All Our Yesterdays 15
by Harry Warner Jr.
Just before World War Two started, some optimists may have felt that mankind would travel through space to other worlds by the 1950’s. They were partly right, partly wrong. He hasn’t travelled through space to other worlds in 1957. But during the past two decades, his trip through the years has brought him into another world, a world that is radically different from that of the 1930’s. But this world has been explored in such a gradual way that some people don’t realise that it has arrived. Perhaps the story of how I went about publishing a fanzine two decades ago will point out a few typical features of the old world that is irrevocably gone.
It was the middle of 1938 when a correspondent, Jim Avery, suggested to me in a letter: “Let’s put out a fan magazine,” “Sounds great,” I wrote back to him immediately. “I’m all for it. Let’s start as soon as we can. What is a fan magazine, by the way?” Right here, if you are a brilliantly astute reader, you will realise that we are in another world. What pair of young science fiction readers in 1957 would waste time writing “fan magazine” when the term “fanzine” is so much quicker, more sophisticated, and exotic? But fanzine was a word that probably hadn’t been invented, certainly hadn’t been popularised, back in the days when I began publishing Spaceways,
I had been reading science fiction since 1935; my ten year old self had succumbed to a Paul cover on a large-size Wonder Stories in that year, and in 1936 I had written to Astounding Stories, asking for correspondents. Jim Avery, of Skowhegan, Maine, immediately became my favourite correspondent. One thing which has not changed in the past 20 years has been the inordinate enthusiasm with which young fans enter into correspondence. Avery and I wrote to one another letters of astounding length and thoroughness; two dozen typed pages were not uncommon in one envelope, and replies usually went out within three or four days. There is no telling how many millions of words might have exchanged hands between us, if this fan magazine idea hadn’t come up. When he suggested a publication, I knew vaguely that there were amateur magazines which contained articles about science fiction, because I had read about them in the letter sections of professional science fiction magazines. (Not prozines, please; that was another term that lay in the realm of the future.) But 1 hadn’t sent away for any fan magazines. I found it much more entertaining to re-read a dozen times my favourite stories from the professional magazines, and I couldn’t believe that there could be any equivalent pleasure in reading things that mere mortals had written about these tremendous feats of imagination.
There isn’t a great deal of difference between the months that followed in 1938 and the occurrences in 1957 when a young fan decides to put out a fanzine. To go over the story in detail would be boresome; you would recognise all too well the search for enough capital to buy publishing supplies, the soul-searching to decide on the best title, the staggering impossibility of finding enough material to fill a first issue, the swaggering confidence with which we awaited an avalanche of subscriptions as soon as our plans were announced in the fan press. Human nature hasn’t changed either. After two or three months of preparatory work, Avery and I began to realise for the first time that we had different personalities. He was a fellow with quick enthusiasms, ready to leap at any chance to do something new and different, and capable of expending effort on a plane that I couldn’t approach. However, his interests didn’t remain focused on one subject very long; they began to centre on something or other connected with school after a few months. On the other hand, I was a person who didn’t get intrigued by new ideas very readily, rarely proposed them myself, and was slow to pick up enthusiasm; but when the interest did get a firm grip on me, I gripped back with a death-hold and my attention clung tenaciously to the object for years and years. So it went with the fan magazine. I marvelled at Avery’s inspiration in picking a brand new title, Spaceways; at the bold way he went ahead and invested more than our total capital in a hectograph; at the indefatigable way in which he immediately turned out vast quantities of dummied pages and began running them off. And a few months later, he was marvelling at the way I continued to harp on the necessity for putting out a fanzine, now that we had started it, despite his lagging interest,
The world in which we planned to publish a fanzine was purple. Use of a hectograph was virtually automatic for fanzines, useless you happened to be in the miraculous position of possessing access to a printing press. I remember mentioning the word mimeograph to Jim Avery, and he demolished this wild idea immediate1y. Mimographs cost ten times as much as hectographs, he pointed out, as much as thirty dollars for the really de luxe models. And imagine the waste involved in buying a brand new stencil for every page of your magazine. You’ve got to pay six or seven cents for really good stencils. Besides, nobody in fandom uses a mimeograph. Fans would laugh at us.
That fan world of 1938 was also a very cliquish world. Despite the complaints about cliques at the 1956 convention in New York, I don’t believe that anything remotely similar prevails today. Every person entering fandom felt a bit like the babies in the song from “Iolanthe”. He was immediately identified — not as a little libera1 or little conservative, but as an adherent of the Taurasi-Sykora faction, or the Wollheim-Michel faction, or the little body of independents who were gasping out a miserable existence between the pressure of those two mighty masses. Avery and I shocked the fan world by turning down all efforts to enrol Spaceways in one of the “press” groups that existed then. For it was the custom to ask a fan magazine to be a member of the Cosmic Press or the Futurian Press or some other group before it came into existence, using the title as a public declaration of where sympathies lay.
And although fans have never been noted for prosperity, you must remember that 1938 was still depression time. It was quite possible to publish a hundred copies of a good-sized fanzine for five dollars, including all materials and postage. But it was also quite possible to envy the fellow who had a good job paying twenty-five dollars per week, and to hunt for months for a job paying considerably less. Mimeograph paper cost 60 cents per ream for really opaque, luxurious 20-pound stock that didn’t betray a trace of offset or throwthrough. I paid as little as one dollar twenty-five for a quire of stencils on a number of occasions, and standard brands weren’t much more than that. Postage costs were approximately half the present figure. The heavy covers that long distinguished Spaceways were made from construction paper which could be bought in the five and ten for a piddling figure, and cut down to the proper dimensions. So in theory, it didn’t look as if it would cost us anything to issue Spaceways. We counted on taking the fan world by storm and outselling most fan publications, with estimates of paid circulation ranging as high as fifty copies per issue. That, we thought, coupled with a small amount of revenue from advertising, should see us through, at a dime per copy or three for two bits.
As I have already hinted, trouble arose. The original plan had called for hectographing Spaceways. Jim purchased the hecto and offered to do the mechanical work of running off the pages, if I could dredge up enough material to keep the new craft airborne and typed the dummies. When he was half way through the first issue, a fungus went to work on the gelatine, school reopened, and money started to run low, simultaneously, in Skowhegan. I began to grow alarmed at weeks of inaction, and felt small amounts of panic when my prodding failed to cause a reaction for the first time in the course of our correspondence. There was money trickling in from subscriptions, several gods in the form of prozine authors had sent literary contributions, and items about the new magazine were appearing in the fan press. I couldn’t conceive of failing to carry through the half-started project. There is no telling what might have happened, if the First Christian Church of Hagerstown had not decided that its minister deserved the very best. The congregation showed its affection for him by purchasing a brand now mimeograph for the church. The machine which this gift replaced was offered for sale for five dollars. I plunged probably deeper into debt than I’d ever been and bought the thing. It weighs about sixty pounds, it’s so old that the little buttons which hook onto the stencils are spaced differently from all contemporary stencils, the automatic ink feed has never worked, and it throws squirts of ink into the next block if operated at too fast a pace. But it’s been faithful; as the Doubledoubletoilandtrouble Mimeograph, it has seen me through twenty years of publishing without suffering a comp1ete breakdown and without needing any replacement of parts. They built mimeo-graphs like battleships but intended them for lifetime service, back in those days. Some fan historians, including Moskowitz, have declared that Spaceways helped to bring the era of mimeography into fandom. It is interesting to speculate on the course of fandom over the past two decades, if that congregation hadn’t loved its minister.
Jim wasn’t very pleased about my action in purchasing a mimeograph, especially when he discovered that I was already beginning to crank out pages for a new first issue of Spaceways. In a fairly po1ite way, he hinted that I could go ahead and do all of the work, for all he cared. So I did. That ur-Spaceways in hectographed form doesn’t really count as the first issue. It was never completed, and only a few dozen copies exist. Most of its contents were repeated in the mimeographed issue that was officially volume one, number one. I kept Avery’s name on the masthead for Spaceways throughout the four years of the magazine’s life, mainly because I was afraid that he would lay title to the title of the magazine if he weren’t listed as an associate editor. But I’m responsible for everything concerned with the editorial policy of the magazine, starting from the first mimeographed issue. The Skowhegan-Hagerstown correspondence withered on the vine; letters dropped off to two or three pages, and their rate of exchange slackened gradually. So in a sense, fandom did me a service. It gave me more spare time. Without exaggeration, it took less time to publish Spaceways than it did to carry on that correspondence. Fortunately, Jim and I never got around to having a fuss. I finally met him, years later, and found him to be an even nicer fellow in person than in correspondence. He’s now working for a newspaper in Norfolk, and we still exchange Christmas cards.
The most radical thing about Spaceways was the policy that I laid down for its first issue: no controversy. The squawk that this caused among New York’s Futurian population was agonised, loud and prolonged. Cyril Kornbluth wrote a little poem about me that was so diabolically to the point that it still hurts to remember it. Other fans needled me more subtly, until I wasn’t sure whether Speer was serious or jesting when he c1aimed that I’d broken my own rule by publishing a little story with a setting in Spain, a land which had recently been made controversial by the civil war. The odd thing about this policy is that its cause was quite different from that which most persons have assumed. I was praised in some quarter for setting up such a policy, as an injection of much needed fresh air into a fandom that was too concerned with its petty arguments and juvenile efforts to settle the problems of the world. In some degree, this policy did cause other fanzines to ease up on the feuding and political colouring, I believe. But I promulgated that policy with no intention of rescuing fandom from introspection and backbiting. I made that ruling simply because I didn’t feel capable, of handling touchy subjects. I had been acquainted with fandom for only a few months; at the age of 15, I didn’t pay much attention to world affairs; I simply didn’t want to dabble in stuff that I didn’t understand. Fortunately, it was about this time that the professional science fiction field began to grow. With this increase in the number of prozines came many new fans who were just as ignorant of the Moskowitz-Wiggens feud as I was, and who were just as puzzled by the manner in which the Futurians considered the Exclusion Act of the first New York convention to be more important to mankind than the Dreyfuss case. Other fanzines began to appear which aped Space-ways’ policy. Today, if a new fanzine appears with no controversial material, nobody pays attention to that aspect of the new publication. Oddly enough, I gradually eased this policy in Spaceways, as the years passed. I didn’t accept material dealing with international or national affairs, and I refused the vitriolic writings about fandom, but I gave a reasonably free rein to a couple of columnists and occasionally spoke rather firmly in my own editorials, as I grew more confident about my judgement on fannish matters. By the time the magazine ended its career, I don’t believe that any readers remembered that original declaration of neutrality.
One of today’s best-known fans recently got hold of a complete file of Spaceways. He read the magazines for hours, then wrote to me in puzzlement. Why did that magazine take first place in most fan polls for two or three years? he wanted to know. “It’s just like any other fanzine, as far as I can see.” I found it hard to think of a logical explanation. Its pioneering influences didn’t make themselves felt immediately. It wasn’t the biggest fanzine of the time. Compared with the recently defunct Fantasy Magazine, its material was amateurish, its format sloppy, and its policy dishwatery. As far as I can determine at this late date, Spaceways won the polls because it expressed the spirit of the age. And it is interesting to note that Quandry, which won polls more recently as consistently as Spaceways had, is now becoming the subject of one debunking article after another. A person would almost suspect that putting out the top fanzine is a conjuring trick: after the magician and his product have left the stage, the audience turns to one another, rubs their eyes, and wants to know what they could have seen that they liked so much. The spirit of the age is the only logical explanation. A fanzine sums up completely the general frame of mind of its fandom, through some mental quirk of the editor; because fandom finds in it just what fandom happens to be at that moment, it gets voted into first p1ace. When fandom’s atmosphere and thinking and manners change, it seems inconceivable that that particular fanzine could have ever been so popular.
However, there were several contributing factors. Regularity of appearance, for instance. Spaceways came out with the precision of clockwork, every seven weeks or so. I was doing all of the work myself, so I had no need to worry about sickness or gafia on the part of assistants. One of my columnists got lazy on one occasion, and didn’t bring his stuff into being on schedule, so I immediately wrote a column of my own to take the place of the missing one and refused to publish the late arrival. Unexpectedly, he didn’t get angry; this was such an unprecedentedly stern action on the part of a fanzine editor that he was commendably prompt from then on. Real spadework in digging up material may have helped Spaceways, too. By dint of much letter-writing, I built up a pretty good backlog of material. Then stories and articles began to arrive faster than I could use them. So I was probably the first fanzine editor in history to reject material for reasons other than feuds and prejudices. A few fans were grievously insulted, but not many. The quality of the writing in the magazine was aided immensely by the fact that I could be a bit selective.
On the debit side, it is quite annoying to realise the many things that I did wrong. I accepted some material from the prozine writers which I should have sent back by return-mail — rejected stories aimed at prozines, mainly. The pressure to run pictures in Spaceways was so great that I yielded, to my eternal regret. I have no artistic ability of my own, asking the artists to put pictures on stencils involved the danger of missed deadlines, and my efforts to stencil the work of other persons was not happy. I got involved in a deal with a second-rate rocket society which brought in extra revenue as publishing prices began to rise, but had no other advantages and many drawbacks. For use of one page in every other issue, the rocket group bought a really big quantity of copies of Spaceways. But the fact that I had no say over the contents of just one page in every other issue rankled me inordinately. Circulation, even without counting the issues for rocketeers, reached levels which I hadn’t dreamed possible. In its prime, Spaceways actually sold better than a hundred copies per issue, undoubtedly a higher figure than any non-printed fanzine up to that time. But the freeloaders list grew right along with paid circulation as the years passed. I couldn’t sleep nights if I cut off the free list the guys who had been so helpful and generous at the start, but many of them did nothing after that first year, and more generous, helpful persons kept bobbing up. Pretty soon, the task of keeping track of subscriptions, addressing wrappers, and noting address changes was requiring almost as much time as the publication work.
It’s all to the best that I decided to discontinue Spaceways in late 1942, abruptly and cleanly. It would have lasted longer, possibly for several more years, if there hadn’t been sickness in the home that made the noise of the typewriter undesirable, and if my belief that I was about to be drafted hadn’t been so firm. But the old energy and thrill of publishing a fanzine had withered for me, just as it has withered eventually for every person who has ever entered the field. Fandom was changing rapidly, and I would have been forced either to give Spaceways an entirely new personality or to become a quaint old survivor of a day that was already gone. The informality of Le Zombie and the FAPA publications attracted me more than the stiffer formality that prevailed in Spaceways, but I didn’t feel capable of trying to keep up with the times. So, after thirty issues over a four-year period, Spaceways was suddenly no more. Al Ashley agreed to fill out unexpired subscriptions with his fine new fanzine. Unfortunately, that magazine saw only one issue after the end of Spaceways, and quite a few fans as a result are still my creditors. I didn’t have enough money at the time to make it up in cash. So I decided that most of them had received more than their money’s worth in Spaceways over the years; and even now, I say an occasional prayer that I shall not be attacked by qualms of conscience thirty yeas from now which will force me to devote my last days to trying to track down the rightful heirs of the people to whom I owe ten or twenty cents apiece.
Last revised: 1 March, 2006
Return to eFanzines.com home page