Deep Outside SFFH - Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

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147 pages
Edited by Bill Bowers
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Cincinnati OH 45238
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How many people reading this review know much about science fiction fandom? It's going to be hard to discuss OUTWORLDS without a little background, so bear with me for a few minutes.

Around the time that AMAZING STORIES, the first true sf magazine, began publication back in 1926, its editor, Hugo Gernsback (after whom the sf Hugo award was named) had a brilliant idea to increase interest in "scientifiction" among his readership, and by extension sell more copies of AMAZING STORIES. He encouraged the readers of AMAZING's letter column to gather into clubs science fiction fan clubs. This was an idea whose time had come: it didn't take long before fans in several cities, most notably New York and Chicago, were organizing. What Gernsback didn't foresee (and one is tempted to pun on Gernsback's novel title RALPH 124C41+ here, but "1" won't) was that these fans would begin to publish their own amateur magazines: thus the first fanzines (or fmz, in fanspeak but more of that later) were born.

At any rate, before very long the fans were circulating their zines among themselves, and this has be going on ever since. The aggregate groups of fans are referred to as "sf fandom," or just fandom.

I was very active in fandom for about ten years from 1973, primarily as a fanartist, contributing dozens of interior drawings "fillos," or filler illustrations and cover art, and as a letterhack, typing (this was before desktop computers, remember) many many LOCs (letters of comment) to genzines (general interest fanzines), perszines (personal journal fanzines) and what-have-you. I even published a fanzine of my own toward the end of my tenure in fandom.

Fanzine fans are an extremely literate and intelligent lot, generally speaking, for all that they include among their numbers some more or less socially challenged individuals who have a hard time communicating in person. Though most are personable and loquacious, some fans are painfully shy by virtue of having been ostracized, with their own more or less willing cooperation at times, from what we might call mainstream human interactions. Lord knows they can't be normal if they like to read that idiotic sci-fi crap. Sf fans have been stereotyped as propeller-beanie-wearing geeks with acne and buck teeth. Fans sometime use the image themselves, as a wry joke.

Such a stereotype is cruel and stupid. For every jerk in fandom and there have been some notable ones there are dozens of intelligent, warm, passionate, clever people. From the ranks of fandom have come such writers and editors as Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, Terry Carr, Anthony Boucher, James White, Bob Shaw, Isaac Asimov, Stephen Leigh, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Bjo Trimble, et many al. Roger Ebert was very active in fandom at one time. Such artists as Kelly Freas, Rick Sternbach, Jack Gaughn, Tim Kirk and Phil Foglio have all contributed to fanzines. The list literally (pun intended) goes on and on. The process continues: talented men and women still rise from fandom and take their place as novelists and screenwriters.

This might lead you to believe that there are some damn good writers (and artists) in fandom. You'd be right. Some of them are on display in OUTWORLDS 70.

(Let me digress briefly one last time we, here, are talking about fanzine fandom. It is only one aspect of sf fandom as a whole, which is inclusive of [but not limited to] media fandom [anime, trekkies], weaponry [swords and SCA-type stuff that's the Society for Creative Anachronism, a medievalist group], filking [fannish folk singing, in which popular tunes are given new words "It's an IBM 360-85/This computer came alive'' sung to "This Old Man," for example], masquerade and costume fandom [a biggie, this one) and others.]

Bill Bowers has been a fan for a long time. I've actually met him once or twice at conventions. I've even contributed art and articles to his zines, though not for many years. But he happened to have an old fillo of mine in his files, so he included it in this issue and kindly sent me a copy. I asked him if it would be okay for me to review OW on the web, and he agreed at once.

Keep in mind that OW is not a commonly available publication. It's a stapled-together fmz, for crying out loud: it consists of photocopied pages. (And at 147 pages, it's a damn big fanzine a genzine, actually, with some fannish [specifically about fannish fans writing about fandom itself -- subjects as opposed to general-interest material] overtones. Most zines, not even Bill's, nowhere near this size, but Bill sometimes can't seem to stop. Like many fans, he is obsessive. He's been Pubbing His Ish [doing fanzines] for nearly forty years, now.) You can write to Bill and ask him if he will send you a copy, and if he feels like it, he will. He's a pretty nice guy if he doesn't have any more copies left he may send you something else. Bill, like many fans, is nothing if not prolific when it comes to publishing fanzines. He even has a version of XENOLITH, his FAPAzine, that he sends out via email. Oh FAPA? The Fantasy Amateur Press Association. I can't take the time to explain APAs here I'll have to save that for another column.

Well, after that lengthy introduction (rather deliberately written at least partly in fanspeak), I better get on to the actual contents of OW 70. What you have to understand is that there is an active and lively subculture in fandom devoted to fanzines. The editors, writers and artists are passionate about their work, and they pride themselves on their skill. Very few of these people have ever had or would want to have anything published "professionally." They communicate among themselves for the sheer delight in knowing themselves and each other. Consequently, a fanzine usually has very little to say about science fiction, and a lot to say about people, life, and even fandom itself.

Some of the best essays I have ever read have been in the pages of fanzines that are seen by, at most, a couple hundred people. This issue of OUTWORLDS is no different. Unlike many faneds (fan editors), Bill retains an active interest in both the history of fandom and the history of sf itself. For example, this issue has a lengthy article by Rich Brown titled "A Phone Call from Harlan Ellison," about just that a phone call to Rich from Harlan, clarifying an issue dating back from Harlan's days as a fan in the early Fifties. Rich uses this as a springboard to discuss the ins and outs of Seventh Fandom (don't ask), and goes on at a length that even I, who is somewhat familiar with the subject and even has a passing interest in it, started skimming after about five pages. After all, who gives a damn? Well, there are fans who do even Ellison, who has had nothing to do with fandom for decades, admits that after all these years he can still feel hurt by the whole silly Seventh Fandom flap.

But Rich's entry is not, for my money, the best offering in OUTWORLDS 70. There are touching memories of Jackie Causgrove, a female fan who recently passed away, an excellent piece by Bill Brieding on how he got started reading sf, lots of fannish memorabilia in the form of convention photos, a really interesting travelogue by Larry Downes about his trip to Burma, Chris Sherman's essay on birthing lessons and his impending fatherhood, a long stream-of-consciousness piece by poet and writer Billy Wolfenbarger, a very interesting review by Gregory Benford of Thomas Disch's overview of sf, THE DREAMS OUR STUFF IS MADE OF, a fascinating biographical article about E.E. "Doc" Smith of SKYLARK and LENSMAN fame, appreciations of well-known editor and fan Robert A.W. "Doc" Lowndes (I knew Doc he had contributed to my own fanzine years ago, and I was sad to learn that he had died last year), and much much more, including columns from Wilson (Bob) Tucker and Ted White.

Several of the pieces deal with death in one way or another, as I have intimated, and there is a lot of talk about the recently deceased Bill Rotsler and Buck Coulson in the issue's lettercol letter column, sorry. I think this is the first time I have seen so many memorial pieces in a given fanzine. When you consider that fandom is really a transatlantic community (there is a long tradition of fan funds established for the express purpose of sending deserving fans from one side of the Big Ditch to the other TAFF, the Transatlantic Fan Fund and to Australia DUFF, the Down Under Fan Fund), this should come as no surprise. Fans tend to care about one another when they aren't arguing about something or other. And they tend to stick with their hobby. I haven't seen a fanzine in many a year, but I recognized the bylines of most of the writers and artists whose work are currently on display in OW70.

And that, I believe, is the bottom line of fandom: communication and enduring friendship. There are worse things on which to base a sub-culture. Yes, it is insular, and at times silly, with egos occasionally running rampant and contentious personalities often coming to the fore, but you have to expect that with a big group of opinionated, intensely creative people. Fans are united by their common enjoyment of science fiction, even if they don't talk about it that much. Did I call fandom a hobby? It seems not to matter if FIAWOL (Fandom is a Way of Life) or FIJAGDH (Fandom is Just A God Damn Hobby). There's room for everyone.

OUTWORLDS 70 opens a door on that. It is a door of perception: you might not immediately understand what you are seeing in there, but if you take the time you'll be rewarded.

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