Fanzine Reviews - 2001 by Ted White
Fanzines are a basic part of science fiction fandom, having been in existence as long as fandom itself - the past 70 years. Fanzines are a reflection of many fans' interest in the printed word and amateur publishing. The publication you are reading this in is a fanzine, but a specialized one. A variety of other fanzines are also available - many of them by request - and this column will cover some of them each issue.
All fanzines are published as a hobby and lose money. Their editors appreciate money to defray their expenses and sometimes list single-copy or subscription prices, but they appreciate even more your written response - a Letter of Comment, or LoC. Feedback - better known in fandom as "egoboo" - is what fanzine publishing is all about.
Check out the fanzines below and broaden your participation in fandom.
(Dave Langford, 94 London Rd, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 5AU, United
monthly single sheet newsletter; available in the U.S. for a self-addressed,
stamped envelope sent to U.S. agent Janice Murray, Box 75684, Seattle,
Franson, 6543 Babcock Ave., North Hollywood, CA 91606-2308; available
"on request," but a stamped self-addressed envelope wouldn't
(Geri Sullivan, Toad Hall, 3444 Blaisdell Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN
available for Letters of Comment; query about single-copy availability)
(Nicki & Richard Lynch, P.O.Box 3120, Gaithersburg, MD 20885;
e-mail to email@example.com;
website at http://www.jophan.org/mimosa;
available for $4.00 a copy, Letters of Comment, or a fanzine sent
(Janine G. Stinson, P.O.Box 430314, Big Pine Key, FL 33043-0314; e-mail
to firstname.lastname@example.org; published
for The National Fantasy Fan Federation; inquire about availability
outside the N3F)
(Mike Glyer, 705 Valley View Ave., Monrovia CA 91016; e-mail to Myglyer@compuserve.com;
available for news, artwork, arranged trades or subscription -- $8
for 5 issues, $15 for 10 issues, mailed first class in North America)
(Nic Farey, P.O. Box 178, St. Leonard MD 20685; e-mail to email@example.com; available for
contribution, letter of comment, recommendation, editorial whim or
$3.00 a copy)
(Henry L. Welch, 1525 16th Ave., Grafton, WI 53024-2017; e-mail to
firstname.lastname@example.org; available for
trade, contributions, letters of comment of $1.50 a copy)
(Marty Cantor, 11825 Gilmore St., #105, North Hollywood, CA 91606;
e-mail to email@example.com;
available for "the usual" - trades, letters of comment,
contributions - or $5.00 a copy)
Each year fans interested in fanzines hold a convention called Corflu. Corflu 18, held in Boston, is only recently over (next year's Corflu will be in Annapolis, Maryland), and, as usual, I was handed a bunch of fanzines. Here are a couple:
(Ed Meskys at Niekas Publications, RR#2, Box 63, 322 Whittier Hwy.,
Center Harbor NH 03226-9708; e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org;
subscriptions: $19 for four issues, $37 for eight; also available
for trades or contributions)
(Murray Moore, 1065 Henley Rd., Mississauga, ON L4Y 1C8 Canada; e-mail
to email@example.com; available for trade,
contributions, letters of comment and single-issue requests)
THE RELUCTANT FAMULUS (Tom Sadler, 422 W. Maple Ave., Adrian, MI 49221-1627; e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; available for trades, contributions, letters of comment or $3.00 a copy)
This is a fanzine which takes unique advantage of modern technology: it is not only put together with a computer, it's printed out in color. I would have guessed from appearances that each page came slowly out of a color inkjet printer, but editor Sadler mentions in passing that he now has "a brand new and, I hope, reliable copier." This issue - #56 - enjoys another unique quality: it's dated "Winter, 1999/2000/2001," reflecting the gap between beginning and finishing this issue. This allows Sadler to write a closing editorial which brackets the whole "Y2K" hoopla, starting with his engagement in the process of Y2K compliance for the City of Adrian, his employer.
Sadler is editorially more concerned with his family genealogy, and describes his journey of discovery of his family's past history in TRF's opening pages. Robert Sabella devotes his column, "The Caustic Eye," to Greg Benford's non-fiction book, Deep Time. Gene Stewart (who seems to turn up in half the fanzines I review) writes a fairly serious installment of his column, "Brother Butch's Rat Stew," mostly concerning nationalism and its consequences. (We science fiction fans have Broad Mental Horizons, of course, and transcend petty nationalism - don't we?) The late Ken Cheslin contributes "Part One" of his "Memoirs of a BOF," which ends abruptly (mid-sentence), and is followed by four pages of his cartoons, of which it can be charitably stated that Ken was not much of an artist.
Someone who was an artist, and who has also died while this issue was in preparation, is the late Joe Mayhew, whose "My First Nomination (No Previous Confictions)" is a report of his trip to the 1990 Worldcon in Holland. The title refers to the fact that he received his first Fan Artist Hugo nomination at that convention (and eventually won his first Hugo a few years later). Editor Sadler contributes "A Fannish Adventure: The Bookstore," a work of fiction. Sheryl Birkhead is another artist, but her "No Hot or Cold Anything" reads like a letter to her family and friends, detailing problems with her house. Mark Bovard's "A Year Out Here" is subtitled "Life in the Rural Midwest," which sums it up well. The last contribution is Mark Fulmer's review of One For Sorrow, a historical mystery written by the fannish husband and wife team of Mary Reed & Eric Mayer - one of the most appropriate book reviews I've seen in a fanzine in a long time.
Sadler packs a lot into TRF's 40 pages, although this issue lacks a letter column, and he makes the fanzine very much a personal artifact of his own. We can only hope he's back on schedule and #57 won't require as long a wait.
(Arthur D. Hlavaty, 206 Valentine St., Yonkers, NY 10704-1814; e-mail
to email@example.com; available for arranged
trade, letter of comment or $1.00)
WABE (Jae Leslie Adams, 621 Spruce St., Madison WI 53715; Bill Bodden, P.O.Box 762, Madison WI 53701-0762; Tracy Benton, 108 Grand Canyon Drive, Madison WI 53705; available for trades, contributions, letters of comment - "the usual" - or "editorial whim; no price given but you could try a begging letter or an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or Benton@uwalumni.com)
Wabe is a fanzine with three editors (all of whom live in Madison, Wisconsin), and a loose, informal approach reminiscent of the fanzines of several decades ago. But despite the warmth and informality, this is a neatly designed and attractively laid-out fanzine (the work of Jae Leslie Adams, a calligrapher whose work adorns the back cover). Its text is produced on a computer, printed out, and the art is pasted in. Then it's electrostenciled and cleanly mimeographed on white paper.
The third issue, the most recent, is dated March. Its cover, by Stu Shiffman, "Three Faneds in Search of a Focus," renders the three editors in cartoon form with some acuity. The 22-page issue presents three editorials (placed at the front, in the middle and at the end) and six articles - all thematically concerned with travel on one level or another.
There's travel in the mundane world - Pat Hario's "Schooner Women" describes a voyage on a 101-foot sailing ship with a crew composed exclusively of women and tells of how the experience changed her life. And there's travel among fans - Jae Leslie Adams' "A Passion for Travel" details her experiences in Britain last November, centering on her stay with John and Eve Harvey in their village home. Maybe because I too have visited with and enjoyed the Harveys' hospitality, I particularly liked that piece. Jae has the ability to describe things well: "I had only just mastered getting into the left side of a vehicle as a passenger, so now simply getting used to being on what still seemed the wrong side of the road, with the faster passing lanes on the right, and so forth, made it an exciting trip for me, and roundabouts were still nerve-rackingly exotic."
Scattered through the issue are six "The 22 Second Fanzine Review"s - short, solid, one-paragraph reviews of six fanzines by the three editors, which appear boxed as page-enders. A clever idea, nicely done. The issue is finished off with a four-page letter column, the letters divided into topics. The lead topic is the e-zines vs. paper fanzines controversy.
This situation arises from the increasing expense of mailing physical copies of fanzines to a mailing list of 100 to 500 people (the typical fanzine's circulation falls within these numbers). The alternative is to post fanzines by e-mail, or put them up on a website. And there are other choices in format and presentation. Because most of fandom's e-zines are done by fans who like paper fanzines - they like holding them, turning the pages, perhaps check-marking an engaging topic for response - they are being produced in a PDF format which allows the editor to control the appearance and design of the end-product when it is printed out by a recipient (except, of course, for paper color). This situation continues to evolve, but probably points the way toward fanzines' future.
NOVA EXPRESS (Lawrence Person, P.O. Box 27231, Austin, TX 78755-2231, e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; available for $5 a copy or $12 for four issues - $15 after September 15, 2001)
Nova Express is yet another type of fanzine: what is now called the "sercon fanzine." "Sercon" stands for "serious and constructive," and the term was originally coined (in the early '50s) as a sarcastic put-down of overly earnest and humorless efforts, but by the late '80s the term had been co-opted by the publishers of serious, science-fiction-oriented fanzines. This kind of fanzine owes its existence to the Richard Geis fanzines of the '70s, variously titled but best known as The Alien Critic. The typical sercon fanzine runs an article or two on science fiction topics, at least one interview with an author, and many book reviews. Unfortunately, none of the editors of these fanzines has the deft touch of Geis, and consequently none of their fanzines are as lively.
Nonetheless, the 21st issue of Nova Express does have a lively feature interview with Tim Powers which takes up over a third of the (44 page) issue, followed by three reviews of two of Powers' books. Powers talks about his friendship with Phil Dick ("Among other things, he was probably the best-read person I've ever met. And probably the only actual genius I'll ever know well. And also the funniest guy I ever met."), about selling his first two books to the absurd Roger Elwood's Laser Books, and about his dealings with Lester del Rey as an editor ("When he would reject a book, he would send you a four-page, single-spaced rejection letter, and many of the points would be totally correct, so you'd think, 'All right, thanks!'") as well as discussing his own work at length.
There is one article in this issue, "The Falling Rate of Profit, Red Hordes and Green Slime: What the Fall Revolution Books are About" by Ken MacLeod. In it MacLeod responds to an editorial query to write about his four books, "why you wrote these four books, what you meant to say, and how they fit together."
The rest of the issue is largely taken up with two "Featured Reviews" and twenty-five more book reviews - plus less than a page of letters (one of which is mine). The book reviews are generally intelligent and literate and written to what I consider a professional level. Indeed, the entire production is "professional" in appearance, with clean graphic design, boxed "pull quotes" in the interview and article, and a small cover banner that announces "One-Time Hugo Nominee!"
Small touches, however, deliberately belie the professional appearance: A larger cover headline proclaims "Winner of the Invisible City Good Citizenship Award! Really!;" a cover motto, "We go to Eleven;" calling the letters "Viewer Mail;" and crediting right-hand editorial staffer, book reviewer and interviewer Fiona Kelleghan in the extensive masthead as "Sound Engineer." In the letter column editor Person argues with me, as he did an issue earlier with E. B. Frohvet, that Nova Express is a fanzine and not a semi-prozine. And I guess these little touches are part of why he regards it as a fanzine. But he wants to sell it, and makes no mention of giving away issues for trades or letters of comment - two practices typical of most fanzines, so Nova Express lies in a gray area between the two types of publications. For what it is, it is very well-done and I recommend it to those of you looking for literate, intelligent commentary on current science fiction.
TWINK (E. B. Frohvet, 4716 Dorsey Hall Drive, #506, Ellicott City, MD 20142; published quarterly; available for "the usual" - letters of comment, contributions of material, or trades with other fanzines - no price per copy mentioned, so try a begging note).
Twink - a title editor Frohvet is considering changing - is an oddly old-fashioned fanzine, the "main focus" of which "is on science fiction, fantasy and fandom." Originally mimeographed, Twink is now produced by copier but retains its hand-typed look (complete with a broken lower-case 'm' which looks like a skinny 'n'). This anachronistic look makes a good fit with Frohvet's editorial approach and personality.
Frohvet (whose name almost rhymes with "throw back") affects the "editorial we" - derived from the "royal we" - and thus opens the issue (on the inside front cover) with "For the second year in a row we've had to drastically revise a planned editorial ." This is an affectation one rarely sees in prozines these days, and it has been almost unheard of in fanzines for most of their 70-year history. But it's part of Frohvet's idiosyncratic charm - and that of Twink, as well. It's a bit like stepping back fifty years .
Frohvet packs a lot into Twink's 32 pages, although it's all in double-columned (unjustified) typewriter type. The lead article in issue #22 is Steve Sneyd's "Other Christs For Other Skies," a "survey" of the treatment of Christianity in science fiction poetry (most of it in fanzines of the past 25 years). The piece reveals rather exhaustive research on Sneyd's part, but is largely uncritical and draws few conclusions. (It is notable however for two "Editor's notes" - brief interjections - which intrude on the article like editorial comments in a published letter of comment, rather than being footnoted. Another sign of Frohvet's idiosyncratic hand, this is something you can do in a fanzine - but most fanzine editors will avoid it if possible.) There is one other article in the issue, Frohvet's own "Out There & Unconscious" - dealing with the generic ideas which float around "out there" in science fiction and specifically "stun guns."
Additionally there is a "feature," "My Best Moment In Fandom," with contributions by Lloyd Penney, Harry Warner, Jan Stinson and Lisa Major. This is followed by two pages of book reviews, four pages of fanzine reviews (covering 26 different fanzines - a good guide for those seeking to explore more fanzines) and 14 pages of letters. The last page, titled "Miscellany," wraps up the issue with news snippets and other oddments.
Twink reminds me of the fanzines I used to get in my first years in fandom, half a century ago. Maybe it's nostalgia on my part, but I'm glad there's still a fanzine like Twink being produced today.
In my review of Wabe, a couple of months ago, I credited its attractive design and layout to co-editor Jae Leslie Adams. Co-editor Tracy Benton responds to my review: "I fooled you, incidentally! I do all the layout of the fanzine, not Jae. I really enjoy doing it, so I'm pleased you liked the result. (Jae does all the calligraphy, of course.) How nice to be mistaken for a real artist...." I'm happy to admit to my mistake and give credit where it's due.
(Steve Davies, 52 Westbourne Terrace, Reading, Berks RG30 2RP, UK &
Alison Scott, 24 St Mary Road, Walthamstow, London E17 9RG, UK editors
of the paper version; Mike Scott, 9 Jagger House, Rosenau Road, London
SW11 4QY, UK editor of the web version at www.plokta.com;
e-mail: email@example.com; available for letters of
comment, fanzines in trade, contributions, "editorial whim, or
for a baby-proof reset switch for Steve's computer;" no price given).
Plokta is a clever fanzine. It flashes its cleverness at you visually with studio-professional-looking design and layout, taking full advantage of the potentials of DTP. The cover of the latest issue, #24, is a clever mockup of a cereal box - perhaps more recognizable in its parody to British readers, since this is a British fanzine - and chock-full of clever puns and allusions (starting with "Universal Cereal Bus" and the USB symbol and including "With Added Thionite" and "Free! Plokta Action Figure writes! prints! collates! staples! Nine to Collect!"). The two Plokta children, in Teletubby guise, are the central figures under the motto, "Wireless Networking for Kids," with lightning striking their head antennae.
This is carried over into a box on the contents page which tells us that "Serving size" is "16 pages," "Servings per packet: 1," and a list of percentages: "Bollocks - 100%, Babies - 120%, Strontium-90 - 50%, Angst - Trace." Thus are life's domestic joys - babies, children - mixed in with computer-cleverness, a fair indication of what this fanzine is made of.
The actual written material would read well in any fanzine, but seems almost incongruous in this setting. The editorial describes life in a tent at a music festival - complete with photos of the tent being erected. Jaine Weddell describes acquiring a bread machine, likening her cooking to alchemy. Alison Scott writes about the invason of her house by a mouse and pigeons. Sue Mason tells three short anecdotes about long-lost items returning to her via circuitous routes. Steven Cain writes about bicycling. Steve Davies describes getting lost in Hyde Park. And amid these close-focused, personal pieces the issue's centerpiece is Alasdair Mackintosh's "If Life Gives You Citroens, Make Lemonade." This piece reads like it was written for a professional magazine - Time or Newsweek, say - and is an excellent (if brief) story of the invention and history of the Citroen DS, a revolutionary car of the mid-'50s which is now obsolete but still fascinatingly unique. I have no idea what this piece is doing in Plokta, or indeed in any fanzine, but I was glad for the opportunity to read it.
There are in addition clever little bits scattered through the issue under the title of "Bollocks," three and a half pages of letters (in four narrow columns of type per page), and the bacover presents captioned photos from the wedding of Jo Walton and Emmet O'Brien in Hay on Wye.
In past issues Plokta's cleverness has included CD-ROMs and its website has always been an active adjunct to the paper fanzine. For what it is, Plokta is probably the most accomplished fanzine I've yet reviewed in this column.
(Steven H Silver, 707 Sapling Lane, Deerfield, IL 60015-3969; e-mail
to firstname.lastname@example.org; available for $3.00
or "the usual" - letters of comment, contributions of material
or fanzines sent in trade)
Steven H (no period) Silver is a young up-and-comer who has, he tells us, a three-book contract (for anthologies of authors' first stories) with DAW Books, and who has campaigned vigorously for a Fan Writer Hugo for a couple of years now. He started planning Argentus #1 more than a year ago, originally hoping to publish it in 2000 and then scheduling it for May, 2001. It finally appeared in late September.
"Initially, I had viewed Argentus as having a specific theme: 'Origins, Beginnings and Geneses,' as it was my first issue," Silver tells us in his editorial, "The Mine." "This theme quickly fell by the wayside as I decided to get articles which were interesting in and of themselves, rather than because they fit a specific theme. The only article which survives from that period is Pat Sayre McCoy's memoir of her first professional sale ["'Winter Roses' Bloom"] The only theme remaining in this issue is the final, mock section, which is made up of several reviews of science fiction films. I commissioned film reviewers to select a science fiction novel or story which they would like to see made into a movie. They could cast and staff the film however they chose, giving it the type of budget they wanted and then write a review of the final product. None of these films has been made, nor are plans in the works to make these specific films. I hope you enjoy their efforts."
What Silver has produced for Argentus' maiden voyage is a rather earnest attempt at the sort of "sercon" fanzine better exemplified by Nova Express. The lead article is David Truesdale's "Thoughts on the State of Short Science Fiction," which turns out to be only part one of an extended series and deals, somewhat unsatisfactorily, with the present state of the surviving prozines. Pat McCoy's piece describes, a bit breathlessly, how she came up with and sold her first story. Rich Horton describes what it was like to be a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Michael A. Andaluz's "Dumpster Diving and Conspiracy Theory" is a tease: he thinks up a scheme which strikes him as clever and tells us he intends to execute it "next week." Silver offers a last-minute page of thoughts on September 11th. Tom Whitmore, the chair of the forthcoming Worldcon, ConJose, gives us a dense four paragraphs entitled "Do We Know the Way to ConJose?" without telling us any facts about the convention (date, location, address to join) at all. Erik V. Olson's "The Five Throated Voice of Ghu" is a heavily footnoted piece about a trip to Kennedy Space Center. Silver plugs Midwest Construction, a con-runner's con for the Wimpy Zone. Mike Resnick has produced an annotated list of "The Best African Movies" which is both more comprehensive and better thought-out than one might expect. The issue concludes with six "mock" reviews of never-made SF movies, followed by a two-page rundown of the issue's contributors. That's a lot of wordage, some of it serious in tone and some of it lighter. Not all of the pieces are successful, but none is a complete waste of space.
Physically, Argentus' 40 pages are photo-copied (and occasionally creased by the copier) from double-columned computer-set type. The layouts are dull and unimaginative and every page without exception has an obtrusive running head of swords and the Argentus logo which Silver has promised to banish from #2. In sum, like many first issues, this one has flaws of both conception and execution, but holds promise for future improvement.
OF THINGS PAST
#4 (Dick Smith & Leah Zeldes Smith, 410 W. Willow Rd., Prospect
Heights, IL 60070-1250; e-mail to either Dick at email@example.com or to Leah at firstname.lastname@example.org; published for members
of Ditto 14 combined with FanHistoriCon 11, October 2001; copies are
available for $10, postage included, the proceeds to benefit Ditto,
FanHistoriCon and DUFF)
Up to this point I've reviewed the regular issues of various fanzines here. This time is different: Contact! is an extraordinary (final) issue of an unusual fanzine. The first three issues of Spirits Of Things Past were essentially elaborate progress reports for the then-upcoming convention that combined Ditto and FanHistoriCon. Because Ditto (named after the once-popular method of spirit-duplicating fanzines) is a "fanzine-oriented" convention, this approach - turning progress reports into full-fledged issues of a fanzine, complete with letter columns - made good sense. And the Smiths, editors of the well-established genzine, Stet, were ideal for the task.
For the convention itself they produced Contact! which although billed as the 4th issue of Spirits Of Things Past, is in fact a stand-alone volume, a "fanthology" of material by 72 fans oriented around a common theme: how they first encountered fandom. Some of these contributions are only a paragraph or two long, occupying perhaps a quarter or a third of a page. Others are full articles or essays, some of which run for several pages.
The volume opens - once past a glittery cover - with a prefatory page which quotes a passage from The Enchanted Duplicator (Walt Willis & Bob Shaw's timeless allegory of fandom), in which Jophan is touched by the Spirit of Fandom's "Wand of Contact." This perfect introduction is followed by Leah Zeldes Smith's "Our Fandom and Welcome to It," in which she explains the nature and genesis of the volume and draws some comparisons between it and the 1961 Earl Kemp publication, Why Is A Fan? In this piece Leah observes the changes which have occurred in fandom over the last half-century, and wonders if the parts of fandom which she most values (as do I) are still attractive to the latest generation of incipient fans.
Then come 85 pages of reminiscences by 72 fans, arranged chronologically and beginning with Forry Ackerman's 1929 entrance into fandom as it was beginning to form ("I guess I didn't discover fandom, it just kind of grew up around me.") and ending with Lisa C. Freitag's first encounter with fandom in 1984. This is followed by a five-page index and a back cover quote from the conclusion of The Enchanted Duplicator.
Most of the contributors to this volume will not be known to anyone not already involved actively in fandom (the real exception is Mike Resnick - whose piece runs more than five pages), and many of their stories will be most meaningful for those who already know them best. But for anyone curious about fandom, this volume of initial experiences may open a few doors and reveal a commonality shared by all of us who have become active fans.
All fanzine reviews on this website are copyright © 2001 Ted White
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