Science Fiction Studies

#94 = Volume 31, Part 3 = November 2004


NOTES AND CORRESPONDENCE

Fanzine Research: Some Sercon Musings. In March of this year, I spent two weeks pursuing research in the fanzine archive of the University of California at Riverside’s J. Lloyd Eaton Collection. This archive consists of two major donations: the Terry Carr Collection, containing over 20,000 issues of 1,400 different zines, and the Bruce Pelz Collection, approximately ten times as large. The latter is not yet fully catalogued, so only a portion of those holdings is  currently accessible, but the Carr Collection alone is a treasure trove for students of American sf, especially of the 1950s to the 1980s (the active years of Carr’s collecting). Since the world of zines largely remains a terra incognita for sf scholars, I thought I might offer some observations on the challenges and gratifications of fanzine research.  

I am currently working on the New Wave movement of the 1960s, and as I began planning for the project, it occurred to me that an interesting way to test prevailing critical assumptions about the period would be to see how the debates and controversies associated with the New Wave were experienced, on the ground, by sf readers and fans. I was in part inspired by a general dissatisfaction with the conventional wisdom regarding the New Wave, which seems to me insufficiently attentive to long-range continuities in the field and woefully under-theorized in terms of particular transformations in the institutional structures of sf, including fandom.1 More specifically, I was stimulated by David Hartwell’s fine chapter on “Fandom” in his book Age of Wonders, where he argues for the existence of an intimate feedback loop between science-fiction authors and their fans:

[T]he SF writer is aware of a palpable and immediate audience. She meets them at conventions, they write her letters, send her fanzines that mention her and her work, respond in a fashion and in significant numbers unknown in any other field of literature. The fans are the SF writer’s friends as well as the core of the SF audience, whose approval indicates wider support among the general readers of SF, whose disapproval is to be risked only with care and, perhaps, at great cost…..
                An SF writer, to gain the support of fans, is expected to appear at conventions … and interact personally with the fans; he is expected to answer personal correspondence from fans and to participate in some manner in fan publications.... A professional who creates a benign persona with regard to fandom is assured of widespread and long-term support from the fan community. (168)

One would expect such a tightly-knit support structure to be especially sensitive to major commotions in the field such as the New Wave. Identifying shifts and tensions in the pro-fan relationship could perhaps provide an index to just how challenging and disruptive the New Wave phenomenon actually was.            

My first line of approach involved sifting through the letter columns of the professional magazines published during the decade—New Worlds, F&SF, Galaxy, Analog, Worlds of If, etc.—to see how fans responded to the more experimental styles of writing and the more explicit forms of content (sexual, political) that are viewed as key New Wave innovations. A significant problem with this method, aside from the fact that these columns were generally rather scant, is that the letters were selected and framed by the magazines’ editors, all of whom (Michael Moorcock, John W. Campbell, and Frederik Pohl especially) had their own deeply entrenched views of the entire affair. Moreover, coverage of fandom in the prozines was fairly limited, since the magazines had to speak to a wider community of readers for whom the doings of a clannish subculture might hold little interest. Among the exceptions were Lin Carter’s “Our Man in Fandom” column, which ran from April 1966 through May 1968 in Worlds of If, and the “Fantasy Fandom” section that ran in Fantastic during 1969-70, which reprinted items from major zines and featured other forms of commentary by prominent fans (including John J. Pierce’s screed against the New Wave in the August 1970 issue).2 The Carter column, in its bemused tone and its coverage of quite elementary ground, indicated editor Pohl’s assumption that most of the magazine’s readers were generally ignorant of fandom and inclined to find the topic rather quaint, if they were interested at all.            

If I wanted to avoid the preconceptions of the prozines, then, an alternative tactic was to access fan opinion directly—for example, through ethnographic interviews. But I have neither the skills nor the temperament for this sort of work, and could not seriously hope to contribute to the sociological study of fandom already undertaken by William Bainbridge, Albert Berger, Phyllis Day, Camille Bacon-Smith, and Brian Stableford, all of whom are trained social scientists. I decided instead to canvass the major fanzines published during the decade in the hopes of gleaning useful commentary unfiltered by potentially biased mediators.

Once decided on this method, I was faced with the difficulty of locating such ephemeral material and, after discovering the mother lode of the Eaton holdings, of figuring out how best to navigate this embarrassment of riches. I had only two weeks to devote to my research trip, and I didn’t want to spend them wading through minor apazines given over to the madcap natter of local faaans; what I needed to find were the most substantial genzines featuring sercon discussion of the evolving field by thoughtful faneds and other actifen.3 The celebrated histories of fandom written by Sam Moskowitz, Harry Warner, Jr., and Damon Knight were not helpful in this regard, since their collective coverage ends in the 1950s, while the sociological work on fandom mentioned above tends to slight fanzines in favor of more direct forms of subcultural interaction, such as convention meetings. One of the frustrating paradoxes of working in this area is that the recent explosion of scholarly work on fan undergrounds and zine culture, driven by cultural-studies concerns (e.g., Duncombe or Sabin and Triggs), more or less ignores science fiction (even though the zine phenomenon originated in pulp-era fandom), while those critics who do deal with sf zines focus on a very narrow corpus, mostly centered on Star Trek (e.g., Jenkins, Penley). Harry Warner’s brief “History of Fanzines” in Joe Sanders’s Science Fiction Fandom amounts to little more than a series of scattered observations. There is as yet no substantial historical survey or serious critical theorization of the role of fanzines in postwar American sf.4           

There is also no comprehensive bibliography, much less a reference index, to American zines of the 1960s and the 1970s. The coverage in Robert Pavlat and William Evans’s Fanzine Index extends only through 1952, and to my knowledge nothing similar exists until the chapters on zines in Harry and Mariane Hopkins’s annual Fanzine Directory, first issued in 1979, which provide broad publication data only. There is a privately published three-volume bibliography of British zines, covering 1936-78, prepared by Peter Roberts, and an anonymously compiled survey of mostly Canadian publications through 1985 held in the archives of the British Columbia Science Fiction Association. Doubtless other such fannish efforts at basic scholarship are floating around the world of zine connoisseurs and collectors. The point is that research in this area is now at the same rudimentary stage as were sf studies in general prior to the appearance of the pioneering book and magazine inventories of Bleiler and Day over fifty years ago. Bluntly put, we don’t even really know what’s out there. Just about the only way to discover the contents of a particular fanzine published since World War II is to read the review columns in other contemporary zines.5           

This is not to say that no trails have been blazed through this wilderness; indeed, at least three thumbnail surveys of major fanzines are readily available: Joe Siclari’s chapter “Science Fiction Fandom: A Selected, Annotated Bibliography” in Sanders’s volume, which briefly annotates 29 different zines; Joe Sanders’s own “Academic Periodicals and Major Fanzines” in Marshall Tymn and Mike Ashley’s reference work on sf magazines, which mixes coverage of about 50 zines with annotations on small-press and academic publications; and Peter Roberts’s theme entry on “Fanzine” in the Clute/Nicholls Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, which is keyed to 36 entries on significant individual titles. These are commendable first stabs at descrying the contours of a fanzine canon, but their relative brevity and their catalogue format insures that they will function as little more than initial signposts towards a thorough mapping of the terrain that is yet to come.           

Some of this mapping is underway thanks to the ongoing efforts of the F.A.N.A.C. Fan History Project, coordinated by Siclari, whose website (at <http://fanac.org/>) includes steadily expanding “Classic” and “Modern” (i.e., Before and After 1980) Fanzine Indexes (featuring complete scanned issues of over 60 titles); the site also houses a number of fan histories-in-progress, including chapter notes for a book on 1960s fandom by Richard Lynch that I found particularly helpful. Indeed, cyberspace seems to be the place where most of the hard work of gathering and sorting is currently being done: other valuable sites I’ve found are Rob Hansen’s British Fanzine Bibliography (<http://www.fiawol.demon.co.uk/biblio/>), which incorporates print surveys previously released by Peter Roberts and Vince Clarke, and Greg Pickersgill’s Memory Hole Permacollection (<http://www.gostak.demon.co. uk/polarbear.htm>), a conspectus of the hoardings of a longtime collector. These sites display the autodidactic quirks one would expect in any such fannish project, but they are admirable in the unique scholarly service they provide.6           

Having consulted these various sources, I still needed a strategy for my Eaton visit. If in fact the New Wave was experienced as a pervasive disruption in the field, then the genzines nominated for Hugo Awards during the period seemed to me likely to address the relevant controversies while reaching a sizeable audience of fans and professionals. Though the system of distributing awards undoubtedly had its own biases, these honors were bestowed directly by the fans themselves— specifically, the actifen contingent making up the membership of the World SF Conventions. I expected, then, that the fanzines they nominated would probably be highly sercon and, thus, deeply engaged with the issues worrying professional authors and editors. A consultation of the list of Hugo nominees from 1962 to 19727 yielded 30 different zines, some longstanding titles (e.g., Robert and Juanita Coulson’s Yandro), some ephemeral efforts (e.g., Frank Lunney’s BeABohema), many with overlapping editorship (e.g., Science Fiction Review, Psychotic, and The Alien Critic, all helmed by Richard E. Geis). An online search of the Eaton holdings indicated that the Terry Carr Collection contained partial or full runs of all the nominated zines (with the peculiar exception of Carr’s own Lighthouse, which I would have to consult elsewhere).8           

But would this cover all the pertinent ground? What about the more evanescent zines, or the less broadly popular ones, that tackled New Wave issues? In order to cast my net more broadly, I scrolled through the Eaton’s fanzine catalog, looking for items whose titles, or dates of publication, or editors’ names suggested potential relevance. I came up with another 75 zines published during the period that seemed to be worth at least a look. That left me with, I thought, a viable two-week program: to work my way through about 100 zines, perhaps a total of 500 separate issues, many of which could be determined at a glance not to be germane to my research, some of which I would have to pore over in detail. (Also, since the Eaton librarians cheerfully copy individual items at the request of visiting scholars, I would be able to secure especially important articles, interviews, or letters and study them at my leisure later on.)            

So what emerged during this orgy of immersion into 1960s zines, aside from a rekindling of the fanboy impulses of my misspent youth? For the full particulars, you’ll have to wait for my future book. Suffice it to say here that my initial hunch regarding the pro-fan relationship as a barometer for the waxings and wanings of New Wave controversy was amply borne out. Indeed, I was surprised by just how much the emergence of the New Wave, and the reaction against it, was intimately bound up with the aggressive professionalization of authorship promoted by the Science Fiction Writers Association, founded in 1965. Fannish resentment was palpable towards younger pros who seemed to write solely for one another’s approbation—registered through the nascent Nebula Awards—and to pursue narrowly careerist goals in preference to the communal ethos of traditional fandom. In many ways the flap over the New Wave merely continued earlier debates over the presumed elitism and snooty literariness of the so-called “Milford Mafia,” that authorial cadre united around the annual writing workshops sponsored by James Blish, Judith Merril, and Damon Knight. Not all fans, of course, agreed that the field’s growing professionalism and its cultivation of more “artistic” standards of writing was a negative thing, just as the authors themselves were not unanimous in embracing these changes; and zines figured as a prominent site where the divisions and alliances among the various factions played out.            

In conclusion, I’d like to offer a few broad observations regarding the value of fanzine research for the sf scholar. As my remarks in the preceding paragraph should make plain, canvassing fanzines is an excellent way to track ongoing developments in the field inaccessible if one reads only professional publications. For one thing, a common practice in fanzines was the reprinting of speeches delivered by sf authors at Worldcons and other major conventions—the sort of material that now sometimes appears in academic journals or in widely accessible semiprozines, forms of publication that did not really exist before the 1970s. Such speeches, at least during the period I’m studying, were major vehicles for the venting of sharp political views about the genre that might not appear in such unvarnished form in an author’s published writings. Lester Del Rey’s speech at the 1967 WorldCon and Donald Wollheim’s at LunaCon the following year offered ferocious denunciations of the New Wave as a contingent of spoiled, self-indulgent, decadent brats. Even when a particular speech was not directly reproduced, most fanzines included conference reports that gave an excellent sense of the occasion, of the audience’s reaction, and of the sometimes barbed exchanges during Q&A. Reading a number of conference reports on the same speech was a fascinating way to register the multifarious reverberations of a major authorial statement about the shape and direction of the field.            

Moreover, the lusty give-and-take of conference events continued in the voluminous pages of the fanzine letter columns, where quite unbuttoned and sometimes brutally frank opinions were expressed. Predictably enough, Harlan Ellison was often in the middle of the most contentious exchanges, as when he lambasted J.J. Pierce, editor of the anti-New Wave zine Renaissance, who had dared to condemn ambitious artists “for caring about their literary quality rather more than they do the appeal of their work to adolescent minds.” Affirming unequivocally that “the field is healthier than it has ever been,” Ellison dismissed Pierce’s efforts to preserve traditional sf from New Wave contagion as the carpings of a “pompous martinet” who “not only cannot write the fiction you profess to adore, but cannot even comment critically with any degree of lucidity…. I suggest it is time you hired a ghost writer” (48-49). Listening in on this ongoing squabble—among professional writers, between pros and their fans, and among the fans themselves—gave me a much broader context for understanding the New Wave debates as they percolated up into prozines and books during the period.9  

Second, fanzines, at least during the period I’m studying, powerfully display the permeability of sf to trends in the broader culture. As one might expect, the 1960s zines showed the influence of contemporary musical and drug subcultures, in some cases becoming essentially counterculture publications in their openness to these phenemona, as well as to political movements such as feminism, gay rights, antiwar protest, and ecology. Susan Glicksohn’s zine from the early 1970s, Aspidistra, for example, was expressly devoted to ecological causes, while publications such as Odd, edited by Raymond Fisher, and the long-running Starling, edited by Hank Luttrell, were vehicles of antiestablishment attitudes virtually indistinguishable at times from the contemporary underground press. What was compelling in reading through this material was not that sf fans should have shared many cultural interests and values with their “mundane” contemporaries, but rather that they should have felt the need to articulate those values within the context of their abiding allegiance to sf, viewing the genre through the lens of their extracurricular commitments (and vice versa). While the 1960s might be unique in this regard, I suspect that every generation of fans seeks to bring sf into dialogue with a larger universe of discourse and action—rather than, as elitist snobs sometimes suggest, looking to “escape” from the real world into aimless fantasy. Scholars whose work on science fiction engages with issues of cultural politics would be well advised to examine fanzines.            

Finally, I think scholars who study the essays, reviews, and other materials published in major sercon zines will be quite impressed by the high level of critical commentary they sustain. The term “fannish” that academics sometimes use to casually disparage amateur scholarship on sf (as I have done, once or twice, in this article) does not do justice to the passionate, articulate, imaginative analyses of the genre published in the very best zines. Indeed, it soon became clear to me that many of the concerns academic critics have pursued in their work were long prefigured by perspicacious fans—e.g., the social conservativism of traditional hard sf,10 the genre’s often laughably impoverished depiction of female characters, its complicated relationship to high fantasy and supernatural horror, the influence on sf of other media such as film and visual art, and so on.11 A wealth of topics that I didn’t have time to follow or that weren’t directly relevant to my research were covered in extraordinary depth in the zines I examined, such as the revival of classic sword-and-sorcery and dark fantasy during the decade, the controversy over paperback reprints of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the status and meaning of Kubrick and Clarke’s 2001, and much more. Many of the major fan commentators of the 1960s and 1970s deserve to be rediscovered; I was particularly impressed by one Angus Taylor, who wrote for a number of genzines during the 1970s, such as Energumen and Khatru, and who had a column called “Sgt. Pepper’s Starship,” first in Kallikanzaros and later in Starling, that was consistently lively and incisive.12 But he was just one of many shrewd contemporary observers of the sf scene featured regularly in the zines; indeed, a broad-based anthology of fan writing from the period would be an invaluable resource for scholars and teachers of sf.13           

Such a tome would also be a sight for sore eyes—I would have been desperately grateful to encounter some standard typeset copy rather than having to squint over the fading, poorly mimeographed, multicolor monstrosities many of these zines are. After two straight weeks, eight hours per day, poring over this material, I can attest that studying fanzines can take its toll on your vision14; but it can also, I believe, significantly expand your view of how to do scholarship on modern science fiction.—RL

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank a number of people who were helpful to me as I pursued my fanzine research: George Slusser, curator of the Eaton Collection; Darian Daries, Department Coordinator of Special Collections in UC-Riverside’s Rivera library; and especially Sara Stilley, Reference Assistant and supervisor of the reading room, who went above and beyond the call of duty in responding to my confusing (and sometimes simply confused) requests. I would also like to thank two librarians at other institutions who gave me very kind assistance: Hal Hall at Texas A&M and Andy Sawyer at the SF Foundation Collection in Liverpool.

NOTES
                1. I rehearse much of this conventional wisdom in my essay on “The New Wave” forthcoming in The Blackwell Companion to Science Fiction.
                2. Indeed, both Fantastic and Amazing during this period, revamped under the general editorship of Ted White (who had been an active presence in fandom for nearly a decade), began to evince a heightened responsiveness to their readers, the former’s “According to You” and the latter’s “… Or So You Say” sections taking on some of the heft and hectic give-and-take of fanzine letter columns. These prozines could do this, in large part, because they were second-rank publications, several notches below Analog, Galaxy, and F&SF, and could thus afford to be less concerned about maintaining a discreet distance from the realms of fandom. This division continued a trend established during the magazine boom of the 1950s, when the only prozines to run substantial regular sections on fandom were the third-tier publications, especially those edited by William L. Hamling and Raymond A. Palmer—such as the “Fandora’s Box” column, penned by Mari Wolfe and Robert Bloch, that ran in Hamling’s Imagination from from 1951 to 1958. While several commentators have stressed the frequent crossover between fan and professional careers (e.g., Moskowitz, “From Fanzines to Fame”), not enough critical work has been done on the firm barriers between professional and fan culture long maintained by the major magazines.
                3. Donald Franson’s A Key to the Terminology of Science-Fiction Fandom, published by the National Fantasy Fan Federation in 1962, provides definitions of these various terms: “natter” is fannish “idle chatter”; “faaans” are sf fans who are “more interested in fandom than in [sf]”; “apazines” are publications by amateur press associations that generally serve these communities (see also Bosky); “genzines,” by contrast, are “fanzines of general interest”; “sercon” refers to a “serious and constructive” (i.e., intellectual, as opposed to clubby, star-struck, and/or pixilated) engagement with the world of sf; “faneds” are fanzine editors; “actifen” (fen being plural for fan) are that dedicated segment of the fan community engaged in vigorous “fanac”—publicly visible fan activity, including writing to and for zines. Franson’s lexicon, which builds on Jack Speer’s pioneering Fancyclopedia (privately published by Forrest J. Ackerman in 1944), is available online at <http://fanac.org/Fannish_Reference_Works/FandBook/ FandBook.html>, where the above definitions may be found. As this footnote suggests, another problem for the researcher when dealing with fan writing is its tendency to erupt into insider slang more or less opaque to the uninitiated. For a linguistic analysis of fanspeak, see Southard.
                4. I must admit, though, to a grudging fondness for Fredric Wertham’s The World of Fanzines—yes, that Fredric Wertham, the crusading psychiatrist whose 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent prompted a crackdown on representations of sex and violence in comics. Written towards the end of his life (and giving evidence at times of encroaching senility), The World of Fanzines is something of a mea culpa for his earlier career, warmly praising sf and comics zines as grassroots alternatives to mainstream, commercialized youth culture. It is an entertainingly daft book—“a masterpiece of scholarship gone off the rails,” as Dwight Decker has observed—but useless to the serious researcher.
                5. Such review sections, sizing up the competition and offering lively feedback, have long been a common feature of sf zines, and the practice has occasionally been copied by professional magazines seeking to curry favor with fans. Rog Phillips’s fanzine review column “The Club House,” published in Ray Palmer’s Amazing and Other Worlds from from 1948 to 1956, was revived by Ted White when he took over Amazing in 1969, with the new column penned by John D. Berry and rich brown.
                6. Pelz gives a good sense of the almost devotional intensity fanzine collectors lavish on their favorite hobby.
                7. A full list of Hugo Award nominees is available on the Locus magazine website at <http://locusmag.com/SFAwards/Db/Hugo.html>. I chose the years 1962 and 1972 as bookends for my search because, since 1966-69 has generally been identified as the peak period of New Wave controversy, I wanted to test what fan commentary was like before and after this purported zenith—to see how the arguments emerged, rhetorically and philosophically, and how they receded.
                8. Other academic institutions with strong fanzine holdings are Cal State-Fullerton, Temple University, Texas A&M, and the University of Liverpool, where the Science Fiction Foundation Collection is housed and which is particularly strong on British zines.
                9. I was genuinely astonished by how many sf authors not only read the fanzines but took the time to respond to them—validating Hartwell’s observation about the need to cultivate a professional persona. Of course, it was a common practice for fanzine editors to send free copies of particular zines to writers who were mentioned or whose work was reviewed in them; thus, not all pros were carefully monitoring everything going on in the fan press, but rather were reacting to specific goads or solicitations. That said, of all the significant sf authors of the 1960s, the only one who was conspicuous by his or her absence from the numerous fanzine lettercols that I surveyed was Robert A. Heinlein.
                10. Unsurprisingly, Robert A. Heinlein’s work was often a political football in these critiques, as witness the debate about Farnham’s Freehold (1964) among Jerry Pournelle, Tom Perry, and Joe Patrizio. The Heinlein special issue of the great British zine Speculation, published in 1969, offered a range of views, including this dyspeptic assessment by M. John Harrison:

The package-deal of overt xenophobia, martial oppression and controlled violence in Starship Troopers; the inept sexual voyeurism of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress ...; these things are comforters, part opiate, part masturbation. This is a full-grown man pandering to disturbed and uncomfortable children, supplying catharsis by feeding back their own fears and desires.... [F]eedback of that kind acts as an amplifier of the original distorted signal—how many little plastic models of himself has Heinlein created, and each one primed to zip out and implement the savage bipolar creed? (31)

                11. By the early 1970s, the level of commentary in the so-called “criticalzines” was so high that it led Gregory Benford, in his “Thoughts While Typing” column in Outworlds, to mock the trend toward “the Serious Literary Article,” probably written “by fledgling Assistant Professors of English without a scholarly journal to publish in,” and often bearing forbidding titles such as “Neo-Classical Eschatological Bifurcation in Doc Savage: Some Aspects” (57-58).
                12. Taylor was without doubt the most capable fan commentator on the work of J.G. Ballard, as witness his two clever pastiches in Energumen; and his essay for the first issue of Khatru, “Reactionary Ideology in Science Fiction,” developed a critical perspective on sf congruent with contemporaneous work taking place in this journal: “The vast bulk of modern sf … is reactionary in its basic assumptions. It is pessimistic and despairing of the ability of human beings to constructively shape the world they live in. The only ‘progress’ it preaches is the expansion or extrapolation of present trends in space and time—which is not really progress at all” (41).
                13. A few volumes reprinting the work of major individual critics have appeared—e.g., The Best of Susan Wood; and there are two wide-ranging “fanthologies” of British fan writing from the 1970s, edited by Smith and by Maule and Nicholas, both published to coincide with the 37th Annual Worldcon held in Brighton, England in 1979. But no comparable volume of US material exists, at least to my knowledge.
                14. Check out these scanned pages from Bob Tucker’s immortal zine Le Zombie for a sense of the visual challenges posed by this material: <http://www.midamericon.org/ tucker/currentlez.htm>.

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Wertham, Fredric. The World of Fanzines: A Special Form of Communication. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1974.
Wood, Susan. The Best of Susan Wood. Seattle, WA: Jerry Kaufman, 1982.

The Boom is Dead. Long Live the Boom. In SFS #91 (November 2003), I suggested that the end of the boom in British sf and fantasy was “extremely fucking nigh.” This sentiment was echoed in a session with Steve Aylett and China Miéville at the Bath Literary Festival earlier this year, in which Paul Kincaid, knowing I was in the audience, half-jokingly suggested that the Boom had been killed off by the academic attention it had attracted. And ever since we put the “British Boom” SFS issue to bed, rumors have been circulating of the demise of Interzone (currently—and depending on how you count—it is the 9th longest-lasting Anglophone sf fiction magazine ever published, only thirteen issues behind Fantastic and either eight or twenty-one issues behind New Worlds). However, Andy Cox, editor of The Third Alternative, has stepped in and taken over publishing Interzone as a bi-monthly from #194; and, in addition to a largely negative review of SFS #91, the last issue of David Pringle’s Interzone carries news of Paul Brazier’s online venture <quercus-sf.com> and Peter Crowther’s book-format magazine Postscripts. Perhaps it’s like Miéville’s crisis science—the end is always extremely fucking nigh, but so are beginnings. The Boom is dead. Long live the Boom.—Mark Bould, University of the West of England, Bristol

Planet Conjunctions. This summer, I happened to be looking at the early satire on college life by Neal Stephenson entitled The Big U (1984) and noticed that he thanks Edward Gibbon for writing The Decline and Fall. Then I read the new essay by J. Joseph Miller on Asimov and Jeremy Bentham in SFS #93 (July 2004). Years ago (in 1976) Dale Mullen noted nicely in these pages that I was trying to suggest links between the 18th-century Enlightenment and modern sf. Perhaps those conjunctions are becoming more popular now, especially when I see how hard Stephenson is trying to fictionalize in his Baroque Cycle exactly this set of connections. And Asimov leaned a lot on Gibbon, too, as well as on the utilitarians. It is good to see that important ideas have a continuing life.—Donald M. Hassler, Kent State University

Call for Essays: Special SFS Issue on Afrofuturism. In 1993, Mark Dery opened “Black to the Future,” his interview with Samuel R. Delany, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose in South Atlantic Quarterly 92.4 (1993), by questioning why so few African-Americans write science fiction. In 2000, Walter Mosley wrote in “Black to the Future,” an article in The New York Times, that everywhere he went he met “young black poets and novelists who are working on science fiction manuscripts”; he predicted that “within the next five years ... there will be an explosion of science fiction from the black community” (qtd. in Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora [New York: Warner, 2000, pp. 405-07]). 

In July 2006, Science Fiction Studies will be publishing a special issue on Afrofuturism—black sf and black fantasy. Following Dery’s lead, Afrofuturism looks not just to “speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of twentieth-century technoculture” but also to “African-American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically-enhanced future” (736).  In addition to the work of such sf/fantasy writers as Delany, Octavia Butler, Charles Saunders, Steve Barnes, Nalo Hopkinson, and Tananarive Due, Afrofuturism is concerned with appropriations of sf in the work of writers working outside the Anglo-American generic conventions (e.g., George Schuyler, Ralph Ellison, Ishmael Reed, Amos Tutuola, Dambudzo Marechara, John A. Williams), popular music (e.g., Sun Ra, George Clinton, Lee Scratch Perry, DJ Spooky), fine arts (e.g., Basquiat, Rammellzee), comic books (e.g., Milestone Comics, Truth: Red, White, and Black, and such characters as Black Panther, Luke Cage, Black Lightning, Black Goliath, Blade, and Storm), movies (e.g., Space is the Place, The Spook Who Sat by the Door, The Brother from Another Planet, Born in Flames, Blade), and in other media. For an expansive but still incomplete overview of Afrofuturism, see <www.afrofuturism.org>.            

Despite a number of important publications over the last few years, the sf academic community has generally offered little commentary on Afrofuturism and has continued to define sf in terms that are primarily white and literary. This special issue aims to enable a meeting of the sf and afrofuturist communities. Please address all enquiries, proposals and submissions to <mark.bould@uwe.ac.uk>. The deadline for submission of articles of up to  8,500 words is December 1, 2005.—Mark Bould, University of the West of England, Bristol

Afrofuturism Lecture Series. Stanford University’s Department of African and African American Studies (AAAS) sponsored a lecture series in Afrofuturism in Spring 2004. Among the speakers were Sheree R. Thomas (“Looking for the Invisible: the Creation of Dark Matter”), David Sutcliffe (“The Serpent Slain: African America and the Restorers of the Balance”), Nisi Shawl (“Ancestors, Ghosts, and Social Technology”), Cherene Sherrard (“The Quality of Sand”), Richard Yarborough (“Blackness & Sci-Fi Film”), Tananarive Due (“Rendering the Dream: The Supernatural as Metaphor in the Works of Tananarive Due”), Steven Barnes (“Rendering the Dream: Race, Consciousness and Science Fiction in the 21st Century”), and Jayna Brown (“Of Dermis, Blood, and Bone”).—CM

CFP: “Theorizing Fan Fiction and Fan Communities.” Fan fiction has recently gained increasing visibility in both mass media and academic writing. Yet no comprehensive essay collection has traced the changes and shifts in fan culture and fan fiction since the groundbreaking works of Henry Jenkins, Camille Bacon-Smith, and Constance Penley during the early 1990s. This essay collection seeks to complement these early explorations into fan fiction by  expanding their scope to include such recent phenomena as the Internet (with fan culture revolving around Usenet groups, mailing  lists, and blogs); the rapid growth of stories featuring previously taboo subjects such as underage sex, incest, and real person fiction  (RPF); and the changing demographics of the fan base. Recent work on fandom has queried the frequently debated and constantly shifting attitudes toward writing and community, as well as more sophisticated self-analysis, in part the result of the increasing presence of academic fans. We are looking for academic essays geared toward a general readership and we also invite personal reflections of readers, writers, and fans. This collection strives to be interdisciplinary and we especially welcome historical, sociological, and anthropological approaches, in addition to work from literary and media studies perspectives. Essays may focus on particular fandoms and source texts but should ultimately address larger concerns and experiences relevant to fandom and fan fiction.                      

Papers should fit into one of four broad sections: history and terminology; text, writer, reader; forms and genres; and community. Contributions to the first section (history and terminology) might focus on changes that have occurred as fan fiction moves from hard copy to cyberspace. Traditional zines, fan fiction CDs and downloads, Usenet, mailing lists, and blogs could be analyzed, perhaps in terms of fandom's response to technological change. Analysis of specific fandoms as well as more general overviews are welcome. Submissions for the second section (text, writer, reader) might consider such dyads as academic/fan and reader/writer. Also appropriate are essays considering fans’ engagement with source texts (including episode fixes or traumatic events in the source), questions of canon, fanon, and characterization, and issues of author insertion and identification. Studies of the process of writing, as opposed to the  product, are also needed. Section three, on forms and genres, might consider such fan genres as slash, het/ship, genfic, alternate universes and realities, mpreg, BDSM, kinkfic, elves, and wingfic. Essays on form might address real person fiction, role-playing games, and songfic. Forms and genres should be assessed with a view to reaching new conclusions. Contributions to the fourth and final section (community) might address new uses of technology. LiveJournal and other online communities, the interaction among writer/beta/audience, strategies to meld the fan fiction community (cons, fic archives), and inculcation of new fans into the fan fiction community all need to be theorized in light of technological change. Other possible topics for section four might include the identity politics of fandom and the emotional investment of fans in fandom, the texts, and each other.            

All fandoms are welcome, as are essays about mediafic, bookfic, comicfic, and RPF. The volume will be geared to academics and students of English, sociology, and media studies interested in jargon-free, theory-based analyses. Personal essays as well as more traditional academic essays are welcome.            

Submit complete essays not more than 7500 words in length (excluding  Abstract, Notes, and Works Cited). The abstract should summarize your argument and should be less than 500 words. Submit files via e-mail in  Microsoft Word or .rtf format. Use in-text author-page number citations  whenever possible. Use endnotes sparingly for substantive notes. The document style should be according to Chicago 15. If artwork, photographs, or screen shots are  included, contact the editors for instructions and copyright release  requirements. No simultaneous submissions. We also cannot accept previously published essays; if you have put your essay up on the Internet, we cannot consider it for inclusion. For further information contact Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse at <theorize@karenhellekson.com>; the URL is <http://www.karenhellekson.com/theorize/>—Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse

A Commonwealth of Science Fiction. This past August 5-8, the University of Liverpool hosted its third major conference on science fiction since 1996, organized under the auspices of the Science Fiction Foundation. The University has housed the Foundation’s research library, one of the major resources in the sf and fantasy fields, since 1993; and the collection also provides core support for the University of Liverpool’s M.A. in Science Fiction Studies. (See <http://www.sf-foundation.org/> for more information about the Science Fiction Foundation.) The title of this year’s conference was “A Commonwealth of Science Fiction” and, not surprisingly, the ideological tenor of the conference was decidedly postcolonial. Science fiction has been rather belated in its awareness of postcolonial issues and academic scholarship in this area has developed even more slowly, so this particular emphasis was a welcome one.            

The conference featured Andrew M. Butler, this year’s SFRA Pioneer Award winner, as keynote speaker; charter member of the Canadian science fiction community, Peter Halasz, as fan guest; and Nalo Hopkinson, Damien Broderick, and John Courtney Grimwood, representing Canada, Australia, and Britain respectively, as writer guests of honor. Papers and presentations ranged broadly, including discussions about sf writing in Taiwan, s/m sexuality in the work of Québecoise women writers, Judith Merril’s contribution to the “Canadian-ness” of Canadian science fiction, utopian fiction in New Zealand, Australian sf tv and film production, and the influence of 1950s sf on the sex-and-drug culture of the New Wave movement. There were also a variety of presentations on postcolonial science fiction by writers such as Nalo Hopkinson, Amitov Ghosh, Hiromi Goto, Thomas King, and Mudrooroo, as well as on Australian writer Greg Egan and Canadian writer Candas Jane Dorsey. The conference also held a very entertaining book launch for So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy, a significant new collection of stories co-edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan.            

As at the previous conference in 2001, this year’s event was ably organized by Farah Mendlesohn and Andrew M. Butler, with Andy Sawyer representing the Foundation Collection. Although there were substantially fewer participants this year than in 2001—we’re now living, after all, in a post-9/11 world—the quality of the presentations was very good indeed, and the company was excellent. Interested readers can look over the conference program and its attendant events at <http://homepages.enterprise.net/ambutler/acosf/>.—VH

Looking for SF in Hyderabad. Between August 4–9, I attended the thirteenth international triennial conference of the Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies held in Hyderabad, India. Its theme, “Nation and Imagination: The Changing Commonwealth,” eerily echoed that of the Liverpool conference on “A Commonwealth of Science Fiction” held on the same dates on the other side of the globe and reported on elsewhere in these pages. My paper on Geoff Ryman’s The Child Garden (1989) was one of only two papers to discuss science fiction directly: the other was Ruby Ramraj’s “Gender and Nation Across Time in Nalo Hopkinson’s Novels.” The conference’s emphasis on postcolonial studies nevertheless had much to offer sf scholarship, and I found that postcolonial scholars were receptive to sf’s ability to address the other, the alien, the immigrant, the colonizer, and the colonized through its literalization of metaphor. By the end of the conference, it was difficult to tell whether sf had colonized postcolonial studies or vice versa.            

This was an impressive conference in many ways. The governor of Hyderabad’s state opened the conference (flanked by soldiers with rifles), and it was covered in the major newspapers almost every day, often with photos, often on the front page. Its plenary speakers were impressive as well: Helen Tiffin, Homi Bhabha, Aijaz Ahmed, and Gayatri Spivak. Much of what they had to say was relevant to sf scholarship. Helen Tiffin is exploring “Re-imagined Community,” connecting ideas about race and species and about the more-than-human world, using, among other texts, Timothy Findley’s Not Wanted on the Voyage (1984). Homi Bhabha presented an excerpt from his forthcoming book, A Global Measure, on W.E.B. Du Bois’s Dark Princess (1928), a “godawful” but fascinating (and, I might add, science fictional) work that creates a new world through an idea of India. Aijaz Ahmed spoke of the “nation not as patrimony but as project, ... not looking to the past but to the future.” Only Spivak’s presentation, a call to recognize the many mother tongues of the commonwealth, did not make a direct reference to sf texts or concerns.            

Science fiction seems to be of only minor commercial and critical interest in India in spite of the success of Amitov Ghosh’s novel The Calcutta Chromosome (1995). I learned, however, that the film director Satyajit Ray has written some sf stories, as has novelist and cartoonist Manjula Padmanabhan. A collection of Indian sf exists—I’m still tracking it down—and a book was being launched by Penguin during the conference, The Simoqin Prophecies by Samit Basu, billed as “India’s first ever sf/f [science fiction/fantasy] genre novel in English.”            

Bruce Sterling has a short story in which India has become the next superpower (“Sacred Cow,” 1993). Indians themselves are mulling over the possibility. Perhaps sf will colonize that part of the commonwealth as such a future unfolds. I did some colonizing of post-colonial studies on a small scale at the conference, and by the time I had left, several scholars had similar plans to colonize sf.—JG

CFP: History in Science Fiction; Science Fiction in History. From March 10-12, 2005, the University of Nice will sponsor a conference at which Margaret Atwood will be a featured speaker. Other probable participants (listed on the website as “Approached Persons”) include Gérard Klein, Eric Henriet, Johan Heliot, André-François, Ruaud, Pedro Mota, Thomas Day, Pierre-Paul Durastanti, Eric Vial, David Calvo, Joseph Altairac, Roger Bozzetto, Olivier Paquet, Jean-Jacques Régnier, Irène Langlet, Sylvie Allouche, François Angelier, Jean-François Mattéi, Fabrice Méreste, Jean-Jacques Girardot, and Patrick Parrinder. For further information in English, see the conference website at <http://www.unice.fr/sf/indexuk.html>.—CM


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