SF fanzines prefigured blogs: Roger Ebert


36 Responses to “SF fanzines prefigured blogs: Roger Ebert”

  1. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    I’m sorry that got eaten. I would have loved to read it. Care to give me a summary version?

  2. worldtravel says:

    Great article, keep up the good work.

  3. Xopher says:

    Teresa 16: You can add the Pagan community’s “gatherings” to your list of customs with fannish DNA. Some of the protocols are different, because Pagan gatherings are generally held at a camp (or just a campground) rather than at a hotel, so some of the things hotels normally take care of have to be arranged. But the connection is clear: Judy Harrow (for decades the partner of Brian Burley, and HPS of a coven that has always had a high percentage of SF fans), was a strong influence on the very early days of Pagan gatherings in the US.

    Long ago, she also loaned a brooch to her then-boyfriend to wear on his SCA garb. It was in the form of a stylized letter ‘H’ for Harrow, and had the appearance of a pair of knives.

  4. kip w says:

    I’m always glad I managed to happen into AZAPA (more or less shanghaied by pal Gordon, who then vanished), where I met a bunch of swell, shiny people who still pop up in significant places. Usenet? They’re there! LJ? There they are! Blogs? Oh, yas. bOINGbOING? Even so.

    Hi, gang! The infiltration of society goes apace. Keep up the good work. I’ll be back.

  5. lennybai says:

    I tried again and am still Not There. Maybe held in the moderation queue for too many URL links? I emailed you the original awhile ago (would have been #22) and will now send you the modified version (would have been #26)

  6. lennybai says:

    Fanzines are actually alive and well in the modern age — it’s just that not so many of them are printed on paper and sent through the mail anymore. See http://efanzines.com for some current examples.

    For an interesting pastiche that provides an inside view of the subculture, I commend you to “Fanotchka,” a play written by Andy Hooper that was first performed at the 1996 World Science Fiction Convention. I’ve finally published an illustrated edition of it for Andy, after procrastinating on my promise to do so for too long a time.

  7. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    Heya, Lenny. Laurie and Michael, too. And EFergus3?

    Antonio Lopez: there’s no overlap in personnel that I know of, but punk and skatepunk fanzines trace back to rock fanzines, which trace back to the SF community. It’s an Ur-fandom, possibly the Ur-fandom.

    More people than Rog Ebert have been pointing out that early online slang owes a lot to fanspeak. However, IMO, SF fandom’s biggest influence has been its characteristic social technologies, such as fanzines/blogs, APAs/bulletin boards, and community-run conventions — all of which, in their earlier hardcopy versions, are robust and relatively inexpensive pre-internet systems for enabling many-to-many conversations.

    These and other material-culture markers have spread to countless other contexts. We know some of the names and approximate dates for this cross-fertilization, like Paul Williams and Greg Shaw in rock journalism, Bill Blackbeard and Dick Lupoff in comics fandom, and Bjo Trimble in Star Trek fandom (insofar as Star Trek fandom is separate, which it isn’t entirely). The people who started the SCA (01 May 1966, in Diana Paxson’s back yard) were part of the Bay Area SF community. The names of the early fanfic publishers belong in this list, but I’m blanking on their names right now.

    There’s a long list of barely-separate subfandoms that incubated in the congenial environment of general SF fandom, including gaming, RPGs, LARPs, cosplay, filking, manga and anime fandoms, et cetera. Also: I’ve never tried to find out who, where, and when, but there’s evidently been enough overlap for the BDSM community to pick up some fannish social technologies. I’ve seen some of their fanzines and read descriptions of how they run conventions, and there’s definitely fannish DNA in the mix.

    Less a matter of specific forms than of historical connections: It’s known for certain that fandom, especially on the West Coast, has old ties with the gay community. In the case of LASFS, in Los Angeles, that’s traceable in print clear back into the 1940s, which is uncommon for any subject touching on homosexuality. Unfortunately, the person who knew the most about this, Jerry Jacks, had it all in his head, and he died before he got around to writing about it.

    I absolutely believe that I don’t know a quarter of the communities and interest groups that have picked up fannish customs.

    Getting back to the many-to-many thing:

    I remember an article way back in Whole Earth News, Winter 1987, in which Dr. Ann Weiser (whom I knew to have fannish connections) explained how to organize something she characterized as being like a very slow online bulletin board, only it didn’t require computers or online connections, which made it more suitable for communities and interest groups whose members weren’t into those things. What she then proceeded to describe was unmistakably a standard fannish APA, like the one Brad Reid used to belong to.

    (How do I know that Dr. Weiser had fannish connections? Back in the early days of the Carter administration, I was in an APA with her. Some other members: Robert Charles Wilson, Avedon Carol, and a young fan named Patrick Hayden. And many more besides. Sometimes I feel like blogging and professional SF publishing are just a continuation of fanac by other means.)

    Michael Bernstein, my theory is that whenever you enable fast, cheap, reliable many-to-many communication, plus the ability to reply to it, you get a virtual community that displays behaviors and emergent properties we’d describe as fannish. However, I don’t think all fandoms are created equal, or that their features are inevitable.

    For instance, few other fandoms have had our passion for timebinding and community history. That’s had some of the same effects you get online from message persistence and open protocols. A good performance goes on being rewarded. People who weren’t around for the original conversation can catch up on it, and add to it. I’ve retroactively been a participant in conversations that got going around the time I was born.

    The SF community’s wide range of ages and incomes did away with many nonessential features. For instance, the earliest APAs — Amateur Press Associations — were for people who owned printing presses. The copies of their contributions they sent in to their APA’s central collating-and-mailing person might have been beautiful artifacts in their own right; but you couldn’t call what was going on there a conversation.

    (Pause for credit where due: the person who was familiar with the first wave of APAs, saw the applicability of the concept, and conveyed it to early SF fandom, was H. P. Lovecraft.)

    Fandom’s take on fanzine and apazine production values was simpler and far more robust: fast + easy + cheap + legible = good. You can still find the original transfer protocol specs explained in The Enchanted Duplicator.

    One feature that’s so basic it’s easy to overlook: Unlike the letterhack fandom of Merry’s Magazine, SF fandom never let itself be tied to a single channel. Instead, it’s grabbed new channels as they’ve become available. The most obvious consequence is that the loss of a single channel doesn’t kill it off. It also makes it impossible to define or control fandom’s content or personnel. Strong minority interest in a new subject generates a side-channel rather than an argument, and everyone goes on talking.

    It wasn’t fate that killed off earlier fandoms, and I don’t think economic considerations did it either. After all, SF fandom got its start during the latter years of the Great Depression. What enabled that to happen was (1.) the prozines’ habit of printing addresses along with letters of comment; and (2.) the availability of cheap secondhand typewriters and mimeographs. But what’s kept fandom cranking along after that initial efflorescence has been its historic persistence as a body of communication, and its openness as a system of practice.

    (Slightly corrected, 9:38 pm EDT, on a fine point of fan history.)

  8. Avedon says:

    Man, I’m glad I don’t still have to wait at least two months for comments on the last thing I wrote.

  9. Bruce Arthurs says:

    Oh, how rare it is to catch Teresa in a typo:

    *ahem*, Diana Paxson.

  10. Richard Anderson says:

    Teresa, if Schwartz is bad data, then so be it. That said, Schwartz’s contention that zines had “more in common with the ‘little magazines’ of the mimeo poetry scene” seems at least logical, and as a hypothesis I wouldn’t want to see it tossed out quite yet.

    Obviously, I find it a bit difficult to believe that the medium of zines derives from a sci-fi fannish root. (Might Blake deserve some credit?) The important aspects of technology here are a cost-effective means to print and a cost-effective means to distribute. Given easy access to these technologies, and given an urge for self-expression, it seems inconceivable to me (in retrospect) that zines would not have arisen to provide commentary on culture, particularly pop culture. The sci fi community apparently was first to exploit these technologies to create “fanzines.” That doesn’t necessarily mean the myriad of culture-related zines published in the 1980s and ’90s (dunno if they’re still a significant phenomena) resulted from the actions, directly or even indirectly, of sci fi fandom. Of course, that doesn’t mean sci fi fandom couldn’t have played a significant role, either. You say the latter indeed is evident. OK, my skepticism seems unfounded, but I’m also wondering whether you and I have the same definition of zine.

    As for gaming, our experiences differ. No one I knew in the wargame hobby (only 30 or 40 high-schoolers and college-aged folk at the time) was active as well in sci fi fandom, and I saw no evidence of cross-fertilization. Of course, anecdote proves nothing, and there certainly were intersections of interest: my earliest issues of The General, for instance, have articles written by a “Dr. J. E. Pournelle.” Still, I remain a skeptic with regard to the significance of sci fi fandom’s influence on wargaming, cultural zines in general, and punk rock zines. If I ever dig up the phone numbers you refer to, I’ll let you know how the research turns out.

  11. Terry Karney says:

    The way I have always described APA hacking to people who aren’t in SF/Fanzine fandom is, “imagine a BBS/Blog, where the comments are done by mail; with everything sent to a central person, and mailed back to everyone.”

    When I tell them they predate SF Fandom, and belong (originally) to print/press fandom, they get goggle-eyed.

    I do think the social structures/tool/styles of interaction of the APA/Fanzine world would have evolved, more or less, as they did in APA-hacking, but the seed-kernal of fanzine fans meant that the rules/habits worked out over decades are already present.

    As Stephen Jay Gould pointe out in “Wonderful Life”, once a form of dealing some problem exisits, the newcomer has a hard row to hoe to catch up, much less overtake.

  12. Richard Anderson says:

    Some notes in the margins of post #16:

    I’m not sure if there’s any significant link between rock fanzines (and their presumed SF-fan-based heritage) and punk/skatepunk fanzines. The zines I read back in the ’80s, when the punk scene still seemed a viable alternative to the pop-culture industry, were expressions of the Do-It-Yourself attitude prevalent in punk and reflected the zeitgeist of that time. This DIY attitude certainly influenced the explosion of zines that had occurred by the early ’90s.

    An essay by Stephen Schwartz in Zines! Vol 1 (V/Search, 1996) notes that the “true zine,” the “fanzine,” was started in the 1950s by science-fiction enthusiasts, and that “the great advocate for this form was Forrest J. Ackerman.” Schwartz observes, however, that “the zines of today [the mid '90s], which typically focus on concepts, rumors, fads and similar phenomena rather than on commercial promotion, have more in common with the ‘little’ magazines of the mimeo poetry scene.”

    As for the influence of the SF fanzine medium on gaming, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had some role for gamers involved in play-by-mail Diplomacy (such as through the zine Erewhon), but sci fi and fantasy games comprised only a tiny percentage of the board wargames published during the 1970s and ’80s. My experience was that people entered the wargame hobby through the magazines published by the Avalon Hill Company and SPI, and these in turn led to the forming of clubs for face-to-face gaming and to the launching of zines like Panzerfaust.

    For the cultures of punk rock and wargaming, and the broader culture of zines in general, the influence of sci fi fandom seems largely irrelevant.

  13. lennybai says:

    Footnote: a less dyslexic reading of Wikipedia shows me that they don’t directly support Moskowitz’s claim that THE TIME TRAVELLER was the first s-f fanzine. Sorry. Wikipedia attributes the honor to THE COMET, over here, without referring to THE PLANET.

  14. efergus3 says:


  15. Takuan says:

    a very self evident truth

  16. efergus3 says:

    Takuan, come on bye sometime.

  17. Gag Halfrunt says:

    On the related subject of lost fandoms, kabuki theatre enthusiasts in eighteenth-century Japan produced fanzines and fan art devoted to their favourite actors:

    …the outpouring of full-colour wood-block prints, commissioned and in some cases executed by their fans, which record their performances, their personalities, their world. The sheer beauty of much of this material, along with the scrapbooks and the fanzines, immortalises the fans as much as the actors, offering an illuminating model of the modern cult of celebrity, where the ostensible object of adoration or fascination is merely a pretext for the creativity and projection of the fan.

    There was a long-running feud between two great kabuki actors, Rikan and Shikan, who exemplified opposite philosophies of acting.

    Their fans took up cudgels on either side, though the deepest desire was for the rivals to appear together. As they were about to do so, Rikan died; Shikan continued to the day he died.

  18. Takuan says:

    “never moon a werewolf”… I like that.

  19. Brad Reid says:

    For a short time in the early 80s I had the pleasure of being a member along with 29 other people of an amateur press association called APA5. The idea was that you sent your apazine (I think that’s what they were called) in to the central mailer every month for circulation to the membership. Discussion within the apa was based mainly around science fiction and comic books. Paul Chadwick, the creator of Concrete, and Mike Richardson, producer of numerous science fiction movies, were members of APA5 while I was there, and Frank Miller had been a member two years previously. I’d have to say that the networking advantage given to these blogger-precursors was substantial, as some of the members went on to start Darkhorse Comics.

    Anyway, that’s enough namedropping for now! ;)

  20. Michael R. Bernstein says:

    It is well worth noting Teresa’s ‘Lost Fandoms’ post in this context:

  21. efergus3 says:

    I like your wit. I can see you?

  22. Michael R. Bernstein says:

    No, you’ll get eyetracks all over me.

  23. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    Richard Anderson:

    I’m not sure if there’s any significant link between rock fanzines (and their presumed SF-fan-based heritage) and punk/skatepunk fanzines. The zines I read back in the ’80s, when the punk scene still seemed a viable alternative to the pop-culture industry, were expressions of the Do-It-Yourself attitude prevalent in punk and reflected the zeitgeist of that time. This DIY attitude certainly influenced the explosion of zines that had occurred by the early ’90s.

    We’re talking about fannish technologies, ways of doing things, not content. Fanzines were a known technology in that sub-universe. You’d have to put your argument through all kinds of strange contortions to make a case for them being a spontaneous independent re-invention in a milieu that was already familiar with them.

    An essay by Stephen Schwartz in Zines! Vol 1 (V/Search, 1996) notes that the “true zine,” the “fanzine,”

    Terms that have seen general use in fandom: trufan, trufannish, fanzine, fannish fanzine. “True zine” was not general fannish slang.

    was started in the 1950s by science-fiction enthusiasts,

    Ray Palmer, The Comet, 1930. A minority faction back then argued for the primacy of Allen Glasser’s The Planet, also 1930. The Comet has come to be generally credited as the first fanzine.

    Am I supposed to take Stephen Schwartz as an authority on this subject?

    and that “the great advocate for this form was Forrest J. Ackerman.”

    It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that 4E said so. What bothers me about that statement is that Ackerman would never have said that fanzines got going in the fifties. He knew better — he was publishing them in the 1930s.

    Stephen Schwartz wasn’t using Ackerman as his source, and he sure as hell wasn’t using Joe Siclari, Rob Hansen, Harry Warner Jr., or the Fancyclopedias.

    You’re running on bad data.

    As for the influence of the SF fanzine medium on gaming, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had some role for gamers involved in play-by-mail Diplomacy (such as through the zine Erewhon), but sci fi and fantasy games comprised only a tiny percentage of the board wargames published during the 1970s and ’80s.

    I don’t think you’ve got hold of the right end of the stick. When I talk about gaming fandom in the SF community, I mean wargamers who played Diplomacy, Kingmaker, misc. Avalon Hill titles, and other comparable games at SF gatherings and conventions. I’m not speaking theoretically. I was there.

    If you think something can’t be a characteristic preoccupation of SF fandom because it has no skiffy content, you don’t know fandom.

    My experience was that people entered the wargame hobby through the magazines published by the Avalon Hill Company and SPI, and these in turn led to the forming of clubs for face-to-face gaming and to the launching of zines like Panzerfaust.

    My experience is that a large proportion of the people doing that were also hanging out in fandom. Casual gaming at conventions turned into gaming tracks that turned into gaming conventions.

    For the cultures of punk rock and wargaming, and the broader culture of zines in general, the influence of sci fi fandom seems largely irrelevant.

    Feel free to think so. The word I’d use to describe the influence of SF fandom on those milieux is evident, and in no few cases acknowledged or documentable.

    It’s not as though we’re talking about the distant past. A lot of the people involved are still alive, and if they’re not, people who knew them are. You can phone them up and ask.

  24. Tamu says:

    Already in agreement. Although, the central point is included on BB, Roger Ebert’s full blog entry is definitely worth reading.

  25. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    Hi, Lenny, we cross-posted. Wikipedia may not have referred to The Planet, but I did.

  26. Laurie Mann says:

    Inside fandom, this isn’t news (as almost everyone uptopic has said).

    To mundanes…oh, what the heck, maybe it is.

  27. Michael R. Bernstein says:

    Laurie, I think (based on Teresa’s “Lost Fandoms” theory) that even if the Intarwebosphere had not overlapped (chronologically and socially) with SF Fandom, most of the same features would very likely have sprung up spontaneously (though many specific details would be different).

    It’s a matter of the medium shaping the community.

    Teresa, do you want to weigh in?

  28. cinemajay says:

    @10, is a blog meant to be news? I thought it was just…a blog? Like an essay or diary entry.

  29. lennybai says:

    I submitted a longer post about the history of claims for the first s-f fanzine (before the footnote one) that may have been eaten. I also speculated on a possible link between s-f fandom and skateboard fandom.

    Also FWIW, in re war gaming fandom: I was a test consultant for Avalon Hill in my high school days (1962-64) along with Arnie Katz, about the time we were publishing our first (better forgotten, now) s-f fanzine. Arnie and I submitted evidence to A-H that their board game, “Gettysburg,” was unwinnable by the Army of the Potomac — which may have been a factor in subsequent revisions made to the game. We were also test consultants for Avalon Hill’s “D-Day.”

    Arnie went on to become a professional game designer and served as a consultant for Avalon Hill in the ’80s, during the years when he was gafia from s-f fandom.

  30. devophill says:

    Heck, I don’t know that much about early SF fandom, but I know who Ray Palmer was (the original Atom!). I’m pretty sure Julius Schwartz and Mort Weisinger were also fanzine contributors, if not editors. Great comment, BTW, Theresa.

  31. Antonio Lopez says:

    Don’t forget punk.

  32. Terry Karney says:

    Contrary to popular usage, the plural of anecdote is evidence (now, the validity of the evidence is a different subject).

    I started wargaming in the late ’70s (being but an egg), at conventions AH, and all sorts of things were being played. There were weekends I couldn’t be found but in the game rooms.

    The earliest of APA (apae?) I know of had nothing to do with any sort of literary fandom, but were the work of people who wanted to show off what the presses they owned could do.

    Rather than run off sheets of ipsum lorem they actually wrote things (and one of the firstt ‘zines I ever pubbed was to show off that I’d learned to run a linotype; justifying calling myself a printer. That I then locked the type and ran the sheets let me say I was also a pressman, but I digress).

    I was an SF Fan, a skateboarder, a war gamer an actory and all sorts of other nerdy-geeky things. Was there cross-fertilization, sure.

    More to the point, while it’s possible for such things to evolve in parallel; absent some selective pressure, Occam’s razor says the odds are SF Fanzine culture shaped the other fanzine cultures, because they have so much in common.

    At least that seems evident to me.

  33. Richard Anderson says:

    A quick addendum to post #29: I just learned that Mike Gunderloy, who published the influential Factsheet Five, got his start with sci fi fanzines. Looks like there is a stronger connection than I had initially thought btwn sci fi mags and cultural zines.


  34. Laurie Mann says:

    C: – it’s just the way he said:

    “I have always been convinced that the culture of sf fanzines contributed heavily to the formative culture of the early Web, and generated models for web site and blogs. The very tone of the discourse is similar, and like fanzines, the Web took new word coinages, turned them into acronyms, and ran with them.”

    It’s as if he was responding to someone who said,

    “Sports fans invented the Web.”

  35. khatru says:

    Teresa wasn’t saying that skatepunk was an offshoot of sf, but was drawing a line from sf fandom to rock fandom to skateboarding fandom.

    I’ve always been interested in seeing how other fandoms develop, what aspects of sf fandom they replicate. The rock zines I saw were usually very dynamic — attitude was at least as important as content. Mystery fandom, on the other hand, is so sercon it hurts. Mystery fanzines contain little but book reviews, and programming at mystery conventions is dominated by panels of writers plugging their new books.

  36. lennybai says:

    Another attempt to resurrect my lost post from the bit bucket by stripping out the URL links. (It was originally intended to follow post #21):

    FWIW, since enough people may read this eventually to be worth setting the record straight: the first science fiction fanzine we know about is generally considered to be THE COMET published in May 1930 by the Science Correspondence Club of Chicago or THE PLANET published in July 1930 by The Scienceers, a New York fan club. Some scholars of fan history argue that THE COMET doesn’t count because it was limited to articles about science, not science fiction. THE PLANET “contained ‘fantastic fiction’ book and film reviews, and more significant in terms of the evolution of fanzines: “miscellaneous chatter and news
    about the fans themselves” (ref: members.shaw.ca/rgraeme/f.html: the Canadian Fancyclopedia.

    When Arnie Katz and I interviewed Julius Schwartz, in 1963, Julie proudly boasted to us that THE TIME TRAVELLER (first issue published in 1932, edited by Scienceers Allen Glasser, Julius Schwartz, and Mort Weisinger) was the first science fiction fanzine ever published. (Wikipedia shows an entry
    at: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Time_Traveller_(fanzine) ) Some popular belief in the truth of Schwartz’s claim may stem from the influence of Sam Moskowitz on early attempts to develop a formal history of science fiction. SaM was a charismatic and prolific figure in s-f fandom’s early days, whose many pronouncements about the field have subsequently been scrutinized and found to contain some subjective inaccuracies. Forry Ackerman is another charismatic figure from those days whose memory isn’t always as reliable as historians might like it to be. (Wikipedia lists him as a contributing editor to THE TIME TRAVELLER.)

    The first postal Diplomacy fanzine that I know about, GRAUSTARK, was published by New York s-f fan John Boardman, in 1963. GRAUSTARK and the Diplomacy fanzines it spawned (RURITANIA:Dave McDaniel, BROBDINGNAG:Dick Schultz) demonstrated their linkage to s-f fandom by publishing inventive press releases and news stories composed by the players with each series of game moves. Boardman, Dian Girard, Dave McDaniel, and Bruce Pelz were all active fanzine writers at this time. They peppered each fanzine issue with vignettes about life in their countries and statements from heads of state–in the spirit of the Graustark and Prisoner of Zenda novels. I played Italy in the BROBDINGNAG game (1964) and was inspired by their efforts to try my own hand at this. A historical note on the games Boardman participated in is that they were all crooked. The games masters were unable to round up seven individual players and Boardman played multiple countries, stringing the other players along for several years until he decided the time was ripe to betray them and sweep the board.

    In re Skatepunk fandom: the link to s-f fandom may be a bit more tenuous. You might trace its genesis back to early Internet fandom. Tom Jennings, the creator of FIDOnet was also the founder of a skateboarders’ rights group called
    “Shred of Dignity.” He coedited a “queer punk” fanzine called HOMOCORE from 1988 to 1991. This might also tie into the linkage between the Gay
    Community and s-f fandom that Teresa referred to. I don’t know whether Tom Jennings was ever active in s-f fandom. I used to read his techie
    stuff on BBS configuration back in FIDOnet times.
    (Cory has a story that mentions him at http://www.make-digital.com/make/vol13/?pg=16&search=Tom+Jennings+science+fiction+FIDOnet&u1=texterity&cookies=1 ). These days, the link between s-f and skatepunk fandom is probably Scott Westerfeld: see scottwesterfeld.com/books/uglies.htm

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