Fanzines

From 1995 to 1998, I published a science fiction fanzine. This was before people published their fanzines on the Web, so it was photocopied, stapled, and mailed out. What eventually killed it off was the cost of printing and mailing two or three dozen copies; I didn’t have much money in those days.

It’s hard to explain the whole subculture which surrounded science fiction fanzines in the days before the Web. It’s important to know that there were several different types of fanzines: genzines, with multiple authors writing on topics of general interest to all science fiction fans; personalzines, written by a single person who wrote about whatever interested them; newszines, with news of science fiction fandom. Most fanzines were personalzines; genzines and newszines required a higher level of skill. Fanzines were distributed in several different ways: apazines were distributed through an APA, or Amateur Press Association, where fanzines of APA members were collated and distributed to all the members; a clubzine was distributed to the members of a science fiction club; but most fanzines were made available for the “The Usual,” which meant there were three ways to get a copy: send a letter of comment (LoC), send some modest sum plus a self-addressed stamped envelope; or send your own fanzine in trade. I started a fanzine primarily because I needed something to trade for other fanzines. Other science fiction fans, called “letterhacks,” fed their fanzine habit by writing innumerable letters of comment. And many fanzines carried reviews of fanzines they had received, along with the editor’s address. Fanzine subculture was really a social network organized around the written word; in a very real sense it can be seen as a precursor to today’s online social networks, because a significant proportion of the users of the earliest social networks — BBSs, Usenet, etc. — were science fiction fans, and those early users shaped later social networks. It is not a coincidence that one of the very first web logs, or blogs, was written and hand-coded by Poul Anderson, a science fiction author.

The other part of science fiction fandom’s social network was, and still is, conventions. A science fiction convention was where you met face-to-face the people that you had come to know through reading fanzines and writing letters of comment. Or maybe you didn’t meet those other people: many science fiction fans were (and are) strongly introverted, and a feature of some of the science fiction conventions I attended were sessions in which a whole bunch of people sat in a room together and read books; no one talked. To those of you who are extroverted, this will sound crazy, but for those of us who are strong introverts, this sounds like the perfect way to be social, and even though I never attended one of those sessions it was comforting to know they were an option. Science fiction conventions also attracted a fair percentage of people whom we would now call neuroatypical; it was normal to be neuroatypical at a science fiction fan, just as it was normal to be socially awkward, or to be socially adept, or to be neurotypical. Science fiction fans, in my experience, could be a very tolerant group of people; though at the same time, science fiction fandom has always been subject to intense feuds and violent arguments (to read about a recent science fiction kerfluffle, do a Web search for “rabid puppies hugo”). These conflicts, of course, made wonderful material for several months’ worth of fanzines and letters of comment, and a regular feature of most fanzines was “convention reports,” where someone would tell in excruciating detail all about their experience at some science fiction convention; and the next issue there would be letters commenting on the convention report, and later more letters commenting on the comments, and so it could go on for months. And of course the WordCon — the annual world science fiction convention — was the biggest convention of all, the one which generated more fanzine column inches than any other.

This year’s WorldCon is in San Jose, and it going on right now. I thought about going. I’ve only been to one WorldCon, in 1980, and it would be fun to go one more time. Then I thought of the crowds of science fiction fans mobbing the San Jose Convention Center. I don’t like crowds, even crowds of tolerant people who do things like sit in a room together reading books and not talking. And I remembered years ago, when I was still publishing my science fiction fanzine, I wrote a con report which said, in essence, “I didn’t go.” So this is my con report telling you why I didn’t go to the WorldCon that took place a short drive from where I live.

Harlan Ellison

It’s hard to believe that Harlan Ellison is dead.

If you know anything about science fiction, you know that Harlan Ellison was brilliant. At his best, he was a superb writer; not a writer in the genteel mode of The New Yorker, but a writer of smart, fast-paced pop culture genre fiction with strong plots and strong characters. His 1965 story “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” sticks in my memory: the Harlequin, a rebel against a society which enforces strict conformism, is finally brought under control by the uber-enforcer called the Ticktockman; yet at the end of the story, it appears that the Ticktockman may have been nudged into small acts of non-conformism through his interaction with the Harlequin.

In addition to writing science fiction stories, Ellison worked in Hollywood, writing for Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, and many other TV shows. He was also, by all accounts, a difficult individual. Take, for example, the best-known manifestation of his difficult character: an anthology he edited called The Last Dangerous Visions. He bought stories from many well-known science fiction authors, the book was supposed to have been published in 1973, but it remained unpublished at his death. This was not merely an extreme case of work avoidance: he retained all rights to all the stories he had received, refused to let anyone else publish the stories, and aggressively pursued legal action when he thought someone he trespassed on his rights as editor.

Yet in spite of his character flaws (and who am I to point out character flaws? heaven knows we all have character flaws), he inspired devotion in many people. In his autobiography I Asimov, Isaac Asimov called him “warm and loving.” According to Asimov, Ellison had a “miserable youth”: “Being always small and being always enormously intelligent, he found that he could easily flay the dimwits by whom he was surrounded. But he could only do so in words, and the dimwits could use their fists…. This embittered him and did not teach him to keep his mouth shut….” Will Shetterly, another science fiction writer, notes some of the things that Ellison did not keep his mouth shut about: Ellison participated in the civil rights march in Selma; he also went to great lengths to show his support of the Equal Rights Amendment.

It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that Ellison was a kind of living version of his character, the Harlequin: completely unwilling, maybe even unable to conform to societal norms. But unlike the Harlequin, Ellison never gave in, he was never brought under the control of the Ticktockman.

Brief obituary at Locus; full obit in their August issue.
A 1954 description of Ellison as a science fiction fan.

Yammer yammer

As I walked over to the science fiction section in the library, I could hear a resonant baritone voice in a far corner. Some idiot on their cell phone, I muttered under my breath. Let’s see, McCaffrey, nope further back, LeGuin, getting closer.

Yammer, yammer, yammer, said the resonant baritone voice, distracting me. Yammer yammer yammer.

Laidlaw, Laidlaw, Laidlaw, I repeated to myself, looking through the Ls. What, no Marc Laidlaw? Rats. OK, let’s try S.

yammer yammer give me seed money yammer yammer I’d be CTO yammer

I tried to shut the phone conversation out of my mind, but it was so full of Silicon Valley cliches that it leaked past my defenses. And every other word seems to be “I” or “me,” I said under my breath. I walked around the corner to get to the Ss, and there he was: a young white male, schlubbily dressed. I ignored him as best I could and looked for Stross, but the book I was looking for wasn’t there. Let’s try Matthew Hughes.

yammer what I want yammer I told the VC yammer I said I don’t let people quit my company yammer

The Hs were just around the corner from where the young man was talking. It took some effort to shut the loud self-important voice out of my head. No Hughes on the shelf, but I got distracted by an old Harry Harrison novel. Though I studiously paid no attention, I could sense the young man’s back looking at me with annoyance; I had entered his private space. He walked away, still talking loudly, his self-important voice fading to a distant but resonant whine.

The Harrison novel was not nearly as good as I remembered, so I left it on the shelf and went to look for Pratchett. It occurred to me that the young man with the self-important loud voice was very much like a character from a Terry Pratchett novel: one of those self-involved narrow characters who is certain he is saving the world (from something it doesn’t need saving from) and who is bewildered when he makes a giant mess out of everything.

May the gods preserve us from such people, I muttered to myself as I checked out my books, and then realized I was talking to myself a bit too much. Not a good sign.

Performing a poem

The poet Lew Welch wrote: “I like the idea of giving my readers a text they can perform, themselves. Far too many of our pleasures are spectator sports already…” (introduction to Ring of Bone). The way I like to perform poetry is to write out a fair copy of the poem.

A couple of weeks ago, Carol and I went to the city and stopped in at City Lights Bookstore. I sat in the Poetry Room leafing through books and found the poem “Global Warming Blues” by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, in The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop (Haymarket Books, 2015). I almost bought the book, but I just got rid of four hundred books so we could fit into our new apartment; no way I could justify buying a new book for just one poem. So I performed the poem by writing out a fair copy on some watercolor paper. I tucked the poem into my coat pocket and forgot about it.

I carried the poem around in my coat pocket. The paper got wrinkled, and the poem got smudged though it was still perfectly legible. Maybe that’s a metaphor for what’s supposed to happen to poetry: poems aren’t supposed to remain captive inside the pristine covers of a book sitting on a bookshelf; poems are supposed to be out in the world: objects of use rather than useless objets d’art. I re-read the last paragraph:

now my town is just a river
bodies floatin, water’s high
my town is just a river
but I’m too damn mad to cry
seem like for Big Men’s living
little folks has got to die

Revolution

Carol just sent me my horoscope, which quotes Rebecca Solnit on the necessity of revolution:

“I still think the revolution is to make the world safe for poetry, meandering, for the frail and vulnerable, the rare and obscure, the impractical and local and small, and I feel that we’ve lost if we don’t practice and celebrate them now, instead of waiting for some ’60s never-neverland of after-the-revolution. And we’ve lost the revolution if we relinquish our full possibilities and powers.” — Rebecca Solnit, interview by Benjamin Cohen in The Believer, September, 2009.

And this reminded me what Adrienne Rich said about poetry and social change back in 2006:

“Poetry has the capacity — in its own ways and by its own means — to remind us of something we are forbidden to see. A forgotten future: a still-uncreated site whose moral architecture is founded not on owndership and dispossession, the subjection of women, torture and bribes, outcast and tribe, but on the continuous redefining of freedom — that word now held under house arrest by the rhetoric of the ‘free ‘ market. This ongoing future, written off over and over, is still within view. All over the world its paths are being rediscovered and reinvented: through collective action, through mahy kinds of art.Its elementary condition is the recovery and redistribution of the world’s resources that have been extracted from the many by the few.” — Adrienne Rich, Poetry and Commitment (New York: W. W. Norton, 2007), p. 36.

Type Greek

Every once in a while, I need to type something in ancient Greek. Sure, it’s easy to type Greek letters on most computers, using the Symbol font or equaivalent — but getting the diacriticals right, that’s a real problem. There are rough breathing and smooth breathing marks; and there are oxia (acute), varia (grave), and perispomeni (circumflex) accent marks; and a few other little odds and ends. You can find free ancient Greek fonts (e.g., Brill ancient Greek font), but then you have to change your keyboard settings; not something I want to do when I only need to type in ancient Greek once a year or so.

Then I found this great Web site, TypeGreek. You can learn their simple system for typing accents in about 4 seconds. Then just cut and paste the text into your favorite word processor. And if you can’t get the font to work in your word processor, or if you want to use it on the Web, do a screenshot and insert the image into the document:

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 6.14.29 PM

How easy is that?

William R. Jones writing retreat

Hassahan Batts writes: “Practitioners Research and Scholarship Institute (www.prasi.org) is having another writing retreat where we are bringing together students of Dr. Jones in Allentown, Pennsylvania. If interested please email justequality@yahoo.com .”

No date given, so if you’re interested I’d suggest writing to the above email address right away.

Go to a bookstore

It’s the last day of Banned Books Week 2015. Local bookstores are often on the front lines of fighting local book bans. (And while I rely on the big behemoth booksellers, face-to-face bookstores can be centers of cultural resistance in a way that chain bookstores and online booksellers will never be.) With that in mind, I dug up some bookmarks from some of my favorite local bookstores:

Bookmarks

Poems as theology

I have a tough time reading academic theology, and prefer to get my theological fix from poetry. I’m promiscuous in my theological tastes when it comes to poetry — how can I resist the cranky Buddhism of Gary Snyder? or the strange pacifistic Roman Catholicism of Denise Levertov? or the Black humanism of James Weldon Johnson?

Of course, sometimes it’s good to be parochial, and engage with one’s co-religionists. When I started listing some of the poems by Unitarian Universalist poets which have most influenced my theology, I realized that I prefer poets who are mystics and Transcendentalists. Since mystics and Transcendentalists are theologically suspect, I further realized that I shouldn’t be wasting my time getting theology from poetry rather than from works of academic theology.

Yet I’ll bet there are other people out there who get their theology in poetry. If you’re one of them, which poems have most influenced your theological thinking? If you happen to be a Unitarian Universalist, which poems by Unitarian Universalists are your theological mainstays?

And in the interests of full disclosure, below I’ll list some of the poems by UU poets that influenced me. Continue reading “Poems as theology”

How I read

Mr. Elphinston talked of a new book that was much admired, and asked Dr. Johnson if he had read it. JOHNSON. ‘I have looked into it.’ ‘What, (said Elphinston,) have you not read it through? Johnson, offended at being so pressed, and so obliged to own his cursory mode of reading, answered tartly, ‘No, Sir, do you read books through?’

James Boswell, Life of Johnson, April 19, 1773 (in my 1924 Oxford University Press edition, vol. 1, p. 493)