Fanorama by Walt Willis

WALTER A. WILLIS

Looks at British fandom

Sometimes I ask myself what I am writing this column for. I don't mean that the money I get—for it is too much to be counted—actually it's hardly enough to keep me in yachts and dancing girls—but what is the Purpose Of It All ? I suppose part of it is to interest you in the field of literate self-expression known as science fiction fandom, which is why I've mostly been reviewing fanmags so far. But looking at the four I might review this time I begin to have doubts. One of them, I hear indirectly from rival fan editors—what you might call the sour grape vine—is about to cease publication. I wouldn't like to recommend you to subscribe and give the editor the job of sending back hundreds of pounds from the thousands of people who hang on my every word. Another is a new magazine, which so far is frankly not worth your money. I could probably write a review tearing it to pieces which everybody but the editor would enjoy—as La Rochefoucauld said, there is always something not altogether displeasing about the misfortunes of even our best friends—but there's not much point in my persuading you not to subscribe to a magazine you might otherwise never have heard of. That leaves two which I personallyenjoyed but which I hesitate to recommend to anyone who hasn't seen a fan magazine before. Rog Phillips, who used to do a column like this in AMAZING, once offered to make refunds out of his own pocket to any reader who'd bought a fanmag on his recommendation and wasn't satisfied with it, but then AMAZING didn't circulate widely in Scotland.

But when you come to think of it, it's often difficult to recommend any fanmag without reservations. The serious ones dealing wholly with s-f are often so poorly written as to annoy the sort of non-fans who might otherwise be interested in literary criticism . . . it annoys some people to see writers unable to distinguish between "its" and "it's" or separating sentences by commas . . . and the better written ones are sometimes incomprehensible to the novice. Sometimes I wonder how anybody ever finds their way into fandom at all. As Robert Bloch said recently in the U.S. fanmag "Psychotic," "fandom's publications offer the widest possible cross-section of contemporary expression: ranging from the childishly puerile to the most erudite and polished work." The trouble is that often it's only the inferior fanmags who go hunting for new subscribers, and accordingly it's those which the newcomer tends to see first.

However, there can be exceptions. For what this is worth, I personally liked the first issue of a new fanmag called BEM, edited by Tom White and Mal Ashworth. 1/6 for two issues from 3 Vine St., Cutler Heights, Bradford, 4, Yorks. This is no ordinary first issue; but one published by fans who are already familiar with the field. Even so, I think the newcomer might enjoy it. Partly for the brightly written editorial matter, and partly for the first of a series of articles by Vince Clarke about the flat where he and Ken Bulmer used to live, known in fandom as The Epicentre. I enjoyed Vince's reminiscences of this fabulous place, a fascinating conglomeration of thousands of promags, countless fanmags, undetermined numbers of typewriters, duplicators and two wayward geniuses—all, especially the last two, in a state of perpetual and happy confusion.

I remember saying once that when good fans died they went to The Epicentre, and that two of them were already there. That last remark was an unkind allusion to the delay in publication of Clarke and Bulmer's S.F. NEWS, and I was reminded of that famous fanmag by an article I saw in a new one the other day. The author, G.E. Mason, makes a clarion call for British fandom to unite in one representative organisation and publish a representative fanmag designed to attract newcomers into the field. I admire Mr. Mason's good intentions, but I can't help feeling this is where I came in. Many years ago British fandom was very keen on organisation. The British Science Fiction Association of pre-war days was at one time so strong that American fans were considering abandoning their own organisations and joining the British one. But of course the war broke up the S.F.A., and afterwards British fans never seemed so keen on being organised. Personally I think they grew out of it. There was a gallant attempt a few years after the war by that organising genius Captain Ken Slater to form a new organisation, and he did actually set up an elaborate structure with regional commissars and everything, but when he was posted to Germany the whole thing just fell to pieces. The trouble was, as usual, with the official organ, in this case the S.F. NEWS. An organisation can't exist without an official organ, but either it is a dull affair in which the editor can't take any personal interest, or sooner or later there is a row between the editor and the club. S.F. NEWS kept falling between these stools for years, and gradually disappeared altogether. The result is that nowadays there is no representative British fan organisation, but I don't think it's anything to worry about. Everything worth while in fandom, even big projects like the Fancyclopoedia, The Immortal Storm, the Fantasy Annual, The Enchanted Duplicator, the Checklist, Operation Fantast, The Transatlantic Fan Funds and so on, have all been accomplished by individuals or ad hoc associations of them. It seems that the true s-f fan is essentially individualistic.

from Nebula No. 9, August 1954

Last revised: 1 October, 2006

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