Fanzine Reviews - 2003 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.
WASSAMATTA U. (Randy Byers, editor & author, 1013 North 36th, Seattle WA 98103; e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; available to promote Byers' TAFF candidacy - but send at least a dollar to cover the postage)
One of fandom's unique traditions (starting in 1953) is the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund which exists "for the purpose of providing funds to bring well-known and popular fans familiar to those on both sides of the ocean across the Atlantic" to a major convention - the Worldcon, if possible. The TAFF alternates, bringing overseas fans to the U.S. and then sending U.S. fans abroad - usually to the U.K. The fan who is thus funded is one who has won an election and after he or she wins and takes the trip, the winner takes over the administration of the fund from the previous winner on the same side of the Atlantic. There is also the tradition (unfortunately honored as often as not in its breach) of writing and publishing a trip report. These are known as "TAFF Reports."
Fans become well-known and popular and familiar to those on both sides of the ocean largely via written communications - fanzines and the Internet newsgroups and e-lists which have grown up over the past decade.
This year the candidates for the trip to the U.K. are three Americans and one Canadian, all of whom are known and liked and capable. They are Randy Byers, Colin Hinz, Mike Lowrey and Curt Phillips. I will be happy with whomever wins. But Full Disclosure requires me to admit that I am one of Randy Byers' nominators.
And Randy has done something I'd like to see all TAFF candidates do: He has published a collection of his own fanwriting, covering a full decade of work. Wassamatta U. is a 36-page fanzine, very simply but attractively designed by carl juarez (who is one of those guys who doesn't want his name capitalized), containing 13 of Byers' pieces, plus an introductory "editorial."
"In the short term - such as it is - this collection is a promotional tool for my 2003 TAFF campaign," Byers states in that editorial. "I thought that voters might be interested in a sampling of my writing to help them make up their minds one way or another. There are a couple of con-reports here that should give you an idea of what my TAFF trip report would be like. I think you'll find my writing full of fantasy, good humor, and near-hallucinatory levels of bewilderment, but grounded in a terse, sweaty fear of love and death. Just the qualities one looks for (and finds) in a TAFF candidate, I'm sure you'll agree."
There's a lot of excellent writing in Wassamatta U. Byers tells strange tales of encounters with fans and ruminates on what "fannish" really means. He reviews a book (Gwyneth Jones' North Wind) and considers a proximate death. He wends words in personal but meaningful ways. This is what fanwriting is all about. If TAFF didn't exist this would still be one of the top fan publications of the year.
HEAD! #5 (Doug Bell & Christina Lake, co-editors, 12 Hatherley Road, Bishopston, Bristol BS7 8QA, U.K.; e-mail to email@example.com; available "on whim, or for letters of comment, artwork, contributions, other fanzines and, of course, alcoholic beverages for llamas." Some money to cover postage would no doubt also be appreciated)
Head! has within five reasonably frequent issues become one of the better fanzines around. It has accomplished this without pyrotechnics or even glitz, but the accomplishment has been noted by a Nova Award (voted on and handed out at the UK's Novacon, held every November).
The fanzine has two things going for it: its editors. Christina Lake has been an active fan for two decades, is a past TAFF winner, and a celebrated fanwriter whose own fanzines are always guaranteed good reads. Doug Bell is a relatively new fan, who brings with him the enthusiasm and energy which powers Head! - and is no slouch as a fanwriter himself. Between them they set standards to which the fanzine's other contributors live up.
Head! is an attractively produced (computer typeset, as are almost all fanzines now, in a double-columned format using a readable san-serif typeface) 26-page fanzine. Beyond Brad Foster's cover there isn't a lot of interior art, although there a number of photographs relevant to the text they accompany.
But a sense of Art pervades the fanzine. It crops up most overtly in the first article, Gary Wilkinson's "Medicine Men," which is all about the art of the last and current century, and has "Art" as its running head. But it crops up again in Doug's "Pil Pil, I Love You Still," about his travels in Basque Spain and France, although now the running head is "Travel." Doug spends several pages on the Guggenheim art museum in Bilbao.
This sets the tone for the rest of the issue. Christina opens the issue with a one-page editorial, writes about fracturing her arm in the course of a long bicycle ride (running head: "Health") in "It's Not Quite Straight, Is It?" and offers some insightful musings into fandom in "Where the Neo-Fans Graze" (running head: "Fandom"). Nick Walters, a Dr. Who novelist, gets to meet his favorite Dr. Who actor at a poetry reading in "McGann," (running head: "Media") and is as thrilled about it as any fanboy while managing not to sound like one. Five pages of letters (running head: "Letters") round out the issue.
Head! is solid without being pretentious. Like most well-written fanzines, it addresses a small and intimate audience with informality and humor while occasionally dealing with important and serious topics. And, like most of the better fanzines, it evokes a sense of the fannish community from which it springs and to whom it speaks - most explicitly in Christina's "Where the Neo-Fans Graze." This is by no means a closed or snobbish community and Head! is a good way to gain access to it.
UNCLE SMILEY'S BOOKCASE v.2 n.1, 01/20/2003 (Ray Nelson, 333 Ramona Avenue, El Cerrito, CA 94530; e-mail to RayFaradayNelson@AOL.com; available "in exchange for 'the usual,' in other words for letters of comment, articles, poems or artwork, or in exchange for other fanzines." No money will be accepted.)
Ray Nelson has become a legend in fandom. He has been a fan for more than half a century, and, as a cartoonist, it was he (circa 1949) who created the self-mocking image of fans wearing propeller beanies. A dedicated bohemian for most of his life, Ray moved to Paris in the '50s, where he met his wife, Kirsten and their son Walter was born. At the end of that decade Ray (and family) returned to the United States and he's been at the same address in El Cerrito ever since.
In the 1960s Ray began writing and selling science fiction professionally (his "Turn Off The Sky" in F&SF was bumped from the 1964 Hugo ballot by unfortunate politics) and in the '70s he was publishing SF novels. Over the years Ray has pursued many interests - and in the new millennium he has returned to doing fanzines.
Uncle Smiley's Bookcase is an 8-page fanzine which is mailed out in a letter-sized envelope for one-ounce first-class postage. It's moderately frequent and basically unpretentious, informal and newsletter-like - but that doesn't mean Ray doesn't use it as a vehicle for some serious thinking.
Six pages of the current issue (all but the front and back covers) are devoted to Ray's "Being God in Your Own Little Universe," in which he takes us through a relatively brief sketch of his evolving life as an existentialist. This "sketch" is "illustrated" with a series of poems, many of them quite short, which were written in the course of his philosophical travels. They tend to be paradoxically simple, but usually express complex emotions and insights.
The rest of the issue? In an opening-page "Editorial," Ray tells us that "the beanie has ventured forth into new realms, most notably the 'geek culture.' I have totally lost control of it & can no longer use it as a signature. With a sigh I release it to the universe." His replacement is the beret.
As usual, the issue closes with a brief, one-page letter column. The contributors to this one are Robert Lichtman (editor/publisher of Trap Door), Trina Robbins (long-time fan, well-known feminist and underground/overground cartoonist and artist) and Harry Warner, Jr. (fan historian and author of All Our Yesterdays and A Wealth of Fable) - which tells you something about Ray's current mailing list.
Write Ray and ask for a copy. This kind of personalized communication is what fanzines are all about.
BURSTZINE #2, April 2003 (Michael A. Burstein & Nomi S. Burstein, P.O.Box 1713, Brookline, MA 02446; e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; PDF files of this fanzine are available from its website at www.burstzine.net; printed copies available "for either a printed fanzine in trade, a letter of comment, or via surface mail for US$3.00 (and please add US$3.00 for non-North American addresses).")
Burstzine is a modest genzine with a twist. Simply but well produced, it occupies 24 pages (including covers), 21 of which are double-columned in an easily readable computer-set type. Burstzine is printed on folded sheets twice letter-size and saddle-stapled to the conventional letter-sized fanzine. Michael's editorial opens the issue and is followed by four articles. Nomi's editorial (in smaller print so it all fits on the inside back cover) closes the issue. There are no letters, but these are promised for #4, the projected "all-LoC issue."
All but one piece in this issue is oriented to a common theme, "fans and our parents," and Michael says he received so many contributions that the theme will be extended "into issue #3." #5, he tells us will launch a new theme.
To a large extent articles about fans and their parents are articles about How I Discovered Fandom (with or without parental help). These have a limited appeal when read en masse (see my December, 2001 review of Contact!/Spirits Of Things Past by Dick Smith & Leah Zeldes Smith), but the three here do offer some variety of experience, opinion and approach. The best is David B. Williams' "Napoleon, Tucker, and Me," which links a number of disparate facts to reach an amusing punch line. Janna Silverstein's "My Parents and Fandom: A Personal Alternate History" is more conventional (pun intended) and Steven H. Silver's "Xenogenesis" is littered with footnotes (46!) - even the title is footnoted.
The longest piece (at 9 pages) in the issue is the only one not directly connected with this theme, but a parent remains its dominant topic. This is "...And In This Corner, The Florida Health Care System!' An Ongoing Battle," by Mike Resnick. After a brief introduction it consists of copies of Mike's correspondence with various people involved with the care of his dying father in Florida. Most of the correspondence concerns late-tendered bills and questionable billing practices by various health concerns. This is real correspondence (I assume), so it is not presented for humorous effect - which is fortunate, since it's not only not funny, the endless re-recitations of previously stated facts and complaints (we see only Resnick's side, no letters from those to whom he is responding) gets fairly tedious halfway through. His father's death would seem to moot most of these issues, but the last letters are to an oblivious Social Security Administration.
Michael's editorial deals with a perennial issue for fanzine editors and their editorials: schedules and Why This Issue Is Later Than I Said It Would Be. Burstzine #2 comes about 6 months after #1, but the Bursteins hope to get out "one issue per season." I hope so too. Four issues is a long time to wait to see one's letter of comment in print.
EASTER WINE - A Fanthology for Seacon 03 (Claire Brialey & Mark Plummer, editors; published by Seacon '03, 8 The Orchard, Tonwell, Hertfordshire SG12 0HR, United Kingdom; no price, but I suggest at least a couple of dollars to cover mailing costs)
I'm only recently returned from Corflu, the fanzine convention, held this year in late April, in Madison, Wisconsin. As usual, I had a great time, and also as usual I returned with a big batch of fanzines I'd been given there.
One of the most impressive is Easter Wine. It was published for the members of this year's British national SF convention, the Eastercon. (Each Eastercon, like each Worldcon, also has an individual name. This year's Eastercon was "Seacon," but since this name has been used before - most notably for the 1979 Worldcon in Brighton - the "03" has been appended for clarity.) Co-editor Mark Plummer was passing out extra copies at Corflu, and I was pleased to get one.
The basic idea behind Easter Wine was to reprint some of the best (or most appropriate) material from fanzines which had been written by Eastercon Guests of Honor. The purpose was twofold: to give an idea why these people had been so honored, and to expose convention attendees to some of the fanwriting of the past and in so doing to the idea that Good Stuff could be found in old fanzines.
The result is a publication which exemplifies the purpose of this column. Here is some of the cream of fanwriting, skimmed from fanzines, the oldest of which was published 50 years ago. That fanzine was Bob Silverberg's Spaceship #22, which was published in July, 1953. And the reprinted piece, "The Wrong Slant," is a portion of Silverberg's editorial, written when he was 18. As Robert Silverberg he has gained fame as an author of SF, but even as a teenager Silverberg was acute: in this short piece he identifies the origins of the subsequent bloating of SF conventions.
Most of the 28 contributions to this fanthology (not counting the editorial bookends) are reprinted from much more recently - typically from the 1970s, '80s and '90s, with a couple from the current century - and one, by Ian Watson, is new. While the majority of the contributions are articles, four artists - Jim Barker, Pete Lyon, Rob Hansen and Chris Baker ("Fangorn") are represented with reprints of some of their fanzine-published art.
Both fans and professionals are included (as the editors note, in some cases the people in question are both). They are (in order of appearance): Ken Slater, Ethel Lindsay, Peter Weston, Peter Roberts, Robert Silverberg, Leroy Kettle, Graham Charnock, Jim Barker, Dave Langford, Ian Watson, Avedon Carol, James White, Christopher Priest, Greg Benford, Linda Krawecke, John Jarrold, Pete Lyon, Greg Pickersgill, Rob Hansen, Pam Wells, Roger Robinson, Colin Greenland, Paul Kincaid, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Martin Tudor, Chris Evans, Mary Gentle and Chris Baker ("Fangorn").
Since another criterion in the selection process was that these pieces had not been previously republished in a fanthology, this volume is guaranteed to contain material you've not read before - unless, of course, you read the original fanzines. I recommend it highly for everyone who wants to find out what the shouting has been about.
ASTONISHING TRAPDOOR STORIES / TRAP DOOR #22 (Robert Lichtman, editor & publisher, P.O.Box 30, Glen Ellen, CA 95442; email to email@example.com; available "by Editorial Whim for The Usual (letters, contributions both written and artistic, and accepted trades) or $5.00 per issue")
Herewith I break an unwritten rule of this column - not to review a fanzine previously reviewed here. I reviewed the last issue of TRAP DOOR about a year ago (which gives you an idea of its publication schedule), but this is a special - unique in fact - issue. The title - Astonishing Trapdoor Stories - gives a clue. This 60-page issue (published as usual in the folded half-lettersize of 8.5" x 5.5") is overwhelmingly devoted to one piece of fiction, "Sense of Wonder" by Gordon Eklund. The issue has only an introductory two-page editorial (largely given over to appreciation of the late Harry Warner) and a three-page reprint (from 1946) of Charles Burbee's "Invasion 1949" to bookend Eklund's novella.
Eklund is a major SF writer of long-standing (he was first professionally published in 1970), but he was a fan of some note for the decade that preceded his professional debut. In recent years he's combined the two to write fanfiction.
"Fanfiction" is defined here as "fiction about fans;" this is its original definition and it still flourishes. Most fanfiction is short and humorous or satirical in its writing style. But some fans - notable among them Marion Zimmer Bradley in the '50s - have written serious fiction about fans.
Most of Gordon's previous pieces of fanfiction (all published in fanzines over the past 10 or more years) have been short and ironic. "Sense of Wonder" is at once both longer and more ambitious, incorporating an actual SF plot (time-travel) and a journey back to the days when Hugo Gernsback was cooking up the first issue of Amazing Stories. The story is told first-person by Charlie Frap, and has the feel of a loopy '40s time-travel story by Robert Bloch - but translated into fannish terms: a fannish "Lefty Feep" story. I'm not convinced by its time-travel logic (which seems to me to have several huge holes), and I've written a letter to Lichtman and Eklund about that, but I am impressed by the overall concept and execution of the story, which is fully professional in quality.
I'm also very impressed by the look of this issue, which is completely due to artist Dan Steffan, who has illustrated the entire issue. The front cover - logo and all - is marvelously evocative of the SF pulps of the '40s, while the back cover creates the cover of the April 10, 1936 issue of Time magazine - the one with Hugo Gernsback on the cover (in "Sense of Wonder"'s universe, anyway) - with striking fidelity to the look of the magazine at that time. Inside the issue Dan opens Gordon's story with a double-page spread and follows that with five full-page illos. And his half-page illo-title for the Burbee short (a delightful story which could have appeared in an early issue of F&SF, but didn't) is a bold piece which stands out on its own. Steffan is long overdue a Fan Artist Hugo; he towers over recent winners.
ZOO NATION #3 (Pete Young, editor & publisher, 62 Walmer Road, Woodley, Berkshire, RG5 4PN, England; email to firstname.lastname@example.org; probably available for The Usual - letters, contributions both written and artistic, and trades - no mention of price)
Zoo Nation is one of the best of a new breed in fanzines. By its third issue it has achieved a weight and solidity of content which works well with its presentation. Physically, the fanzine is half-A4-sized (A4 being the British paper size which most closely approximates the American "lettersize" sheet, measuring approximately 8.25 x 11.75 inches), being folded and saddle-stapled, and has, including covers, 28 pages. The cover is color printed; the interior is black & white. Most of the pages are double-columned with computer-set type (as is the standard for fanzines these days). Young is a former commercial artist and the design and layout of Zoo Nation profits from his experience.
Fanzines have been evolving over the past decade as personal computers have become ubiquitous. At first the computer-generated fanzines aped older models - those fanzines which had been produced on mimeographs from typewriter-typed stencils. And the older model of fanzine had itself evolved over the previous 60 years. With rare exceptions, few fanzines ever looked like professional magazines, and in time this became one of their virtues: they did not attempt to poorly copy professional publications but established their own traditions and standards.
This made sense in an era when professional publishing required machines and technology which was largely beyond the (financial) capabilities of an ordinary person, and amateur publishers (most of whom were students with little money to spare) had to rely on the means available to them.
When computers allowed fans to virtually typeset their fanzines, at first faneditors simply substituted columns of typesetting in layouts originally designed for typewriter type. Many still do, either because they prefer that approach or because they lack the sophistication to do more.
Pete Young is not inhibited either by outmoded traditions or from lack of experience and consequently his fanzine looks like a modern magazine. Indeed, he riffs on this appearance, mocking professional magazines with a page or two of what he calls "ClipArt," in which ads and magazine features are spoofed.
Zoo Nation #3 lacks the themes of the first two issues, and is identified as a "Jam - a loosely associated collection of all things fannish & jammish." The issue opens with a brief introductory editorial and then offers over 4 pages of letters. These are followed by Pete's article on Yahoo! Groups' SF and fan-oriented lists (he describes 12); "Online Fandom: Why the Iraq crisis is on-topic for SF lists" by Farah Mendelsohn; "The Ups & Downs of Being Sci-Fi & Fantasy Nut's Mum" by Jan Trotter; two pages of that rarity, fannish poetry; two pieces under the heading of "Habitable Zone:" "Fandom Roots" by Gareth Jelley and "SF, Me and Fandom" by Nick Honeywell; four pages of intelligent book reviews by Young; a page devoted to a "Table of Condiments That Periodically Go Bad," which is a clever take on the Periodic Table of Elements; a closing editorial; and a page of credits, including the typefaces used.
There's quite a lot in this issue, despite its small size. Pete's produced three regular issues and two single-sheet fractional issues in the course of one year, which bodes well for his future schedule. This is a fanzine I want to see more issues of.
This time around we're going to look at four fanzines, each of which has had previous issues reviewed here.
MIMOSA #30 (Rich & Nicki Lynch, P.O.Box 3120, Gaithersburg, MD 20885; email to email@example.com; $4.00 a copy) is the final issue of Mimosa, coming after two "best of" issues (#s 28 & 29) and it features 21 (!) contributions plus editorial and no letter column, in 68 pages. This is Mimosa's swan song and goodbye, but it is so jam-packed with material that none of its contributions stands out; all are swamped by the surrounding material. That's a shame, because much of the material deserves more attention than it will get here. I'm reminded of a friend who had a story published in a fat Barnes & Noble mystery anthology - his story was but one among 100, all new and none over 3,000 words long. "I wish I'd sold it somewhere where it stood a chance of being noticed," he lamented. Mimosa #26 was reviewed here in February 2001 and #28 in August 2002.
THE KNARLEY KNEWS #101 (Henry L. Welch, 1525 16th Ave, Grafton, WI 53024-2017; email to firstname.lastname@example.org; $1.50 or adequate response) has been plugging along steadily, six times a year, and has now passed its 100th issue. By keeping his sights low and relatively unambitious (averaging 20 page issues) and by maintaining a regular stable of contributors and columnists (Gene Stewart and Rodney Leighton contribute columns to this issue), Welch is able to produce a consistent fanzine on a regular schedule. What The Knarley Knews lacks in excitement it makes up for with an ongoing community of readers and contributors. The Knarley Knews #86 was reviewed here in April 2001.
ARGENTUS #3 (Steven H Silver, 707 Sapling Lane, Deerfield, IL 60015-3969; email to email@example.com; published once a year for $5.00 a copy or "the usual" - letters, contributions, other fanzines in trade) has been developing as a fanzine faster than an avowed annual schedule might suggest. Silver has abandoned the running heads which cluttered the first issue and Argentus has evolved into a looser and less-pretentious but more solid fanzine which has established its own distinct personality. This issue has 56 pages (counting covers) and nine articles before the letter column. Following the letters is Argentus's special feature, the "Mock Section" in which fictitious books or movies are reviewed. This time four fictitious places are visited in "Travel Reports." Argentus #1 was reviewed here in November 2001.
CHUNGA #5 (Andy Hooper, Randy Byers & Carl Juarez, 1013 N. 36th St, Seattle WA 98103; email to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org; $3.50 a copy) is also maintaining a roughly bimonthly schedule, although Byers was the most recent TAFF winner and managed to squeeze in a trip to England. Chunga's 34 pages (including excellent covers by D. West) are the best-designed and best-looking of these four fanzines. The five articles include two by Brits (Dave Hicks and the long-vanished Graham Charnock - what a delight to see him in a modern fanzine!), and maintain a high standard complementary to their visual presentation. In other words, this is what a really good fanzine is like. Chunga #1 was reviewed here in September 2002.
All fanzine reviews on this website are copyright © 2003 Ted White
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