Beam 07 : Locs 08

CLAIRE BRIALEY

I’d really wanted to respond to BEAM #5 too. But let’s not dwell on the past, except where we can get interesting fan writing out of it.

I’d like to be the 73rd person, or thereabouts, to say how glad I am that Kat Templeton decided not to gafiate – but I do note that she hasn’t quite worked through and resolved her original problem yet.

I re-read Kat’s article at a small weekend gathering of a group of UK fans who are all older than me: one by less than a year, one by around six years, and the remaining fifteen or so by… well, more than that. In fact, most of the friends I was hanging out with this weekend are legally old enough to be my parents – and that’s been a common experience throughout the (eeek) twenty-seven years I’ve been spending time in person with SF fans. It’s never felt bad to me, but sometimes generational differences do notice.

Oddly enough, though, the mere fact of my existence doesn’t help Kat. I’m half a generation offset from her (and thus old enough to be the mother of John Coxon, who Kat was statutorily obliged to mention as The Youngest Fanzine Fan); and, like her, I’ve noticed for a long time that there really aren’t that many people in my own fannish circles who are Kat’s sort of age. I could scrape together a dozen names or so in UK fandom, the first half of whom leap to mind because they’ve been active for a while. There are, of course, many many younger people in the wider SF community, and it may well be that the existence of that community is why they’re not all here, leaping in my mind as fanzine fans and Eastercon runners and people I meet at Novacon.

People will often say that age (and gender, and race, and class) doesn’t matter in fandom – that we’re of like mind, so of course we can be friends regardless of differences in background. That last part fits with my experience, but it doesn’t make the first part true. There’s a much bigger debate ongoing all over the place about how accurate it is, and how much it fails to empathise from a position of privilege with a feeling of exclusion; I’m not dismissing that wider debate by choosing not to take that path, but neither am I dismissing Kat’s experience by comparing it with mine. I will just note that I’ve experienced more overt ageism from younger people in the SF community (sometimes only slightly younger – but they seem to have assumed I’m older than I am, the more readily to lump me in with a group of other straw mostly-men) than I have from older ones.

Although superficial similarities don’t guarantee connections, sometimes they build social glue. Within small age groups, as within quite localised geographical communities, we have references and resonances which are less familiar to others and which create comfort by not needing to explain the context. Which part of the space programme was your era, for instance? Which was always history and which was the SFnal future coming true? (Let me also be the 42nd person to note, for instance, Ron Gemmell introducing his appreciation of Patrick Moore with the explanation of his enthusiasm: ‘It’s an age thing.’ And further acknowledging that ‘It’s difficult to express the vibrancy of the Race to the Moon to anybody who wasn’t alive at the time.’ It took the 2000 Australian film The Dish to make it real for me, born in 1970.)

As Kat implies, the same is true of the SF which was dominant at the time you got into it, and indeed what SF was visible in society and culture even before you got into it – and that goes beyond making your references understood to shaping how you encountered SF fandom, how you experienced it, and what you needed it to be.

I still don’t get all the references either – and sometimes that’s down to age or fannish era, and sometimes it’s down to what we’ve each read or watched or listened to. Among my usual social set, I sometimes feel at a loss because I’m useless at puns and can miss the wittier points in quick-fire repartee. I talk a lot, but I can’t claim to be a scintillating conversationalist; it’s one of the reasons I feel happier writing. But I still reveal different levels of emotion, opinions and personality in different types of fan writing and in front of different audiences – not all that dissimilar to Kat choosing to discuss her potential gafiation on Facebook, where I’d probably use a perzine or relevant e-list.

The picture on page 11 rather splendidly makes one point of response already: if Kat is a dodecahedron she doesn’t need to try to fit into a round hole. One thing I do believe that SF fandom does well is to value people as individuals, rather than simply making them feel they belong and that We Are All The Same. So I hope Kat will remember that objects with many facets are not awkward things with too many rough edges that don’t fit in; with care and the right setting, they are jewels, and brilliant.

And yes, fandom has changed. It already felt to me, encountering other fans in the mid-80s after beginning to read and watch SF in the late ’70s, that I’d missed some of the really good bits – not just through the usual paranoia but because an air of regret was already wrapping occasional chilly tendrils around the shoulders of those who’d been around for long enough to know. (Maybe they’d always felt the way I then did, too.) But these days many people combine some fan activities similar to mine with some from the much more extensive menu also available, and indeed with other fandoms and/or activities quite apart from the SF community. Some will also move on to those places when our fandom does fade away into the west.

I’m a fanzine fan but also a conrunner. I’m the sort of science fiction fan who still enjoys science fiction – for all that I’ve always also enjoyed history, mystery, and lots of other stuff which doesn’t even rhyme. I’m an SF fan who reads books – but I also watch TV and read graphic novels and manga. There are lots of fan activities I don’t enjoy, but that doesn’t mean I think other people shouldn’t; the only approach to SF fandom I reject is the one that indulges a single interest and either privileges that above all others or assumes everyone else does the same thing. That’s as true of the fanzine fan who despises all other forms of engagement as it is of the enthusiast devoted to one author or one TV show – or the fan who evangelises inclusion and tolerance while making me feel excluded and exclusive because I still like some of the older ways of being a fan. But I’ve only ever encountered a small number of any of those types.

I suppose that I have some time ago, as Kat put it, made my peace with a dying fandom – which might reflect my own age and time in fandom as much as my general approach to life. Of course I want the SF fandom to which I feel I belong – and in which I feel I can belong – to continue as long as it’s viable. Change is inevitable in pretty much everything; we don’t have to learn that from SF. But fandom as I know it is something I cherish. So, while I’d like it to continue to exist and will work to support that, if it needs to change beyond nearly all recognition to survive at all, what’s left is unlikely to be what I want. And so my fandom will leave me just as surely as if it had died, and I will leave it then in turn. That doesn’t help Kat either; yet I hope she, like me, will be able to make the most of what she enjoys about this fandom while it’s here.

Perhaps I should learn lessons from Andy Hooper’s article, once I can focus on them again. I turned to the article with the customary eager anticipation, and was then frozen with horror by the photo on the first page. I know I’m unphotogenic, but bloody hell: did you have to find such a bad picture of me? And why was it there at all? Reading hastily on, never have I been more delighted to receive confirmation that not everything is about me. Nonetheless, words still fail me in response to Andy’s article. In a good way, really. And it remains to be seen, within a few weeks, whether 12,000 genetically-altered Atlantic puffins are all that could revive the Nova awards turn-out. They can vote online this year, though.

Jim’s ‘Digital Engagement’ made me realise that there’s another enhancement we need to make to the epub, mobi and other screen-friendly editions of our fanzines that we send to those ornaments of our mailing list who choose to get them that way: we need to make the email arrive in their inboxes with a rattle and a thud. The additional enhancement I would have liked to see in Jim’s comparison of who locs what was some charts – but then I’ve been spoilt by Mike Meara, so it’s probably unfair to expect as much in this respect from everyone else!

For what it’s worth, I’d rate BEAM as one of my favourite fanzines at the moment too. You feature articles and artwork I’d be proud to publish, and address issues I want us all to be discussing. And the fanzine looks lovely, which helps. As Alan Dorey put it in his loc, ‘The overwhelming feeling is one of “You guys know what you’re doing”.’ I find it much easier to loc, though, when I can have a copy propped up in front of me with paper pages to flip back through – even though it would be easier to read, at least the first time around, on my Kindle.

Meanwhile, Jim wonders how we will spread our readership of Banana Wings. Again, I’ve made my peace with the idea that if our core readership fades away, so will the fanzine. It’s a fanzine that’s speaking to an audience and, although part of that audience has changed gradually over time, a rapidly changed one which doesn’t feel spoken to could easily want a different fanzine – one significantly changed from the one I want to edit. I don’t believe that there is in fact a horde of like-minded people out there who would connect with our fanzines but simply don’t know they exist. But I do rather like the idea of a ‘best of’, except that neither Mark nor I would want to include any of our own bits; maybe it’s something we should ponder more for our twentieth anniversary issue in a couple of years…Changing Audience

I might have unreasonable expectations of recipients of Banana Wings, though. I expect at least a small amount of effort and engagement on the part of those who do know it exists; if they want their own copy – and for us to know they’re part of the audience – they need to ask us for it. Quite a few people in the fanzine community who don’t get our fanzines have obviously made up their minds that they don’t want to (quite possibly sight unseen, or after skimming through a second-hand copy) and never have asked. Equally, I’m not at all sure that some fans to whom we used to send Banana Wings but who never gave us any indication that they ever received them, and who thus definitely don’t receive them any more, have actually realised how long it’s been since they heard the thud (gratifying or otherwise).

I was disappointed to learn that Ron Salomon promised himself he would loc Banana Wings #50 ‘the Olde Fashioned way but didn’t’. Whatever would we have received? An aerogramme written in fountain pen? A missive scrawled on a slipsheet? A quotecard? Jim’s article suggests that a fanzine printed on paper and sent through the post still exerts pressure to loc; Ron’s letter suggests further that it prompts communication in the same vein. While not wanting to nip in the bud any further experimentation – what if you produce your fanzine from cut-out newsprint and get it hand-delivered by Chris Garcia as he travels to work? How about if it exists in digital form only but is distributed by carrier pigeons bearing flash drives? – in prosaic practice I’d far rather get locs by email since then we don’t need to scan or retype them before editing.

Nonetheless I think that Ron, in his description of the only Albacon he attended, captured what we all still expect British cons to be like – which might contribute to the vague sense of disappointment pervading after an Eastercon or to the faint sense of relief that the yardstick for Novacons has gently shifted in proportion to our collective ability to drink all day and party all night for several days and then still drive home or go to work the next day.

I am, however, now wondering more than is helpful about a convention where, as Ron envisages, security check your genitals at the door (I trust this has nothing to do with Andy Hooper’s missing rocks) while panellists have to adopt Alan White’s strategy of contemplating fans in their underwear before being able to speak. Actually I’m sure there are conventions like that, or at least parties within some conventions, and I am simply too vanilla to know about them. But happy to remain that way and, as ever, let those who want to get on with it.

In ‘Marionette’ Jim mentioned some weariness about his TAFF campaign, which with the benefit of hindsight we know stood him in good stead. The campaigning, not the weariness, although even that could have been good practice for how he might now feel on his return to Earth Europe.

This is partly why I prefer it when nominators and other supporters do the bulk of the campaigning for their candidate. As Nic indicated in ‘The 20% Solution’, sometimes nominators can make or break a campaign. I agree that ‘nominators should be actively involved in their candidate’s efforts’. Indeed, I’d go further and state a preference that some of them should take the lead – including in encouraging the candidate to stand in the first place, and working with them to pick the best slate of other nominators and an effective platform that really represents them. I wouldn’t take a wholly purist view that candidates should hold themselves pristinely aloof from proceedings; but as a voter it also reassures me to have a number of people quite willing to put some effort behind the conviction they’ve expressed in putting their name to a nomination.

I look for a similar sort of reassurance from convention committees – who have they chosen as Guests of Honour? Who have they got running programme? How do they seem to see their convention and want other people to see it? – and in that context I was interested to see Jim’s comments following Mark’s letter about Christina Lake’s article in BEAM #5. This was even more interesting on re-reading, given that Jim and Carrie had agreed in the interim to run some of the fan programme at the Next Bloody British Bloody Worldcon – as we affectionately call Loncon 3, to be held in August 2014. How pleased I was – and as a mere minion of the convention co-chairs I can claim no involvement in this decision – that Loncon 3 will not be doing anything daft like calling the fan programme a fan-lit programme.

No, what Carrie and Jim will be running is the programme covering ‘traditional fan activities’. (You could always ask Ron Salomon to lead a workshop on responding to fanzines the Olde Fashioned way.) I feel there’s a risk here in the messages sent both to people who’d expect this to be called the fan programme and to people who don’t know what to expect but who now assume that if they don’t know what such traditional fan activities are and can’t pass the entrance exam at the door – or demonstrate that they’re older than Kat Templeton or even than me – they won’t be allowed in. But I remain quite confident that Jim and Carrie, who span a lot of fannish interests and activities themselves, will pull off something which is genuinely inclusive but where I will also feel comfortable – neither ghettoised nor exhibited as a curio.

I was also interested to note Jim’s comment following Robert Lichtman’s letter, which I’d not previously spotted as an early contribution or even prime mover in the discussion of how people edit letter columns and how they approach writing locs, which topics have been trundling on through a number of fanzines this year. Although I sometimes end up commenting mainly on one article or topic, what tends to grab my attention is when a fanzine has internal coherence and sparks further connections in what it makes me think about. That can be obvious from the outset – as with your articles by Catherine Crockett and Alan White, from different sides of the convention Guest of Honour experience – but themes can also emerge more gradually in the content of both articles and locs; such synchronicity might still indicate editorial intervention, but might also delineate the fanzine’s identity, as indicated by the conversations that happen there.

In any case, it’s the fanzines in which the connections are most compelling that make me want to respond. And very occasionally to even actually do it.

 

In the first sentence of that final paragraph I see two hidden words. They aren’t actually there but my own arrogance insists that they are. I read that sentence as “In any case, it’s the fanzines in which the connections are most compelling” to me “that make me want to respond.” This, I feel is our biggest challenge in trying to produce something interesting and entertaining to our friends in the science fiction community. You mention the diversities of our interests in your letter and it is these diversities that make fanzine writing a process that can tie you up in knots and then spit you out of the waste disposal chute faster than you could say  Lovely Laney’s licking luscious lusty lads for Lent. Our interests are many and varied in a way they were not just a few years ago. There was a time when around 95 per cent of one’s science fiction buddies would have bought and read the latest Heinlein and be keen to discuss it. Now you might read a book and not find anyone else who has read that same novel. We are more loosely connected than ever and yet still keen to be part of some kind of community. It is a baffling business indeed.

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