Fanzines reviewed: FORNAX (#1), and RELUCTANT FAMULUS (#104).
(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.)
NOTE: the zine reviewed below has no illustrations whatsoever. Since I like to lead off each review with “cover art,” and given that the editor is a well-known gamer, I’ve substituted the box art from a wonderfully fun science fiction game I acquired back in the 1980s.
Fornax (#1) – April 2015? – Find it here
Faned: Charles Rector. American Perzine.
I am a very ignorant person. Believe I’ve mentioned this before. For instance, I know nothing about Gamergate* except it seems to involve gamers sending death threats to certain women who are critics, journalists, or whatever.
However, Fornax is a pro-gamergate zine which, as best I can tell, considers itself representative of a supposed gamer revolt against corruption and mismanagement in the professional gaming industry (especially professional review zines whose “objective” reviews are allegedly bought and paid for by gaming companies) and thus is the voice of honest crusading, or something.
I remind you, I know nothing about the subject. All I can do is examine this zine for clues as to what its perspective is and comment on the basis of my own perspective.
To start with, Charles’ credentials appear unusually solid:
“In a way it’s fitting that I’m the one who’s launching the first pro-GamerGate fanzine. While the other fanzine editors spend their pre-editorship year’s letterhacking and writing other kinds of stuff for fanzines, I was playing games. Specifically, Browser-Based Games (BBG’s) that back in the late 1990’s/early21st Century was the cutting edge of online gaming… plucky gamers created their own websites such as most notably MPOGD. In early 2001, I went to work at MPOGD first as a reporter and then as News Editor. Eventually, I left MPOGD first to do a blog and then to become the News Editor at the newly started up OMGN.”
Okay, sounds like he has a wealth of knowledgeable experience with a history of journalistic commentary on same, so more than “just” a gamer, it seems.
So naturally the first essay in the zine justifies dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Turns out Charles is a history buff. As any fanzine reader knows, combining disparate themes is the trademark of fanzines. Very few are single topic specific.
Some of you may conclude, on the basis of the article’s premise, that Charles is some sort of fascist. Well, I consider myself a soft lefty-liberal socialist, but I agree with him. In my opinion the use of the atomic bombs saved the lives of millions of people, including millions of Japanese. The actual invasion (called “Operation Iceberg” if memory serves?) of the home islands would have been far more horrendous then even Okinawa. The atomic bombs thereby being the lesser of two evils.
Or, to put it another way, my RCAF father survived WWII flying bombers against the Germans. He was in the midst of being relocated to take part in the invasion of Japan when the Japanese surrendered. His lifelong opinion? “Those bombs saved my life.” And mine, considering I wasn’t born till 1951.
On the other hand, I am opposed to any further use of nuclear weapons, in case that makes you feel better. (I am well aware world leaders don’t pay attention to my views, sadly.)
Next Charles reviews a DAW book “Ballistic Babes” which is actually two novels, namely “The Radioactive Redhead” and “The Frost-Haired Vixen,” the first by Lawrence Ganem and the second by John Zakour. The first novel is apparently “A masterpiece of zaniness” but the second merely “well done… but far less entertaining.”
Okay, you might conclude from this that Charles is into bimbo-lit, thus confirming the “sexist-fascist” interpretation. Then again, “Ballistic Babes” could just be light-hearted fun any fan capable of thrusting literary standards aside for the sake of entertainment would enjoy.
What else is there to gnaw on? He reviews a number of zines, most notably “The Drink Tank” by Chris Garcia. Here Charles does indeed seem to reveal a less-than-centre bias:
“Of all the fanzines to go under in recent years, the demise of ‘The Drink Tank’ was one of the least lamented. This was because of the Political Correctness that permeated every issue to the point that all too often TDT was often an exercise in unintentional humor.”
“For instance, in Issue #390 that was devoted to bashing GamerGate with wholesale vulgarity and complete lack of intelligent thought, the bogus statistic of 48% percent of all gamers being female was presented as if that were an established fact…”
He seems to later imply that only 10% or less of gamers are female. Which in turn implies what? That women have no right to criticise the portrayal of women in games? He doesn’t say. But I do get the feeling that he dismisses the current wave of criticism against the presumed mindset of male gamers as pointless hysteria. Not to put words in his mouth, but I sense he is less than accepting of what he views as politically correct (and therefore assumedly bogus) criticism.
A final nail in his coffin (in terms of dismissing him as hopelessly and irredeemably right-wing) could be his review of an Axis history facebook site which he describes as “a labor of love.” In case you are unfamiliar with the term “Axis,” this refers to Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Imperial Japan, and their lesser allies Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Finland, Slovakia, and so on. Given the subject matter, describing the site devoted to the topic as “a labor of love” might strike some as jarring, excessive, obscene, and worse.
However, myself being a wide-ranging history buff, everything from ancient history to military aviation, I take for granted “labor of love” in this context simply means a history site run by people devoted to getting their facts right and providing as comprehensive a source of information as possible.
After all, just because you read an article about the Luftwaffe doesn’t mean you’ll be inspired to run outside and seig heil the first guy you see with a moustache. Most of history is distressingly un-liberal, to put it mildly, and you need to study it from all sides to help prevent it from repeating itself.
On the other hand, if you’re the kind of guy who displays Mein Kampf on an ornate reading-stand the way some people do their family bibles, there’s definitely something wrong with you. All a matter of degree really.
And that’s the thing, from what I read in this issue I am unable to determine if Charles fits within the brackets of my (very Canadian) political comfort zone. Is he merely a mildly conservative free thinker? Or someone I’m supposed to disagree with on nearly everything? Someone to respect from a polite distance? Or someone interesting and intriguing? Buggered if I know. Not enough info yet.
Just goes to show fanzine fandom is not entirely escapist in nature. No more than science fiction is. Often the topic is very real indeed. Often the future being debated is more than hypothetical. I’d go so far as to say that many faneds in their writings border on advocacy. In the 1930s fanzines (the political-minded ones that is) ran the gamut from promoting communism to praising fascism and everything in-between. The precedent for politics in zinedom was set more than three quarters of a century ago. In that sense nothing new.
Fornax worth reading? – Well, yes, I think so. Interesting things to say, including some positive reviews of a number of other zines (The Drink Tank excepted). Appears to be testing the waters with his first issue. Being a bit coy may haps. I don’t quite grasp his take on gamergate (or gamergate itself for that matter) and am not actually seeking clarification.
To tell the truth, he doesn’t say much about gaming at all (apart from his editorial and one review). But he does declare “Fornax” a “Gamergate zine.”
I’d rather it just be a “gamer zine.” I would be far more interested in his personal take on his early gaming experience, what makes an addictive game, descriptions of his favourite games, reviews of the worst games, and so on. Personal insight. Personal experience.
He has, in this issue, already proven he can write well and effectively. I would prefer and hope he manages to avoid the kind of endless circular negative arguments so common on the web and stick to articles detailing the positive and inspiring aspects of gaming as seen through his eyes. But that’s just me.
At any rate, definitely going to check out the next issue.
The Reluctant Famulus (#104) – April/May 2015 – Find it here
Faned: Thomas A. Sadler. American Genzine. Cover by Kurt Erichsen.
Thomas begins with an account of a double murder which took place in his rural neighbourhood when he was a young boy. Unaware of it at the time, he has done considerable research since. This sort of article not uncommon. Many a faned eventually explores the context of their younger years. Nostalgia, or unexpected revelation, brings out the essayist in faneds. It is part of the literary aspect of zinedom, what drives fannish writers to examine moments in time in a thoughtful and insightful manner. One of the more obscure fannish traditions perhaps, but nevertheless a very real phenomenon and here done rather well.
Gene Stewart contributes a column titled “Rat Stew,” in this one reviewing a reality TV series devoted to exploring the mystery of Oak Island, a small Canadian island where someone went to a great deal of trouble to booby-trap a deep pit which may or may not contain treasure. I hate the show myself. Not because of the content, but because of the flash!-flash!-flash! editing technique where images come and go before you can even focus on them. Documentary my eye. More like a Psychedelic light show. I despise much of modern documentary television for this reason. Used to be the camera would linger on what they were showing so that you could actually see the damn thing and take in the details, but now jump cut and staccato editing is used to create “movement” and “excitement” and “life” for today’s twits with 5-second attention spans. I tried to watch the first couple of episodes and then gave up, vowing never to watch another. It was like wandering through a Louvre exhibit lit only by strobe lights. Screw that. Gene says the show is quite interesting. I wouldn’t know. I refuse to watch it.
Adam Medenwald asks the question “Fat, flabby, and pear-shaped. What is fandom doing to itself?”
As someone trending in the same direction, I suspect the fact that—being retired—I spend more time in front of a computer than doing anything else is very much to blame. Were time to roll back but my age remain the same, in the past I would have blamed spending too much time sitting in front of a typewriter. Fans have always been ever image-and-thought oriented rather than the sort who get restless and leap up because they feel the need to DO something. An active fan is not an action fan. Indeed, an active fan in the fannish sense is the exact opposite of an active fan in the mundane sense. We celebrate the virtues of a passive life because we find it so dang exciting and exhilarating. Too bad it isn’t good for our physical health. In short, I’d rather spend two hours writing than two hours tossing a football around. But a life lived almost wholly within the mind and the mind’s eye does have its compensations. This I believe.
Alfred Byrd contributes “Kentuckiana: The Strange Saga of South Union Quaker Village.” This is an example of an essay on an unexpected historical subject not at all out of place in a fanzine for two reasons: first, much SF&F is based on history and historical processes, and second, a good many SF&F fen are intrigued by history because it is often weirder and more alien than even the best genre literature. At its height the South Union colony featured 225 buildings scattered over 6,000 acres, a sort of nunnery/monastery combo inhabited by over 300 Quakers. Their most famous aspect was the religious dancing where they would literally attempt to shake the sins out of their bodies. Possibly the origin of jitter bugging? Or not. Be that as it may, an interesting example of an “ideal” society which gradually faded away. The fate of all “ideal” communities? Something for genre writers to consider. An example of history as food for thought.
Eric Barraclough gives a brief review of the novel “The Wall of Years” by Andrew M. Stephenson. I was particularly struck by the line “Stephenson’s description of Nilssen walking across a lake in this landscape is one of the most evocative ever presented in a time-travel story.” Walking as in walking ON the water (it makes sense in the context of the novel).
And Michael Jordan reviews the novel “The Just City” by Jo Walton. As Michael states “There is no denying that if you hate philosophy you will find this book dull.” Hmm. I probably shouldn’t read it. I don’t hate philosophy, I just don’t have the patience for it. I went through a bout of reading nothing but philosophy when I was young, and finally settled on the stoic philosophy as described (or at least summarized) by Cicero to be what appeals to me most. I also concluded Plato should go jump in the lake. So a book described as a thematic attempt to duplicate Plato’s ideal republic in city-state form appeals to me not at all. For me this review is a “heads-up” on something to avoid. (My prejudices aside, it sounds like a well-written book that should be quite interesting for them as likes such things. It’s just not my cup of tea.)
Gayle Perry provides a fascinating glimpse of recent paleontological discoveries which is perhaps a little too close to the sources. A bit of judicious editing and rewriting with personal observations and conclusions would have made it more accessible to the reader methinks. I guess I’m saying I would have preferred more of an essay approach rather than something resembling a series of newspaper clippings, but perhaps that’s just my natural tendency to warp facts in accordance with my ego speaking. Basically, I would have done it differently (possibly to people’s annoyance.)
The issue finishes up with a strong loc column consisting of multiple letter hacks, many of them well-known fans, including the ubiquitous Lloyd Penney.
The Reluctant Famulus worth reading? – Definitely. A very good example of a genzine with something for everybody, and for generalists like myself, a whole bunch of intriguing stuff. I’ve never known the Relucant Famulus to be anything but a darn good read. Always an excellent mix of articles.
( Multiple issues of The Reluctant Famulus here )
BY THE WAY:
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
(*Despite protestations to the contrary, it is the editorial position of Amazing Stories that “gamergate” is not about so-called “ethics in game journalism”, but is, rather, at least a semi-organized attempt by a faction within the gaming community to de-legitimize women, games by & for women and the expansion of the gaming community towards greater inclusivity. Some have and continue to engage in illegal actions in support of the gamergate position through online and real life harassment and death threats issued primarily against women and their supporters who advocate for greater inclusivity in that community.)