originally published in VECTOR 38, March 1966,
BEHIND THE SCENES - Malcolm Edwards
A recent columnist exposed a long-held and festering belief that the BSFA was only a recruiting station, that the Association had no purpose other than to provide cannon-fodder for the Big Guns of Science Fiction Fandom. Now, that’s an extremist attitude (one not to be encouraged, semaphores the outraged committee behind the scenes, pulling the string that give a quality of pseudo-life to this puppet column), yet I’ll stick out my tender neck and say that it does have more than some element of truth. Like it or not, this is a dual-purpose organization, and there’s been no end of dispute as to what really is our raison d’etre.
The obvious purpose of the BSFA is defined somewhere in those dusty pages of the Constitution (dusty because I haven’t opened, or seen, my copy since it arrived in 1961). The Association was founded to publicize and encourage the writing of science fiction, or words to that effect. That’s the motive behind such innocent-appearing innovations as Your Devious Editor’s recent change to a ‘professionally’ printed VECTOR, and the predominance of formally-written material, All about science fiction. It’s a worthy aim, at that, and the BSFA’s effectiveness has surprised more than myself.
Second in clarity is the aim of the Association to promote friendship and cameraderie among fellow science fiction fans; and a lot of trouble is caused because no-one will decide whether or not this second objective is secondary in importance. This phase of activity overlaps into, and becomes part of, that microcosm of its own, ‘science fiction fandom’.
Rather naturally, fandom doesn’t let science fiction worry it as much as does this journal. Fandom has many of the aspects of a glorified club, and while a common background of interest in SF is necessary for introduction, it is not essential for continuing and maturing friendship. Science fiction fans are a heterogenous coterie who discuss all sorts of things, but all of these different topics are looked at, and evaluated, through the common focus of the SF fan’s view of the world. Fandom is a rather wonderful labyrinth of intellectual side-streets that lead to many an intriguing discovery. There is many a doorway into the maze, but possibly the easiest way is in get hold of a few of the recent fan-magazines, and to do what comes naturally from then on inwards. I’ve led you through my own confusing domain for long enough, so at last we’ll take a brief look at what the field has to offer. And be warned, it’s a quiet time of year; in the spring a young fan’s fancy will turn to publishing, and after me, the deluge.
I think one of the best introductions a body could wish for would be to find a copy of LIGHTHOUSE in the mail-box. It’s published by one Terry Carr at 33 Pierrepoint Street, Brooklyn, New York 11201 (the last is the new Zip-Code number which you Had Better Not Omit!) It costs 25 cents per issue, which is 2/-, and I don’t quite see how to get around the currency barrier for one issue. One dollar will provision you with four issues, and a dollar bill can usually be bought from a Travel Agent’s in Britain. That’s one way of handling the transaction; or you could throw yourself on the editor’s mercy and request a sample copy. I wouldn’t be said to recommend this course, but the cheeky might try.
The current issue is number 13, and is dated August 1965. Take no notice of the date; every fan-magazine takes longer to produce than the editor thought it would. This was the current issue at the time of writing. It’s characterized throughout by good, easy writing; the sort of thing that is never pretentious, is rather ‘chatty’, but is very pleasant to read. The difference is that between listening to a lecture and listening to a friend. You don’t have to be familiar with the mythos of fandom to be able to enjoy this magazine since any name-dropping is self-explanatory and incidental. There’s writing about publishing, some few thousand words about science fiction that say more of worth than do most issues of VECTOR, and all sorts of other goodies that you’ll discover for yourself.
I’d advise you to take George Metzger’s column with a pinch of salt, but otherwise there’s nothing here that I wouldn’t expect my best mundane friend to enjoy. Terry Carr’s writing in LIGHTHOUSE is probably better than that in his Ace books - and I have no complaints as to the quality of the latter.
Similar in subject-matter is DOUBLE:BILL, also numbered 13, and this again being the current issue. You may buy it from a certain Charles Smith at the Village School House, Culford, Nr. Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk for 2/- per single copy. The writing isn’t generally as good as that in LIGHTHOUSE, and the contents are a fraction less easily understood for the complete novice. You’ll understand that at great pain and effort I am attempting to place myself in the position of such a newcomer (it is fortunate that I practise Yoga) in an attempt to ‘see the world through other eyes but mine’ as it were. But an apprentice to any trade finds that almost anything takes a little time and practice to appreciate, and SF fandom is no exception. After all, if there were no mysteries to a newcomer, there would be no depth for the veteran.
Perhaps I should give a fractionally more detailed break-down on this one. We get two editorials because there are two editors - both named Bill. One has recently been conscripted into the US Army and isn’t certain that he likes it. There is some amateur science fiction, reviews of other fanzines (which will give you further valuable insight into the field, because these reviews are written by an acknowledged expert, far better baptized in fire than is your present reviewer), and at least two, by my count, interesting and thought-provoking articles. You may enjoy more than these two; (no, Virginia, they’re not about science fiction). The whole thing is 52 big American-sized pages long, and I think that a halfpenny per page isn’t too much to pay for the experience. It probably cost the editors more than that to produce, and they weren’t discouraged.
Over in the corner, near the door, another magazine has crept in, and this is really for those who prefer to ‘put a toe in the water to see if it’s fine’. It’s a half-hearted fanzine because it's so limited in scope. That is, it’s a semi-professional magazine exclusively about 'speculative fiction’ (to quote their punch-line; they say that science fiction is an outmoded and vague title.) There’s forty pages in the current sample of ZENITH SPECULATION, which is actually ahead of schedule - the January 1966 issue arrived in mid-December. Topics covered are - well, topical; criticism is specific and more agreeable to my taste than in SF HORIZONS, and the writing is good, better again than usually found in VECTOR. But then, in my opinion, it should be in VECTOR, not in ZENITH SPECULATION. 2/- per copy from Peter Weston, 9 Porlock Crescent, Birmingham 31.
And while space is now so limited, I’ll recommend a couple of others and retire into my grey limbo until my next animation. These are YANDRO, from R & J Coulson, Route 3, Hartford City, Indiana 47348, 30cents monthly (and I mean monthly; 150 issues to date!); and NIEKAS, quarterly from Ed Meskys, c/o 1360 Emerson, Palo Alto, California 94301, again at 30 cents.