originally published in VECTOR 39, April 1966,
BEHIND THE SCENES - Malcolm Edwards
Hugo Gernsback, so I am told, created the Universe and began magazine science fiction in an off-moment when his mind wasn’t really on the job at hand. In any event, it is at his door that the blame can probably be laid for the birth of an attendant science fiction fandom. For Uncle Hugo was convinced of the value of reader-participation in his enterprises, and his early pulp magazines used to feature long pages of readers’ letters. When these correspondents began to short the circuit by writing in each other direct rather than through the pages of the professional magazines, fandom had come into being.
Subsequent years saw the proud boast that a viable SF fandom no longer needed the professional magazines (for it is quite true that ‘fandom’ is something more than just a fan-group in the normal sense of the term). But every sword has two edges and this statement backfired when the pro-mags discovered that they didn’t need the fans. Over a period of roughly five years, economy- or prestige-conscious pro-mags ended the symbiosis. GALAXY never had a letter-column, ASTOUNDING had long since turned “Brass Tacks” into a technical discussion feature and when finally Sergeant Saturn could vibrate the ether by not so much as a ripple, it was, with very few exceptions, the end of an era. It only remained for the remaining concessions to the minority - the few fanzine-review columns - to be dropped and the regular channels of recruitment into fandom would have been closed.
There were sporadic attempts to halt the tide as some of the magazines fell into the hands of editors who, if not themselves fans, were at least sympathetic to the cause. Readers often never realise that those names so glamorous in the credits of a prozine are in their own right keen fans, often enthusiasts from way back in the beginning. Old-time fan Larry Shaw began INFINITY, a magazine that was well-received from the very first issue and which throughout its life carried letters and fan-features. Hans Stefan Santesson attempted to do much the same with FANTASTIC UNIVERSE and just before it folded, as late as 1960, it carried no less than three fan-departments. And of course British magazines were a year or two behind their US counterparts in feeling the draught - both NEBULA and AUTHENTIC were noted for a strong fannish content, and even NEW WORLDS sometimes lapsed into the mood which had made John Carnell one of the foremost of British fans in the pre-war days.
After six years wandering in the wilderness, fandom may now be getting a new outlet in print. The wheel has come full circle - in the April 1966 issue of IF (Worlds of) SF there is the introduction of a fan-feature, “Our Man in Fandom” by Lin Carter, a name of bygone days. This feature, along with IF’s growing and improving letter-column, is enough to bring tears of joy into the eyes of an old reactionary, and perhaps reflects somewhat on Editor Fred Pohl’s own background as a ‘Big Name Fan’ of circa 1934. History doesn’t repeat, of course, and I doubt if every other magazine remaining in the depleted field will make haste to emulate IF, but this development is very cheering for one who finds fandom itself to be more entertaining than the parent science fiction.
If past experience is anything to go by, IF’s column will attract newcomers into fandom like a jampot attracts flies. I am waiting with ghoulish glee for this influx of new blood, due to be pumped into fandom Any Day Now. Of course, there will only be a very limited number of places open in the New Fandom that will rise like the phoenix upon the ashes of the old. I’d advise all newcomers to get in on the ground floor now by buying all the magazines I recommend in VECTOR.
I’ve often heard it said that a newcomer to fandom is a very delicate seedling, one whose growth can be stunted or permanently impaired by his reading the wrong type of fanzine at the wrong stage of his development. I prefer to assume that any of my readers who are the least bit interested in this fascinating hobby will have the guts and the intelligence to take minor setbacks in their stride. However, I’ll admit that some fazines are easier to begin with than are others, though when faced with this problem I’m never really sure what will prove most suitable for a newcomer’s appetite.
Last time around I recommended LIGHTHOUSE and to a lesser extent DOUBLE:BILL. Now I’ll go into much the same act and will recommend YANDRO.
This fanzine is remarkable in that it has kept to an approximately monthly schedule for as long as anyone can remember, the current issue being numbered 155. I refuse to speculate on the kind of monomania that can keep such a routine that it becomes to its editors, as YANDRO has become, A Way of Life.
The magazine won a Hugo last year - a well-deserved award for a generally good 'all-round' magazine. It is the sort of perpetual grab-bag of surprises that makes it so pleasant to be on the mailing list of a regular fanzine. Let us make a quick tour through the contents of this latest issue.
We begin with the standard features of the Coulson editorials; Buck’s iconoclastic comments and Juanita’s fannish chatter about everything and nothing are more entertaining than I could describe here. Then into the issue proper we find a debunking article on the ‘Scientology Man’, L. Ron Hubbard, who was a prolific contributor to ASTOUNDING before his Revelation. This piece is well-written and is not the sort of critical writing that is a chore to wade through. It is followed by a very similar piece about Kurt Vonnegut also worth reading - and by Buck’s own caustic comments on some books he’s read recently. Other material is scattered through this big issue, including some mildly humorous pieces and a rather interesting letter column. The only thing poor about YANDRO is its art, which doesn’t really matter anyway.
Get it at 1/9 per copy, 4 for 6/-, from the British agent Alan Dodd, 77 Stanstead Road, Hoddesdon, Herts.
Above all things I try to keep this column in balance between serious and lightweight material, and I was looking around rather frantically for something of the former class to mention this time. Fortunately, RIVERSIDE QUARTERLY (issue 5) appeared in my mail-box the day before deadline, and the perfect balance of this feature was preserved for another issue.
I’m rather worried at the attitude editor Leland Sapiro takes towards his magazine and towards the rest of fandom. His idea of fandom would appear to be that of an intellectual group dedicated to the discussion and criticism of science fiction which, of course, fandom is not most of the time. RQ is thusly a rather extremist magazine that publishes the most formal and the most serious material of any fan-magazine. Some of this content is indeed rather heavy going at times, though other items can only be termed brilliantly interesting.
If only Sapiro would learn tolerance and not lean so heavily toward the pedantic, I’m sure that RQ would be universally hailed throughout fandom. As it is, the magazine is printed in litho throughout and the current issue contains 72 pages of attractively laid-out material.
The usual roll-call had better be taken else you’ll feel I’m trying to sell you a pig in a poke. Arthur Jean Cox, an American author of some note, spends too much space attempting to write a science fiction story before our very eyes. The best things about this feature are the really excellent illustrations by Charles Schneeman and the fact that it is followed by the second part of an entire book about Robert Heinlein. In this section, the author, Alexei Panshin, treats some of Heinlein’s more recent work to analysis, and the whole is immensely thought-provoking. Now past half-way into the magazine, we find a critique of T.H. White’s THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING, a long criticism of the 15th anniversary issue of GALAXY, plus sundry other items. A long letter-discussion column ends the issue.
I’d recommend you try at least one issue at 2/6, 4 for 10/-, from the UK agent Graham Hall, 57 Church Street, Tewkesbury, Glos.
I have some other items here that are probably worth mentioning but I’m getting urgent waves from the omnipotent editor in the wings that my time is running low. Next time I will attempt to mention some of the other recent arrivals and will perhaps introduce a new thing into this column - a review of a fanzine that I didn’t like and don’t recommend. In the meantime may I suggest that your thirst for things fannish be quenched by borrowing from the BSFA Fanzine Library? I’ve been toying with the idea of mentioning for your use some of the better items contained in the Library: if anyone writes to me c/o the Editor, I’ll probably put these thoughts to paper.