere there either!”

And, I might add, not much drama. Personally I prefer the el-cheapo film “Rocketship XM,” a rip-off of “Destination Moon” rushed into release before DM. Said spaceship takes off for the Moon and accidentally lands on Mars where they find evocative ruins and degenerate Martian mutants a’plenty. Much more entertaining methinks, whereas “Destination Moon” is the “2001” of its day. Breathtaking futuristic technology, yes, but ultimately slow-paced and kinda dull. Not what you would call an action adventure.

From Forry we learn that visitors to the set included SF writers Henry Kuttner, Catherine Moore, and A.E. van Vogt, plus “several members of both the los Angeles Fantasy Society and local rocketry associations…” How cool is that?

But I am a little leery of some of Forry’s claims, that midgets and tiny puppets were used in certain shots to create the illusion of great distances on the lunar surface, and that the space-suit costumes worn by the actors weighed 100 lbs. each. Really? Seems excessive.

Speaking of Heinlein, there’s a review of his “Sixth Column” which is rather refreshingly cranky. John K. Aiken admits it’s a good yarn, but draws attention to the fact that the super-science deployed under the guise of religion is a cheap trick. He writes “The trouble with a limitless power, from a literary point of view, is that there is nothing it cannot do—in fact, it’s sheer magic… the result is at best a pseudo-realism; the conflict remains one between an irresistible force and a not-quite-immovable object. In short, a pushover.” Aiken not impressed it seems.

Geoffrey Giles of the Teddington Cosmos Club excitedly reveals that the Teddington Theatre Club’s three performances of the SF play “Goodbye Tomorrow” by Frank E. Parker, taking place at Ronanye Hall in Hampton Wick, “marked one of their biggest successes in twenty-three seasons…” Jolly good, that. All about 8 people trapped aboard an out-of-control spaceship.

Even better: “The shocks and sensations of the journey were more than adequately conveyed by the players, in spite of their never leaving the safety of the boards upon which they were required to throw themselves violently several times during the evening.” This is over a decade before similar scenes in Star Trek!

On the other hand, “the dialogue indicated a surprising laxness in the ticklish operation of landing a rocket ship on Earth. His assistant in the observation room shouts down to the professor at the control levers, to ‘give her a side blast.’ The Professor, anxious enough already, seeks elucidation: ‘Confound you! Which side?’ Comes the answer, pat: ‘The side away from the doors!’’

Gillings himself, in a sort of gossip column titled “Fantasia,” passes on a couple of interesting quotes derived from other fanzines. From the British fanzine “Operation Fantast” he quotes Olof Stapledon, famed author of “First and Last Men” and “The Starmakers,” giving his opinion of science fiction: “I find myself in a hole about it. I never was a fan of it, and read very little of it. I recognise it as a legitimate means of expression… think it has a future. But it is also rather dangerous, because it may easily be indulged in as mere escapism.”

And from the American fanzine “Bloomington News-letter” the words of Robert Bloch (author of “Psycho”): “Every once and a while I make an extra effort to turn out a yarn suitable for adult readership, and just as I indulge in a little self-congratulation… up pops a mental picture of an army of goons wearing beanies, false beards and Buck Rogers blasters. Then I go into the washroom and have a good cry.”

Of particular interest to our editor no doubt, an article about Amazing’s founder “Hugo Gernsback: Pioneer of Scientification” by Thomas Sheridan. It begins “The latest, Campbell-worshipping generation of science-fiction fans will hardly heard of Hugo…” indicating that contemporary fandom, 1940s style, had largely forgotten him.

Then again, Time Magazine is quoted as stating “For more than 30 years fantasies have come in such incredible profusion from his brain that there is hardly a modern invention he cannot claim to have anticipated… Alumni of his numerous publications hold many important positions in the U.S. radio industry. They fondly call Gernsback ‘the old buzzard.’”

However, Time Magazine may have been slightly inaccurate when, in reference to his 80 patented inventions, it gleefully declared “None of them, his admirers are proud to say, has ever proved of the slightest practical use.”

Even if true (which I doubt), it must be admitted that in broad strokes at least, Hugo was a prophet of technology. In 1911, in his “Modern Electronics” Magazine he proposed a “pulsating polarized ether wave… to locate a [flying] machine… by means of a parabolic wave reflector and an actinoscope… which records the reflected waves.” This is the first article ever published theorizing how radar might work.

Also in 1911 lies the origin of the iconic concept of a Martian which figured on the cover of “Futurian War Digest” I reviewed a while back (find it here) which was in turn based on numerous renditions by artist Frank R. Paul, some of which appeared in Gernsback publications. Turns out it was based on a character in Gernsback’s novel “Ralph 124C 41+”, namely the “pigeon-chested Martian villain named Llysanorh CK 1618.” In the 1960s Forrest J Ackerman commissioned Frank R. Paul to paint a portrait of him standing beside Llysanorh, a portrait now in a private collection. An exercise in time binding methinks.

Science Fantasy Review worth reading? – Heck yeah! I haven’t mentioned the detailed and intelligent reviews of books by Lovecraft, Frank Belknap Long, Murray Leinster, Frederic Brown and other classic SF writers, reviews that give insight into how their works were viewed more than half a century ago, in most cases in their own lifetimes. Or the discussion of A. Merritt (author of “The Moon Pool”) and his life and fiction. Nor the article by Arthur C. Clarke about early concepts of spaceships and whether the impending space age would doom science fiction. (He thought not.) Fantastic amount of good reading packed into a tiny fanzine. I look forward to reading earlier issues. You should too.

( Multiple issues of Science Fantasy review here )


You can find a fantastic collection of zines at: Efanzines

You can find yet more zines at: Fanac Fan History Project

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

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1 Comment

  1. Hah! Thank you, Graeme, for reviewing my other fanzine. Very nice things you said about it, too, which is always a plus. To clarify, “the other necessary functions” I alluded to are indeed mundane activities – job, house and yard work, and so on – that take one away from pursuing fan activity. It was also a an elliptical reference to bodily functions since the phrase comes from my musings about naming a fanzine Bidet. It’s what we writers do: confuse readers. And it is also fun, which is what fandom is.

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