fanzine (fæ.nzin), orig. U.S. [f. *FAN sb.2 + MAGA)-ZINE.] A magazine for fans, esp. those of science fiction.Oxford's first citation dates from 1949. Peter Roberts, in Peter Nicholls' Science Fiction Encyclopedia (1979), gives 1930 as the date of the first known fanzine and credits Russ Chauvenet with inventing the word in 1941. Peter Roberts continues:
[The] early fanzines were straightforward publications dealing exclusively with sf or amateur science and were produced by local fan groups founded in America by the more active readers of contemporary professional sf magazines. As interest grew, however, and sf fans formed closer contacts and friendships, individual fans began publishing for their own amusement and fanzines became more diverse, and their contents more capricious; fan editors also began to exchange fanzines and to send out free copies to contributors and letter-writers. Thus fanzines abandoned any professional aspirations in exchange for informality and an active readership -- characteristics which persist to the present and which distinguish fanzines from conventional hobbyist publications. . . . The smaller fanzines are often written entirely by the editor and serve simply as letter substitutes sent out to friends; others have limited distribution within amateur press associations such as FAPA.A. Langley Searles (still publishing the Fantasy Commentator, the fanzine mentioned in Oxford's 1949 citation) and Russ Chauvenet (who invented the word) -- and Bruce Gillespie, John Foyster and I -- are among the 65 current members of FAPA (founded 1937). Fans have a word for this: timebinding. They also have a term for FAPA: elephants' graveyard. I have been a member since 1971, and I am one of the youngsters.
Bruce Gillespie publishes several fanzines, among them SF Commentary and The Metaphysical Review. In recent years he has published in the latter a kind of continuing anthology called "The Best of John Bangsund". TMR
Bruce usually writes a few lines introducing his selection; this time I volunteered to do it, and I finished up with an 1800-word article -- which, with his permission, I am about to reprint. It's an essential part of the story of how I became an editor. You may be bemused, as Bruce was, that the words "edit" and "editor" do not appear in the article. They will certainly appear in the addendum to it here. What I wanted to do in the article is summed up in its title: it is said that the Golden Age of Science Fiction is 13; for me it came a little later.
Glimpses of a Golden Age
It's hard to believe now, but from 1961 to 1965 I was respectably employed as a librarian at the Victorian Railways Institute. In my spare time, which seemed endless, I read good books, listened to good music, watched good films, travelled a lot around Victoria, and wrote about these and other things in a diary. Something of a republican even then, when Queen Elizabeth visited Melbourne in 1962 I didn't stay in town for the show but went off to Portland, stayed in a cheap pub, and read nothing but Shakespeare for three or four days.
I lived alone, but I had a social life that now seems extraordinarily active. I joined the ALP, indeed belonged to the same branch as Barry Jones (then emerging as Australia's greatest TV quiz champion, now national president of the party). I was moderately active in Amnesty, writing swingeing letters to foreign dictators, who never wrote back. I went to concerts and films and exhibitions, usually with some bright girl I had met in the library. I did not watch television. I did not read science fiction. At a party in 1963 I met Lee Harding, a writer of science fiction. I was 24. My life was about to change in a way I could never have imagined.
"You go through Bayswater and head for The Basin," Lee said when I accepted his invitation to dinner, "you'll come to a service station on your right, then our place is the third house along. You can't see it from the road." Lee and Carla's place was full of books and music, and I felt at home the moment I arrived. And we had so much to talk about! I believe I stayed the night. Lee was very tactful about science fiction, barely mentioning it. Knowing my background as a theological student, before I left Lee gave me a copy of Arthur C. Clarke's "The Nine Billion Names of God" and invited me to comment some time on the theology in it. The hell with theology! I was suddenly and most unexpectedly hooked on science fiction. Lee introduced me to the best and most interesting writers, and I couldn't get enough of them. On a long trip to Queensland later that year I read nothing but sf. Some of the places I stayed in are linked still in my mind with the books I read there.
Lee also introduced me to fanzines and fandom, and eventually fans. I met the fans' voices first. Lee was part of a round-robin continuing conversation on tape with John Foyster, John Baxter and Bob Smith. I think I met John Baxter first, on that trip to Queensland. We sat at either end of a sofa in his Sydney flat, sneaking glances at each other, because Lee had told us that we looked and talked alike. Apart from agreeing that we didn't, I remember little of that meeting with John Baxter. His interests overlapped with Lee's, but not much with mine. I met John Foyster about Easter 1964. I couldn't quite relate the man to his voice or his fanzines, and didn't know what to make of him at all. He was the youngest of us. He seemed at once shy and arrogant, considerate and condescending. I had never met anyone with such a sharp wit. When I read Shelley's comment on his friend Peacock, "His fine wit makes such a wound the knife is lost in it," I thought instantly of Foyster. We established a mutual respect from the start, but it says something about both of us that I was surprised, years later, to realize that he had long regarded me as a friend: such a great honor I thought he bestowed sparingly. John Foyster is probably friend to more people than anyone else I know.
In 1963 Lee and Carla became, almost literally overnight, my best friends. Lee was an enthusiast, a man born to make discoveries and share them as quickly as possible, then move on to the next. I have something of that in my own nature, so Lee and I sparked each other off. I spent most weekends at Lee and Carla's place, and during the week Lee and I had long conversations on the telephone. "Are you two lovers or something?" my mother once asked me -- a question that embarrassed me no end. "Tell her I've got a bum like a peach," Lee suggested when I told him. He wasn't quite as fast as Foyster, but close.
As I recall, Lee didn't actively encourage me to write. In fact my first fanzine writing appeared in John Foyster's Satura -- a letter or two, maybe other things. But I had been writing for years, in my diary and occasionally elsewhere, and I desperately wanted to convince Lee that I had at least the makings of a real writer, the sort of writer who could be published, perhaps even for money. One night I gave him a short story to read. He read it, in total silence. He finished it, got up quietly from his chair, walked quietly to the back door, opened it, and shouted into the night: "Speeee-yew!" Well, I didn't think much of it either, but I was hoping for some sort of constructive comment. As he came back into the room and we fell about in convulsive laughter, I knew he had given me far more than that.
The third Adelaide Festival of Arts was held in March 1964. I took a fortnight's leave from the library and went to Adelaide. I had visited Adelaide three times before, during the 1950s, and had good memories of the place. It is still my favorite Australian capital city. Sally and I lived there for a while in the late 70s, and would have stayed there indefinitely if there had been work for me. My budget for that trip in 1964 was minimal, though it seems luxurious now. I had paid for my train fare and modest accommodation, and for tickets to the main things I wanted to see, and had a few pounds left over. I did a lot of walking in Adelaide, far more than I could believe when I moved there twelve years later, but I was young then. It was early autumn. Everything about the place was luminous, golden: the train's early morning descent through the glorious Adelaide hills, the trees along the Torrens, the late sun on the city buildings, the day's memories as I returned to my little rented house in the caravan park at Hackney.
At the Railways Institute in Adelaide, where I was welcomed as an emissary from some higher plane of existence (my library had thirty branches, theirs none), I was given an office and a typewriter, and there I wrote another story, "The Beheading of Basil Pott". From that office, and from Hackney, I also wrote a lot of letters to Lee Harding. When I returned to Melbourne I couldn't believe Lee's excitement. He wanted to publish my story. He wanted to publish my letters. He wanted to publish a fanzine. He had published fanzines before, but nothing like what he had in mind now. This one would be something really special, and he would call it Canto.
The rest of 1964, outside of working hours, was mainly taken up with Canto, a lady named Carolyn and a twelve-year-old car. "Not an Alvis!" Lee cried in some mixture of disbelief and despair as I drove my limousine up his driveway at The Basin. At least he knew what it was. I had long admired English grand touring cars, and in 1952 I had fallen in love with the Alvis TA-21 at the Melbourne Motor Show. I never thought I would own one, but there it was, in mid-1964, a snip at 500 pounds. Carolyn liked it. I had met Carolyn the night before I left for Adelaide, and I saw the Alvis in a used-car lot in Prahran one day on my way to her place. Lee, I think, never entirely approved of Carolyn or the Alvis.
One day Carolyn and I drove to Olympic Park to watch John Foyster running in an athletic meeting. We cheered John when we saw him, but he probably didn't hear us. Shortly after there was an announcement on the PA system: in a very plummy voice an official said that if anyone present owned a black Alvis sedan (not mine, I thought, mine is black and silver-grey), registration number WT-962 (but that is my number, I thought), they should inspect it at their earliest convenience, since it appeared to be on fire. The Alvis, it turned out, wasn't actually on fire, but was close to it. Both Carolyn and I were smokers, and one of us had dropped live ash on a cloth that I kept under one of the front seats. The car was billowing smoke when we reached it. I doubt that John Foyster ran faster that day than I did.
Meanwhile, back at The Basin . . . I was very fond of ellipses in those days. Lee didn't seem to mind them. I can't recall now whether Lee or I cobbled my Adelaide letters together to make up the piece we called "Sir William and I in Adelaide", but I suspect I did. The uninspired introduction and ending are certainly mine. Rereading the piece after all these years was an unexpected pleasure: on the whole it is embarrassing, but I like its exuberance -- and the touches of humor that creep in here and there between the bouts of labored witticism. But I must say that I have long since become very fond of Walton's music.
Canto 1 appeared early in 1965. As well as my piece on the Adelaide Festival, it included my Basil Pott story, a fannish comic strip based on Walt Kelly's Pogo characters that I did later in 1964, and pieces by Foyster, Bob Smith and Don Symons (a superb writer, known to the great world, if at all, as father of the musician Red Symons). For the second issue John Foyster wrote about Dame Joan Sutherland and Don Symons wrote about his career in gold smuggling, and other things were written or planned, but Canto 2 never appeared.
In 1966 John Foyster organized a science fiction convention, the first in Australia since 1958. Today's Australian fandom, and much of its science fiction, has its origins in that convention. In turn, that convention had some of its origins in a house near The Basin that you can't see from the road, and a caravan park in Hackney that has long since gone, and a fanzine that appeared just once.
I became head librarian at the VRI in 1962. My predecessor, a man past retiring age, had run the Victorian branch of the Returned Servicemen's League from his office and more or less let the library run itself. I was very impressed by the activities of the VRI earlier in the century, when it was a workers' educational, cultural and recreational centre -- part of the same movement as the Mechanics' Institutes. For years it ran lecture meetings, addressed by outstanding men (invariably men) from all fields of endeavor, and by all accounts the meetings were packed. I recall seeing Bernard O'Dowd's name on one of the programs, and he was talking about poetry, not about parliamentary draftsmanship (his day job). There were concerts. The library thrived: among its old books that had survived was a huge leather-bound set of Wagner's operas; the dates stamped in the volumes were many. In 1962 the two main activities of the Institute were industrial training (courses on signalling, basic electricity and the like) and sport. The library's annual loan rate had peaked during the Depression, fallen slowly during the 1940s and 50s, and by comparison had all but collapsed after 1956, when television came to Melbourne. I felt like changing some of this, and I did.
I removed the maze of balustrades and grilles from the library, changing it from a fortress into a big open space. I hung framed prints of early Melbourne about the place and brought in armchairs and a goldfish tank. I set up a collection of children's books. I abolished the Dewey system from the small nonfiction section, and doubled its size. My predecessor had kept the motor-repair manuals in a locked cupboard in his office; I put them out on the shelves, and increased the section tenfold. I wrote a book column for the Railways Newsletter and ran ads for the library in the weekly gazette. I founded the VRI Music Club, organizing regular concerts in the library of recorded classical music, and wrote the program notes for them. I visited the branch libraries much more often than they were used to, and upgraded their collections. I encouraged the opening of new branches. My reward for all this was suspicion from the general office and enthusiasm from the library's users. By 1965 the annual loan rate had shot up to a figure approaching those of the early 1950s, and my expenditure on acquisitions had set entirely new records. By 1965 I knew I wanted to be a book editor. The general office was pleased to see me go.
The library was unusual in that it was able to buy books directly from publishers at trade rates. This meant that publishers' sales reps visited me regularly, and they usually went away happy. The reps were mostly interesting blokes (all men, yes), but I was surprised at how unbookish most of them were. When I mentioned this to Jim Ellis, one of the reps from Cassell, he said that booksellers were much the same: among the people he called on there were only three who were good for a bookish conversation, and I was one of them. He could talk at length with anyone about the trade and books in general, but with me he could talk about Dostoevsky and Iris Murdoch, Nietzsche and Michael Innes, Joyce Cary and Kazantzakis and Camus. Jim was a bright, gentle, witty man, and we got on famously. He liked Canto when I gave him a copy. (So did Max Harris in Adelaide. On the strength of my drawings in Canto he commissioned me to illustrate an article by Andrew Fabinyi in Australian Book Review. I have not been commissioned to illustrate anything since, with good reason.)
Canto 2 went unpublished mainly, I think, because Lee Harding lost interest, or simply couldn't afford it, but in some part (I didn't want to cloud the "golden age" with this kind of talk) because I hated the way he edited me -- my writing and even my drawings. Lee's writing has always been good, in recent years very good indeed; his Displaced Person hasn't been out of print since it won the Children's Book of the Year award in 1980. But when it came to editing, in 1965 anyway, Lee had a tin ear. He was an interventionist editor, as every editor must be at times, but he didn't know how to intervene sympathetically. He seemed to have no respect for other people's writing, which to my mind was the first duty of an editor: not that their words are sacred, but neither are they raw material. I was sure that I could out-edit Lee any time, and Jim Ellis encouraged me in this belief.
Jim also encouraged me in the belief that I could get into book-editing by the back door. Australian publishing was still in its infancy, but there were signs that it was about to grow up in a hurry. Jim and I were confident that if I could get some kind of job in publishing, sooner or later my talents would be recognized. So I went to Cassell and began my short career as the world's worst sales representative. Oh, I wasn't that bad, but I didn't have the killer instinct needed for the work -- and I wasn't helped by Cassell's firm-sale policy. When you ordered books from Cassell you were stuck with them; other publishers were experimenting with sale-or-return, but not Cassell. During my two years with the company they introduced something much more controversial -- the closed market. This relieved booksellers of the burden of overstocking, but it also reduced their profit margin. The retail price of a book had always been twice its landed cost; in the closed market that price remained the same, but the bookseller's margin was reduced from half to one-third. The truly professional booksellers protested mightily. Frank Cheshire, one of the most successful and influential booksellers in Melbourne, caused a sensation in the trade when he stopped buying books from Cassell. (But he went on buying Cassell's books, through Oxford University Press. Oxford were in a building close to Cheshire's main shop, and Frank Eyre and Frank Cheshire were good friends.)
This isn't telling you much about how I became an editor, but it may explain the kind of editor I became. I wasn't interested in the politics of publishing, or for that matter the business of publishing -- more exactly, I wasn't interested in getting involved in such things and turning them to advantage. I was interested in the books themselves, and in doing what I could to get the books to the people who wanted them. I had done this at the library; I went on doing it at Cassell. When advance copies of the Jerusalem Bible arrived at Cassell no-one knew what to do with them: the company already had Eyre & Spottiswoode's real Bibles, and sold them in great quantities; what could they do with a new translation from Darton, Longman & Todd -- and a Catholic translation at that? I went to Melbourne's biggest Catholic bookshop, took an order for a thousand copies, and listened to what I was told about this Bible. And I read it, and loved the translation. I sold hundreds of copies to religious booksellers, and dozens to general booksellers, and single copies to little country bookshops and newsagencies in three States, from Albany to Orbost to Ulverstone (five States if you count places like Albury and Mount Gambier, which were on my country runs); by the time I left Cassell I had sold about three thousand copies. DL&T also published things like The Ancrene Rewle, translated by Tolkien, and I sold a swag of those too. Cassell were lucky to have a former theological student on their sales staff; otherwise they might have lost the agency. I was lucky I did so well with the religious list; otherwise I might have lost my job much earlier.
A new sales rep was taken on in 1967 while I was in Western Australia, and by the time I returned he had sold vast quantities of books to people I had already called on with the same list. He knew nothing about books, but he could sell anything to anyone. Soon afterwards Jim Moad called me to his office and encouraged me to resign. Jim had worked his way up from storeman to sales rep to sales manager to managing director of Cassell Australia. Jim said he had hoped I would go a long way in the company. I said I had enjoyed being a rep, even if I wasn't much good at it, but what I really wanted was to be an editor. Jim was sympathetic -- but life wasn't like that, he said; sometimes it wasn't possible to do what you want to do; what he really wanted to do, he said, was play the stock market. Instead of which, I thought, you are stuck here as Australian head of a great publishing house. The irony of it! -- the absurdity! I went off and got a job as production scheduler at a Dunlop tyre factory. It was great: I could do a week's work in two days and spend the rest of the time reading.
The first book editors I ever met were Andrew Fabinyi and David New, at Cheshire's in 1959. Six years later I met Bob Sessions, the editor at Cassell. I volunteered to read proofs, and enjoyed such books as Peter Mathers' Trap and Thomas Keneally's Bring Larks and Heroes. I gave Bob a long list of queries for Keneally, and I believe Keneally accepted some of my suggestions. I can't recall Bob encouraging my ambition to be an editor. Maybe he did, in a general way. If he didn't, I wouldn't blame him. I was generally regarded as a bit of an oddball around the place anyway, a salesman who read the books but didn't sell many, a staff junior who discussed music with David Ascoli (Cassell UK sales director, and translator of the German musicologist Alfred Einstein), a practising agnostic who talked theology with religious booksellers, and a science fiction nut.
The science fiction convention at Easter 1966, held in McGill's Newsagency's warehouse in Somerset Place, was an extraordinary event. It was, as I've said, the first in Australia since 1958, and there was something of the atmosphere of a revival meeting about it, a wonderful feeling of something happening, a powerful sense of fellowship. Towards the end, when we were discussing whether to hold another convention next year and generally what to do next, I suggested that we could keep up the momentum and preserve some of the feeling of community by publishing a fanzine. The idea was well received, and people instantly started nominating editors: Harding! Ron Clarke! Baxter! Broderick! But over them all Lee Harding was saying -- very clearly, magisterially even -- I nominate John Bangsund. "And so", John Foyster wrote two years later, "the die was cast, since when the cast has been dying." The die was cast indeed: that was the moment when I became an editor.
It's always fun thinking of titles for things, and there was no shortage of suggestions for the title of this fanzine. For a while I seriously considered Jindivik, which had a nice Australian sound and a connotation of flight. Unfortunately it was the name of a flying drone used by the military for target practice, so that was out. In my wilder moments I toyed with The Invisible Whistling Bunyip. If you have read Edmund Wilson on H.
The first issue appeared in June 1966. It ran 32 quarto pages and was printed on the Melbourne SF Club's Roneo duplicator in McGill's warehouse. I had typed most of the stencils in the basement of the Commercial Travellers' Club in Perth. The contributors included Brian Aldiss, Michael Moorcock, Langdon Jones, John Baxter, John Foyster, Lee Harding, Jim Ellis (as "Jay Wallis") and Bob Sessions (as "Scribarius") -- and Stephen Murray-Smith (a quote, with his blessing, from Overland 33) and Bernard O'Dowd (his poem "Australia", probably reprinted with Lothian's permission, but maybe not). My editorial started and ended with quotes from Sean O'Casey. One of Lee's reviews had the title "Communist Chulpex Raped My Wife!" Such things more or less set the tone of ASFR from the beginning: it was concerned with science fiction as literature; it was irreverent, often funny, serious about everything and grave about nothing; it was unashamedly Australian, and its outlook was international.
One day in 1967 Bob Sessions said "Do you know that George Turner is one of your mob?" Which mob? All I knew about George Turner was that he was a Cassell author who had shared a Miles Franklin Award with Thea Astley, and that his latest novel, The Lame Dog Man, was due out soon. Bob was working on the jacket copy, and he showed me what George had written about himself: he was a science fiction addict. So I arranged to meet George Turner, and we had a good talk and I gave him a set of ASFR (and I met his dog Caesar: "Don't encourage him," George said as Caesar placed his great paws about my neck and licked my face), and that meeting accidentally launched George's distinguished career as a critic and eventually writer of science fiction.
That is one of the best things that came out of ASFR. Here is another. In February 1967 I wrote about two novels, Planet of Exile and Rocannon's World, and I said "I feel sure Ursula K.LeGuin will go a long way" -- one of my better predictions. We struck up a correspondence later that year, and in 1973 she agreed to come to Australia as our guest of honor if we won our bid to hold the 1975 World Science Fiction Convention in Melbourne. We won, Ursula came to Melbourne, and I had the privilege of handing her the Hugo Award for best sf novel of 1974, The Dispossessed. While Ursula was here she ran a workshop for aspiring sf writers, the first of a number conducted by distinguished local and overseas writers. Her influence on Australian sf is incalculable. But it wasn't simply a matter of a bunch of Melbourne fans saying "Let's put on a World Convention, let's get Ursula LeGuin as guest of honor" and just doing it: you need funding for a scheme like that. The committee applied to the Literature Board. Nancy Keesing was chairman of the board at the time. In a review of George Turner's In the Heart or In the Head in Overland 97 (1984), Nancy said that it was ASFR and other fanzines I had sent her that persuaded the board to give us a grant.
Now you know about fanzines, or about one of mine anyway. On the strength of ASFR I got a job as assistant editor of Materials Handling & Packaging; on the strength of that I got a job at the Age; on the strength of that, and a rigorous test, in 1972 I got a job as a Hansard subeditor in Canberra; from there I moved over the road to the Australian Government Publishing Service, where I first enjoyed the title of editor; from there I moved to Rigby in Adelaide; I went freelance in Adelaide in 1976, returned to Melbourne in 1978, worked part-time as assistant editor of Meanjin from 1988 to 1992, and now you know the lot, or most of it anyway. Since ASFR it has all been down hill, and I should have stayed in the library, or the tyre factory, but some people never know when they're well off and I'm one of them and that's how I became an editor.
1. The first Philosophical Gas (subtitled "a Project for a General Illumination of the Human Mind") was published by Scythrop Glowry in Thomas Love Peacock's novel Nightmare Abbey (1818); it sold seven copies. My fanzine of that name has appeared with decreasing regularity since 1970.
2. If you would like a sample copy of SF Commentary or The Metaphysical Review, send $5 to Bruce at GPO Box 5195AA, Melbourne 3001.
3. When my father died in 1965 I reluctantly sold the Alvis and acquired his Morris 1100. Apart from a self-destructing Humber, I have since driven eminently sensible cars.
4. Bernard O'Dowd and I lived in the same suburb, I learnt after his death in 1953. If by some chance I had visited him in his "crag of a house" at 155 Clarke Street, Northcote, he might have shown me his letters from Walt Whitman (1819-92). So often we live so close to a distant past without knowing it; our elderly neighbors in Adelaide possessed a letter written to an elderly friend of their youth by the founder of Adelaide, Colonel William Light (1786-1839).
5. Jim Ellis died in 1979, in his mid-40s.
6. Caesar, a Great Dane, played an important role in George's Transit of Cassidy (1978), published by Bob Sessions at Nelson.
7. Australian Science Fiction Review ran for twenty issues. The last appeared in 1969. A second series of ASFR was published from 1986 to 1991 by an editorial collective including John Foyster, Yvonne Rousseau, Jenny and Russell Blackford, Lucy Sussex and Janeen Webb.
8. No, I gave up reading science fiction long ago, except some of my friends'.
The Society of Editors Newsletter, September 1992