Fanzines reviewed: À BAS (#0, & #9).
Dean A. Grennell wrote in GRUE #29 (reviewed last week) that: “À BAS…is an infrequently-appearing publication rich in a magnificent, cracklingly crepitant, rip-slashing humor and it is worth waiting years for a copy… The terror of fuggheads, the delight of the cognoscenti, this will grab your risibilities…A fanzine to be read in private, preferably in a sound-proof room, lest your helpless howls of hilarity lead your friends and family to have you committed…”
Started from small beginnings as a kind of lark.
À Bas (#0) – January 1954
Faned: Boyd Raeburn. Canadian Genzine.
Put together in one evening (Saturday, Jan 23rd, 1954) starting at 3:00 pm & ending 5:00 am Sunday by Boyd Raeburn with help from Albert Lastovica, Howard Lyons, Ron Kidder, Gerald Steward & Kenneth G. Hall.
“The Toronto SF Society presents A BAS, a Derelict Publication… The fact that we are finding it a lot of fun to compose and produce a zine all in one evening is the sole justification for its existence…The reason we are holding a one-shot meeting is because we don’t want to attend the club meeting held at the home of an undesirable member… So we have collected in Ken Hall’s den of iniquity slopping up beer and hacking out crud material…”
“…a large part of the activities of a lot of fans are devoted to very little directly connected with SF. They are so busy reading fanzines, producing fanzines, writing to each other, and carrying on the odd feud, that they have no time to READ science fiction. What is the use of being able to relate the latest doings of authors and self-styled BNFs, only to look blank when science fiction stories are discussed? The first fanactivity of the true fan should be to READ science fiction.”
Hmm, this observation is still relevant today, and still pointless. Some traditional fen are prone to make it a point of pride that they never read or write about SF. Interesting this was already considered a problem several generations ago.
The article titled “A Column (Sic) of Disjointed Thoughts” includes a negative review of the movie SPACEWAYS starring Howard Duff: “I was nauseated by the use of a bookkeeping machine in the guise of a super-duper calculator”, and an interesting series of quotes from Eastern Airlines President (& WWI ace) Eddie Rickenbacker: “Shortly we will have supersonic planes averaging 25,000 miles per hour, atomic powered… and interplanetary spaceships within the next decade or so…”
I met Rickenbacker once when he visited Toronto circa 1967. Feisty guy, to put it mildly. This has been a pointless aside.
Amusingly, the pages of #0 are numbered1,2,4,8,16,32,64, etc. A few cartoons by ‘Samuel’ and a poem by Ron Kidder round out the issue.
No doubt you are wondering what “À Bas” means? According to my faint memories of high school French, it means something like “at bottom.” If it read “À le bas” it would translate as “to the bottom.” At any rate, sort of equivalent to the modern term “race to the bottom” in general meaning. Prescient. Who knew in the 1950s it would become the motto of the twenty-first century?
À Bas (#9) – November 1956
Faned: Boyd Raeburn. Canadian Genzine.
Cover by Pat Patterson, a well-known Canadian fan artist of the period.
Because of Grennell’s description I had always thought of A Bas as a perzine, the product of Raeburn’s sharp and witty intellect. Now that, thanks to the Metzger donation, I have the last three issues, I realize that À Bas owed its reputation to, yes, Raeburn, but also to the stellar cast of BNFs (Big Name Fans) contributing wonderful articles. In its day À Bas was undoubtedly a “must read” fanzine.
In his editorial Raeburn writes “The Progress Reports of the New York Con [1956 Worldcon] were full of happy gurgles over the amount of publicity the convention was going to get… Big deal. Why?… Why do convention organizers seek publicity so avidly?… Are they trying to make science fiction respectable? I can just see the masses… rushing out to storm the newsstands for copies of “Other Worlds” as a result of getting a glimpse of the masquerade ball on television… And just dig that Miss science fiction gimmick. Boy, I bet it’s caused SF sales to really climb.”
He gets to his point. “Most certainly it is not axiomatic that the bigger the attendance the better the convention, and there have been enough conventions held by now for convention promoters to have learned some sense.”
In my experience ConComs are concerned about the bottom line, hoping to get enough attendees that the con will at least break even. However some cons have notoriously crashed and burned due to unrealistic expectations. It pays to be cautious.
His own secret for a successful con experience? “I spent much time with many old friends, some new ones, and had a ball.”
Not so a Mr. Wm. Deeck writing about the Worldcon in “Outre” #3. Raeburn quotes him extensively: “Cliquish is an understatement… I, with the ever-discerning eye, noticed many who were estranged by that puerile manifestation of esoterica… The fans want their cherished traditions… to remain unchanged and unquestioned.”
Raeburn comments “There seems to be a belief held by some people that the mere fact of their attendance at a convention automatically entitles them to go to any party, to crash any group, no matter how private the gathering may be; and on being denied admission to a private circle are hurt and bitter… The fact that you are at a convention and I am there also gives no reason to assume that we shall delight in each other’s company. It is often claimed that fans are friendly. Even if so, there is no basis for considering that this friendliness should be indiscriminate and all-embracing.”
I am of two minds about this. I agree with what Raeburn says, yet I cringe whenever a “mundane fan” or “non-trufan” says “I avoid traditional fandom like the plague. Arrogant bastards.” Difficult to recruit fen who have that preconception. Still, I do believe traditional fen should reach out more, at least at conventions, but not through panels or displays. Those are ill-attended. Best to recruit through personal contact be my theory. Hasn’t worked yet, but I’m ever hopeful.
Interesting to note that convention publicity requirements and fannish “exclusiveness” have been a topic of heated debate for more than half a century. Is it this which keeps fandom alive? That which cannot define itself shall immortal lie? Hmm. Positively Lovecraftian.
Because of Raeburn’s wide circle of contacts there are some delightful interlineations scattered about, such as:
“They’re not particularly drunken parties, but they are sickening enough.” – Andy Young.
“Fuggheadism: The hallmark of stupidity that clod’s men’s minds.” – Geis.
“He’s so twisted that on the surface he appears normal.” – Ted White.
“After dinner I took the book into the family sitting-room, and resumed it while my father searched the evening newspaper hopefully for reports of the arrest, clubbing and hanging of labor leaders.” – H.L. Mencken.
Raeburn frequently quotes Mencken who was one of the driest-witted satirists of the twentieth century, and in the minds of some, the best. It speaks well of Raeburn that he is fond of Mencken (now largely forgotten, alas).
[The above is a photo of Boyd L. Raeburn taken by P. Howard Lyons and printed on the cover of the August 1956 issue (#7) of Clifford I. Gould’s “Oblique.”]
Also present is the seventh “Derelicti Derogation.” (À Bas technically the clubzine of the Toronto Derelicts, a subset of the Toronto SF Society.) In this ongoing series of “recorded” conversations Raeburn takes isolated quotes from fen he’s heard or read and weaves them into a seamless and amusing whole as per the following:
Raeburn: “True. True. Can’t have any of that crude sex stuff in this zine.”
Lyons: “Exactly. You’ve been a bit careless in that respect in the past. You should spend a little time determining the sort of words you can’t use in the zine.”
Kirs: “What you might call Learning the Blues.”
Raeburn: “You mean the zine should be all moral and full of uplift?”
Lyons: “There you go again. Don’t talk about uplift.”
Steward: “You should try to make À Bas stand out as an island of decency in a sea of desire.”
Raeburn: “I don’t know about a sea, but you’re all rather a shower.”
Kidder: “Haw, Grennell will get that one, even if nobody else does.”
Gould: “Say, what’s Grennell up to these days?”
Raeburn: “He’s keeping pretty busy, building some sort of rude shelter.”
Kirs: “Yes, his wife builds the walls, and he writes on them.”
And so on. The Derelicti derogations were quite popular, being quite innovative and all. People competed to be quoted, sending all manner of witty comments to Raeburn, and were a trifle miffed if he left out their proffered gems. As a long-time faned I can truthfully say no-body ever “competed” to be published in my zines. Sigh. Must be nice.
I mean, just look at the following contributors!
Bob Tucker (famous, legendary, etc. etc.) has an article titled “Faaaaaaan Mail” as in mail from idiots. “He writes: In my long and honorable (hah) career I’ve produced (hacked out) fifteen epic novels (thrillers, penny dreadfuls); three of them have been rejected… met with varying success… my true favorite never got off the ground; the one that was knocked out to meet a contract deadline is selling like inflated real estate. I’m told it always happens this way.”
He points out that in his limited fan mail he never received any criticism, not even for things like “I misplaced the Illinois River,” or “I inadvertently left an unidentified and unexplained corpse at the bottom of a well.” But when his ESP-empowered hero novel “Wild Talent” – title changed to “The Man From Tomorrow” by the publisher – hit the bookstores, he was inundated with mail. In his words “That’s when the lunatic fringe discovered me.”
“An outraged fellow took me to task because the hero killed the villain to save himself. In unmistakable terms he informed me that telepathic people did not kill; they were a race apart and above us crawling humans…”
“A young fellow in Michigan gave me the works… Didn’t I believe in the future of America? Was I hoping to drive the hidden people further underground, and thus postpone their emergence?… I was signing my own death warrant…”
“Many readers, perhaps as many as a dozen, wrote encouraging letters. They realized I was trapped among sodden humanity, that I could not reveal myself for fear of death…”
The name of the novel’s protagonist was Paul Breen.
“And finally, my favorite… It was a mysterious thing which arrived via airmail from some foreign country; I don’t know which country because there was no return address, and the postage was missing… the postmark was unreadable… It contained a very brief letter from ‘Paul Breen.’ He taunted me in one or two lines, and signed his name. That was all. It was enough.”
“I later discovered the practical joker who perpetrated that gag, and my admiration of him has grown by leaps and et cetera. But I fail to understand how fate so perfectly played into his hand. How did he arrange for the postmark to be unreadable, and the stamp to be missing?”
“But as for the other mail, the real letters… hell, I’ll take tru-fandom any day. Tru-fandom hasn’t done me any dirt…”
Bob Shaw (famous, legendary, etc. etc.) contributes “The Top of the Turnip.”
“An English fan named Peter Ridley… once wrote a fannish column on how difficult it is to think of what to write in a fannish column. At the time this greatly impressed me… I was still under the impression that a column in a fanzine should be full of stuff about different magazines, latest films on SF, fannish esoterica… Then I too got tired…”
“I had noticed that a number of daring writers were turning out articles which never even mentioned science fiction. I decided to become the first columnist who never even mentioned fandom…”
“Then I ran up against the next snag, which was that people had begun to expect a certain type of nonfandom nonsense from me. I began to get lots of ideas for sercon articles and fact articles but I couldn’t use them because (with the help of people like Willis, Clarke and Berry) the BoSh character had been created. He was running amok in fandom; larger than life, perpetually hungry, industrious in his efforts to avoid work, preoccupied with the trivia of existence that other people didn’t even notice… I am not saying that this character is completely the Jekyll to my Hyde or that I dislike him, but he imposes limitations on me.”
BoSh then goes on to explain he can write a dead serious article, and offers an extremely hilarious review of the various methods of lighting a coal fire to prove his point. Wonderful!
And Robert Bloch (famous, legendary, etc. etc.) has this to say about fannish tradition: “Despite the tendency of splinter-groups, such as the alleged “Seventh Fandom,” to go whoring after new gods, there is a continuity and growing tradition in our little field… Neos tend to shy away from “that old stuff” – defensively, I believe, because they prefer to spend all their time augmenting their own status and thus emphasise only the present. Anything prior to 1953 is ancient history in their book. But their book, or books, usually don’t hold interest because of a preoccupation with sheer topicality. Boggs and Warner and the rest of the Old Guard maintain a position largely because they have a long-range perspective and a firm grounding and orientation in the field as a whole…. One of the signs of maturity is the ability to cope with the past as well as the present. End of sermon.”
I bet many a modern neo would be gobsmacked at the idea that anything after 1953 could ever have been considered topical. I mean, I heard one modern fan dismiss the bulk of SF fanac and SF literature as “twentieth century junk.” Topicality is a kind of mental disorder I think.
Point is it is astonishing to read how fresh and current many fannish debates of today were fifty/sixty years ago. Perpetual topicality you might say. Another secret of fandom’s immortality?
But most fantastic of all in this issue was an absolutely riveting essay by Harry Warner Jr. who wrote… Son of a Ghu. I’ve run out of room. I’ll save it for next week’s column.
I’ll close with one last fascinating interlineation.
“When Bennett discovered that Aleister Crowley was not only shooting game but later going back to admire the rotting carcasses and writing odes to the maggots, Bennett refused to have anything more to do with him.” – D.P. Mannix “The Great Beast.”
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
And check out my brand new website devoted to my OBIR Magazine, which is entirely devoted to reviews of Canadian Speculative Fiction. Found at OBIR Magazine