Mimosa is a fanzine that's
probably not in transition. We decided several years ago that we liked the
idea of still being able to preserve random bits of fan history (since so many of
fandom's "Founding Fathers" are still with us), so we try to publish at least one
article of fan historical interest each issue. Likewise, we decided that there since
there were many other fanzines out there that have interesting and all-encompassing
fanzine review columns, we wouldn't attempt to duplicate that here. The following
article, in fact, is probably as close to fanzine reviews as we'll ever come. We're
actually lucky to have it at all; because of our move to Maryland, it had to
transition across the Big Pond between here and Europe at least twice before it
caught up to us...
- - - - - - - -
No Way to Stand Kansas
We all exist at the centre, indeed as the centre, of our own personal universe, and we must be constantly on guard lest we confuse localized conditions, perhaps peculiar to our own perception, with the real world. In my little universe, fanzines seem to be dying so I make allowances for all the factors which exacerbate this perceived phenomenon. I no longer produce a zine of my own, which indicates a lessening of my own enthusiasm, and as fandom is basically driven by enthusiasm, where what you get out is proportional to what you put in, it is inevitable that I'll find it less satisfying. One immediate effect is that the flow of zines to my mailbox has slowed to a trickle. When you no longer trade, the tradezines stop. In a way this is no bad thing, for trading fanzines is an easy option, ideal when the zines don't interest you enough to stimulate a more positive response. The zines I now get have required a positive effort on my part to maintain the 'relationship'.
So there don't seem to be as many fanzines around these days. I mentioned this to Vin¢ Clarke who sent me a list he'd compiled by way of refuting my observation... only it had the opposite effect because I still get more than half of them, and yet it seems I don't get a tenth of the number I used to receive. I guess there really are less fanzines about.
But that's only one side of the coin -- 'Less Fanzines' is a quantitative judgment. I feel there is also a qualitative difference, not implying 'worse', but 'different'. Less rewarding somehow, despite the fact that I'm not ta1king only about that more stimulating element that I continue to receive. Even those don't seem to be as much fun, generally. The key words are 'fun' and 'generally'. So is it me who's changed? Is my lessening enthusiasm the cause rather than the effect? I don't think so, because of the 'generally' back there. Some zines are every bit as much fun as zines ever were, which supports the conclusion that it really is the other zines that have changed, and not me. Or rather, that the zines have changed more than I have. Which brings us to the 'fun', and to Nicki's remarks in "Like a Car" from Mimosa 3:
"I feel new and fresh, that the thing that interests me in fandom -- fanzines and communicating with other people -- is still around and still a part of fandom."
That's one of things she wrote. Another was:
"...the consuite sparkled with talk ... about fanzines! Not who was dating who, politics, or petty disagreements, but fanzines as I'd never heard talk about before!"
Those two remarks twined around each other in my mind, forming a sort of double-helix that defined and dictated my reactions. Fanzines are strange and powerful things. On the surface, if what you are interested in is "communicating with other people," then what should be paramount in fanzines is the content that which is communicated. The message. But Nicki went on to add that bit about "the consuite sparkled with talk about fanzines". That is, talk about the medium, for in truth many of us believe that the existence and availability of fanzines, of the medium itself, is more important than any single message that medium may be used to convey. And that medium seems to be dying.
OK, overstating the case for dramatic effect. Guilty. Maybe.
Or maybe not. One problem is that, whilst there are these two distinct aspects to fanzines -- what they represent and what they contain -- it is the weaker of the two by which they must maintain themselves in the consciousness of fandom. "Communication" is what Nicki called it. Indubitably, but why are we conmunicating, and what is being communicated? Surely nobody would argue that, for a considerable period of time, one of the main signals we were sending was simply that we were here, that individually we existed. We were drawing attention to ourselves as part of the tribe of Fandom.
Fanzines were a unique binding mechanism, cutting across geographical boundaries. They made it possible for a fan -- any fan, anywhere -- to be a part of a single great tribe, or more precisely a confederacy of tribes. They did this by being in effect a fandom unique and of themselves, a separate but distinct reality. A reality which sometimes touched base with the real world by reporting the doings of localized groups of fans, whether formally constituted or otherwise, sharing the Great Gatherings with those unable to be present. Distances in fanzine fandom were spiritual rather than geographical, and its effect was achieved by warping the reality it reported. You couldn't dismiss fanzine fandom as being simply unreal though, for in those areas where the two universes intersected it was sometimes the real world that gave ground. As an example of this I recall Walt Willis writing about a particularly magical con which the organizers had created based upon the 'reality' of convention reports rather than on the more prosaic lines of the way such cons actually took place. There's a clue there, I think.
Fanzine fandom was an idealized fandom. It bore little resemblance to the way things were -- ourselves, other fans, SF, the outside world -- and all their myriad relationship. Rather, it portrayed fandom as we'd like it to be. Idealism. Science Fiction was wonderful, and our pursuit of it a wonderful thing, but it wasn't quite enough. Something was missing; some colour lacking. We did not have our yellow-brick road. The world was Kansas, and we needed Oz, so in fanzine fandom we created our very own Oz. Fanciful?
To a degree, I suppose, but not entirely. There is something child-like in the unabashed idealism and the enthusiasm of fanzine fandom in its various hey-days, which shouldn't be too surprising. 'Child-like' is another clue. No, not another moan about how we were all younger then, and how it was all so much better in my younger days -- when you could pub your ish quarterly, subscribe to Hyphen and Quandry, LoC every issue of True Rat, throw all the Aussie fanzines unopened into the trash... and still have change from sixpence -- I know it must sound like that, like another case of nostalgic heartburn, but how can you avoid such connotations when you really-and-truly believe that, in respect of fanzines, at least 'fings ain't wot they used to be'? Nothing to do but carry on, firm hand on the tiller and a sharp eye out for a star to steer her by.
It was Greg Benford, in an old Outworlds I think, who wrote that fanzines were where he went "to play". 'Play' is the key. 'Play' is what children do, constantly and without shame, and so the child-1ike naivety of that fanzine fandom is explained, because fanzine fandom was where fans played. Not always the same game, but play was the common coin. No matter your particular game, fanzine fandom was where you played it, aware all the time that your were playing, unashamed, like children. Just having fun.
Hardly anyhody seems to be playing in fanzines anymore...or if they are it's a bloody strange game. Maybe "Oz" is glorifying it a bit. Maybe fanzine fandom was just some great big, world-wide intellectual sandpit. So what? So let's glorify it -- I was never much into sandpits anyway. Whatever it is, or was, fanzine fandom is no longer serving the same sort of function. Perhaps fandom no longer needs a sandpit? Perhaps we now think that Kansas is a "Rilly Triffic" place?
The thing is, fanzine fandom no longer seems to be a fandom that is self-sufficient. Now it appears to be merely a sub-division of Social fandom, important only for the way it permits you to communicate directly with the small subsection of fandom you can't meet in the flesh. Fanzine fandom is now an adjunct of Social fandom, whereas previously those roles were reversed. Nowadays even those who profess to see fanzines as sti1l important do so only in the context of keeping in touch with that small portion of their social circle which they don't get to meet physically every couple of weeks or months. Fanzines as, at best, social diaries. Hal Ashworth noted this at Rubicon a year-or-so back. He wrote, in Eric Mayer's Groggy 29:
"I don't know whether you will believe this next bit or not, except that I think you know me as a fairly truthful chappie. Well - er - one of the very few program items which did happen was a panel-led discussion of the topic "Fanzines are unnecessary when you can talk to your friends instead"!! One faction argued 'Yes', the other faction argued 'No, we still need them because there are always those we don't meet, including those overseas'. Don West, invited directly to contribute opined 'Awwkk'. Nobody, but nobody, apparently queried the idea of a fanzine as anything more than an extended personal communication. O Tempora, O Mores: Hyphen where are thou?"
Look, this is not some paen to a vanished Sixth Fandcm, to some mythica1 Fabulous Fifties. It was there in the Fifties, it was there in the Sixties, and in the Seventies, but it ain't there now. It is only in the Eighties that the colour seems to be dribbling away, faded and leached out, bleached away by a harsher reality. Is it just that hardly anyone in fandom seems to want to play the games I enjoy anymore, or are we really back in Kansas? If we are, then Hugh Prestwood wrote a song called "Dorothy", featured on the 1979 Judy Collins LP Hard Times for Lovers, which expresses the way I feel about fanzines at the moment:
"There ain't no way to stand Kansas... when you've been to Oz."
When it comes to fanzines, believe me, I've heen to Oz, but when I look around at the current scene, mostly what I see is Kansas.
All illustrations by Charlie Williams