by D. West

from One-Off 8 edited by Dave Bridges

Once upon a time there were lots of happy little fans sitting around being jolly and friendly in easy and pleasant harmony when all of a sudden in rushed certain vile, depraved, foulmouthed, lecherous, uncouth, illmannered and generally undesirable elements who proceeded to piss on shoes, be sick on carpets, steal drink, break furniture, fall over and say Rude Words.

On the other hand...

Once upon a time there were lots of cretinous wankers sitting around admiring each other's insipid prose and slobbering on through genteel orgies of mutual admiration when all of a sudden the Good Guys decided to get stuck in and really Kill the Fuckers.

On the other hand...

But this could go on forever. Doubtless some truly clever sod could work out a Fannish Theory of Relativity complete with fake equations and lots of laffs about Time Dilation, Curved Space and the like, but the only point that really needs to be noted is that it all depends on where the observer happens to be standing. One man's BNF is another's bete noire and to yet a third the other two may be so insignificant as to be almost invisible. Fannish ratings, values and opinions are all so varied and variable that a truth which is universally acknowledged must be almost as rare as a good issue of VECTOR. Still, when something has gone so far, so wide and so deep as to register upon even the fogged eye and fuddled brain of Ian Williams it must have a certain basis in reality which is generally recognised.

The award-winning (1975 Prick of the Year) Williams is, of course, a fan who calls for little or no introduction. A former editor of MAYA, GOBLIN'S GROTTO and SIDDARTHA (to mention only the very world- famous titles) he has been one of the first off the mark with a new fanzine for 1980.

CHIMERA is a fresh title, certainly, but the contents follow a time-hallowed Williams formula. There is a con report which is a cross between a medical bulletin and a diet sheet, detailing the Williams ailments and the Williams feeding times. There are paragraphs and sections with numbers, a device perhaps intended to mimic some kind of sequential thought. There is the familiar mawkish nostalgia for the Good Old Days: "Unfortunately the world didn't end in 1976, nor did fandom."

Quite so. Since 1976 Williams has lingered on as an Awful Warning: a figure to be pointed out to trembling neos as an example of the fate which overtakes those whose self-conceit outstrips their own wit, style, perception and ability to separate fantasy from fact.

However, the universe has a place for almost everything, and quite apart from his instructive moral significance the Lord of the Gannets does have one other use: as the very last of a series of alarm bells registering the rising tide of fannish opinion. When Ian Williams starts making hollow banging noises it is beyond doubt that the flood has reached absolutely everyone.

Here it is, then: "British fannish fanzine fandom has come full circle and is in a situation similar to that which held sway at the beginning of the seventies -- it is inbred, self-satisfied, unimaginative and complacent."

Well, now that fandom's very own Klein Bottle has spoken, all those people -- a list too tediously long for reprinting -- who have been mumbling their own (necessarily faulty) opinions on the same subject for the last two or three years will realise that they need not have bothered. All doubts and uncertainties might just as well have waited on the Gannetfather's Final Solution. All that remains is the consideration of a few minor details.

From the immediate point of view of the fan historian the Seventies make a nice, tidy decade: at one end the birth of the Pickersgill/Kettle FOULER, a fanzine which has had a direct or indirect influence on the major part of all subsequent British fanzine publishing; at the other, the climax of the giant Brighton Worldcon. However, the use of specific dates as historic turning points is very much a matter of convenience. Doubtless the Eighties will be seen (both now and later) as a "new" decade, separate and distinct from the Seventies, but the forces which seem likely to affect the course and nature of events have already been working for some time. In a few years the "climax" of Seacon may well be seen (from the fannish point of view) as almost irrelevant: not so much a decisive moment as a belated memorial service. Williams is correct in saying that neither the world nor fandom ended in 1976, but from somewhere about that point (i.e. the second half of the decade) one must start to date the forces and events which have brought British fandom to its present state of uncertain health.

The first thing that must be said is that the situation in 1980 is not the same as in 1970. Fandom in the late Sixties had declined into in-group silliness, boredom and a general acceptance of mediocrity, to all of which FOULER provided a drastic antidote by the violence of its iconoclasm. However, the excellence and effectiveness of FOULER were very much of and for its own time. Both Pickersgill and Kettle subsequently produced better fanzines and better fanwriting. It is some measure of the changes the editors set in motion that today their first fanzine would not be regarded as being of exceptional quality.

This is not to deny that in certain respects fandom does repeat itself. Every new intake of fanzine fans, for instance, has to learn something of the nature of fanzines. (This does not refer to any doctrinaire critical theory, but simply to the crude empirical discovery of what is likely to be unsuccessful and what is likely to work.) On all but the most basic levels, however, the repetitions are always modified by new factors. Cyclical theories of fan history usually turn out to be the last hope of those who see in them a means of lifting their own status from that of mere longtime-bystander to Old-Sage-who-has-seen-it-all-before. 1980 is the same as l97O only in that fandom has arrived at a moment of low vitality further depressed by a sense of lack of direction.

To a large extent the present dullness can be attributed to a shortage of both heroes and villains and an absence of genuinely strong opinions. The wars are all over, and nobody cares any more.

Any group or movement which establishes itself essentially by name -- in the fannish consciousness provides both a focal point and a sense of continuity. Whether one approved or disapproved of Ratfandom, its very existence enforced a kind of unity and purpose: a cause to fight for or to react against. But even though the name still lingers on, Ratfandom had a comparatively short existence and was on the wane (even as a State of Mind) by about 1976. No other faction has achieved a similar presence and authority. The Birmingham Group, though large, has produced scarcely anything notable in the way of fanzines since SPECULATION, and confines itself to the near-anonymous organisation of Novacons. The Gannets never did have much going for them except some of Harry Bell's cartoons and parts of Rob Jackson's MAYA. Recent claims (in GANNETSCRAPBOOK) of a revival may offer New Hope For The Lately Dead but do not carry much conviction. Other local groups remain either moribund, obscure, or isolated. Glasgow's FOKT (Friends of Kilgore Trout) has managed to rise without a trace. No one knows what real significance the name may have, and no one knows what aims (beyond the promotion of general illiteracy and specific Scottish conventions) may be cherished in FOKT's secret councils.

In point of sheer productivity the Leeds area has been the most active in the last couple of years -- but the Leeds Group still has no particular identity in the public mind. The name itself is too nondescript and non-committal. (Though it should be noted that those who belong to the Leeds University SF Society are distinguished from ordinary members by the more striking title of "University Shitheads".) Had the Leeds Group taken on some more colourful or expressive name ("Wankers Revolutionary Party" or "Mad Dog Fandom" or whatever) and linked this to some few identifiable principles or slogans then they would have managed a great deal more impact. As it is, the merits of Leeds Group publications exist in isolation, and there is no feeling of either continuity or unity. The recent groupfanzine RUBBER CRAB seems unlikely to do much towards changing this situation, being simply a (mercifully) shorter version of GANNETSCRAPBOOK.

Names are important. "SF" may be deplored as a genre classification but it is undoubtedly effective and useful as a label; it provides the strength of a definite identity, cutting through the doubts and uncertainties that may exist in other areas with its one clear and positive claim. Similarly, fannish group-names have a polarising effect, making differences of attitude and opinion more readily identifiable.

No focal point comparable to Ratfandom now exists -- or indeed has existed for several years -- though from 1977 on some sort of substitute was provided by the various groups bidding for organising conventions. 1979 saw the end of that, when the British Worldcon finally took place and the British Eastercon slipped out of the hands of the hitherto dominant clique of fanzine fans. At the same time the fannish takeover of the BSFA (in process since the previous year) finally became complete.

Win some, lose some. But which was the gain and which the loss? In their different ways both events helped set the final seal on the process of levelling out which had been steadily reducing fandom to one flat and undifferentiated mass throughout the last years of the decade.

The number of conventions has grown to the extent that the Eastercon is now merely one among half a dozen others any or all of which may be quite as enjoyable. (It might also be remembered that some of today's weekend parties are almost as big as the earliest Eastercons.) In recent years the Eastercon has more and more come to resemble a sort of fannish Olympic Games: a big event, certainly, but having less and less connection with the original spirit of innocent enthusiasm. It is the premier event in the sense that it is the premier egoboosting prize for those who bid to run it. The presentation combines the worst of both amateur and professional: shambling mismanagement together with a cynical indifference to providing value for money.

Convention bidding is now political business: a matter of making the biggest promises with the most noise while answering as few questions as possible. The Scottish victory was no great vindication of the democratic process, being more a triumph of advertising and electoral inertia than a matter of judicious selection. (Though most of their bidding literature -- like their fanzine -- was apparently put together by a committee of lobotomised haggises, the FOKT Group did manage one stroke of genius: having taken the measure of the voters they used extra-large print.) The issues of competence and cost were let pass virtually unquestioned -- with what result will shortly be seen at Glasgow.

However, whether or not Albacon turns out to be an extra-expensive version of the 1976 Mancon it has certainly done much good by reminding the English fans that they have no divine right of perpetual control. It is to be hoped that the Eastercon will stay in Scotland for Edinburgh in 1981. Such a shocking blow to the self-importance of the non-Scottish fans would probably lead to the establishment of a separate English event. Freed from the awful burden of being the Official Eastercon such a new convention might gain enough vitality to break away from the usual petrified formulae and rituals. Anything is to be welcomed which helps people towards the liberating notion that Fine Old Fannish Traditions may not be worth a shit.

One of the Fine Old Fannish Traditions still lurking around is the British Science Fiction Association. A great deal has been said about the ways in which the BSFA could be effective and useful. Perhaps some of this propaganda even raised a few sparks of genuine idealism in fannish fandom. More likely, the fans concerned simply saw the BSFA takeover as part of the ancient pattern of feud and counter-feud -- when no other enemy is visible, the BSFA is always good for a few laughs. Also, it must be said that it is absurdly easy to take control of such a ramshackle organisation. A drunken purple arsed-baboon could get itself elected to the BSFA council if it could stand upright at the AGM long enough to be nominated.

Given the fact that nobody but a few (easily ignorable) noisy old farts ever takes the slightest interest in proceedings, and that the committee can (and usually does) do exactly as it pleases from one year to the next, it is somewhat surprising that the management of the BSFA has been distinguished more by weak-kneed vacillations than dictatorial boldnesss Perhaps the most apt comparison is with that period in the Middle Ages when unhappy monarchs made feeble attempts to keep bold bad (or mad) barons in order, at the same time looking over their shoulders to see that the filthy peasants weren't getting too restive.

The bold bad barons of the BSFA have had various names, and have usually turned out to be editors of something or other. To wish to edit any BSFA publication always argues a certain crazed strength of character, so it is therefore no great surprise that the BSFA kinglets have usually ended up acting as stooges for their more determined minions. After playing Samwise to Chris Fowler's Frodo, Tom Jones went on to perform as Sancho Panza (or possibly his mule) to David Wingrove's Don Quixote. Fowler nearly bankrupted the BSFA; Wingrove nearly destroyed VECTOR's few remaining claims to being taken seriously as a critical journal. In neither case was Jones capable of much resistance. To do him justice, he finally drew the line at the eccentricities of TANGENT editor Ian Garbutt. This may have been due to the fact that even Jones realised that fan fiction does not pull much weight.

Meanwhile, back in modern times... What is the current BSFA Chairman, Alan Dorey, up to?

Back in the good old days before he got suckered into running the bloody thing, Dorey used to devote whole pages of his best vitriol-blotched prose to denouncing These Evil Men. Then he got elected. David Wingrove was permitted to stay on as editor of VECTOR and wreak a little more damage. A peculiar project whereby a litho machine would be purchased for John and Eve Harvey to play with was not promptly thrown out but actively encouraged. Yet another embarrassingly brainless and useless questionaire was sent out to the members. Somewhere or other there still exists a person known as "Business Manager" transacting mystic business presumably with himself since no one else ever gets to hear about it.

To be fair, there were a few changes. When Mike Dickinson finally replaced Wingrove the content of VECTOR showed a marked improvement. The appearance changed too. Apart from his bizarre covers (one of which managed to set a new record for design ineptitude by including two different typefaces in one word) Wingrove relied upon grey blocks of prose which were about as exciting as an exam paper and rather less well laid out. New Production Editors Alan Dorey and Joseph Nicholas naturally improved on this by making the ink very much blacker, but otherwise retained the essential features of the Wingrove genius and even threw in the extras of a more cramped layout and a positive hailstorm of typos. Not content with mere boring errors both also carried their well-known irreverence and iconoclasm into the area of spelling, fearlessly going where no dictionary had gone before. Contributors' work was also given a new look by the tightening-up process of cutting occasional words and phrases from the text at random.

(As a matter of morbid interest, it was Joseph Nicholas who made J.G. Ballard remark: "I don't know whether French readers hear an echo of Genet and Rambeau and Pollinaire in my work." Well, if they're BSFA members they probably hear Bowdylair and Cocktoe as well. And while that was going on, Alan Dorey was devoting much ingenuity to devising new spellings for the forty-odd typos featured in another article. Somehow or other "words of wisdom and secret lore" appeared as "words of wisdom and secret love". His mind must have been still dwelling on the wonders of the Worldcon.)

However, a little project like running VECTOR through the Dorey Word Processor (actually a pet dyslexic jellyfish) is a mere nothing. People often wonder what the BSFA spends all its money on. (They usually have trouble getting an answer, too.) The BSFA management is frequently rather puzzled as well, since their only notion of budgeting is to spend all the money that is available then sit around whimpering till some more falls from the sky. (BSFA finances are believed to be in the charge of Kevin Smith, the man whose daring handling of Skycon should give the lie forever to notions that accountants are staid, conservative and over-cautious. Who but a true entrepreneur would have had the nerve to commit the con organisers to paying the Heathrow Hotel a couple of thousand pounds when they wouldn't know until the day of the con whether or not they actually had all the money?) Anyway, in a free enterprise situation like this anyone who smiles nicely, talks quickly and moves fast can usually grab a few handfuls.

Rob Holdstock and Chris Evans used their share to bring out FOCUS, the new BSFA writers' magazine. FOCUS is very well produced and well written -- done, in fact, about as well as such a thing can be done. It is also a complete white elephant and a complete misdirection of BSFA money.

This is a question of priorities. At any one time the majority of BSFA members are simply passive consumers: their involvement is limited to paying their subscriptions and receiving their mailings. Since a certain percentage continue to renew their subscriptions it is reasonable to assume that they remain members largely for the sake of the publications. After all, with the exception of FOUNDATION the BSFA is the only (fairly) regular and (fairly) reliable British source of information and comment on the SF scene. FOUNDATION actually offers much better value for money (on page count alone) but fortunately for the BSFA there is still plenty of room down at the thicker end of the market.

So, you might say (as your eyeballs glaze over with resignation), give the bastards what they want. Let them have all the hard news and reviews, all the soft interviews and criticism, that they crave for. Sock it to the shitheads with some real thoroughness. Cover every last damn bit of SF published in the UK, even if turns out to be the fifth reprint of something Robert Heinlein wrote before his new brain took root. Leave no stone unturned, even if Jerry Pournelle might come crawling out. And after that -- when the basic needs have been satisfied -- you can maybe try a little clever stuff.

On the other If you don't want to be bothered with all this boring old shit (and who cares what the punters are paying for?) you can amuse yourself with a magazine all about writing SF. Writing about writing, after all, is probably something that holds the attention of as much as five or ten per cent of BSFA members.

It is no more excusable for Holdstock and Evens to use the BSFA to subsidise their personal tastes in publishing than it was for Chris Fowler. Likewise, it is no more excusable for the present BBFA management to fail to control expenditure than it was for Tom Jones and his fellows. FOCUS is done very well and done very much at the expense of other BSFA publications. MATRIX is still duplicated, VECTOR is cramped, badly laid out, badly produced and shorter than it should be -- and FOCUS is reportedly marching on to the glories of full typesetting.

But why go on? Well, only to make the point that the useless-as-ever BSFA no longer exists as a body separate from fandom (which might provide the stimulus of a target) and that little is to be hoped for from it as any sort of revitalising force. It's an open question whether the fans have taken it over, or it has taken over the fans. Either way, both are now on the same flattened-out level, all shitheads together.

No more villains. Bye bye boring old BSFA. Out of office, former BSFA hotshots Jones and Wingrove recede into total insignificance. Keith Walker is a tedious fake. Without the deliberately exaggerated incompetence his FANZINE FANATIQUE would lack any character at all. The other dullards who glory in their own brainlessness are even less interesting. One might as well kick a soggy sponge.

So what does a generation reared to combativeness do when there's no one left to fight?

The obvious answer is: gossip.

The last years of the Seventies lacked any focus for aggression, any readily identifiable cause or movement -- and also any strong continuity of fanzine publication. The most regular of all was Dave Langford's TWLL DDU, with an average of five issues a year from 1976 to 1979. Continuous publication (rather than size alone) is the most important factor in establishing any fanzine, and the two fannish diseases of erratic schedules and title changes kept most of the others comparatively in the background. Thus TWLL DDU was prominent throughout a period in which fandom was suffering something of a power vacuum and exercised considerable influence simply by continued existence.

On a line-by-line basis Dave Langford ls undoubtedly the most skilful British fan writer -- but the sum of the parts is somewhat more modest than a first admlring scan suggests. A formidably industrious fan, Langford has not-only managed all those issues-of TD but run a fan fund or two, been involved in organising a couple of conventions, co-edited DRILKJIS, contributed articles to other fanzines and made professional sales of several short stories and a couple of books. Perhaps he has spread himself too thinly. The wit, invention and verbal skills of his fan writing have offered many separate flashes of brilliance but rather less of solid impact and sustained brilliance. He impresses chiefly as a wholesale dealer in epigrams, going for a quick turnover in ephemeral frivolities rather than those heavier prose orders which might be not so immediately attractive but ultimately more rewarding. It is the cumulative effect of the piling-on of a succession of brilliant one-liners which has really established the Langford reputation. This machine-gun wit sometimes has a rather deadening effect, like the relentless punning indulged in by (for one example among many) Mike Meara's KNOCKERS FROM NEPTUNE. (Langford is not a member of Coprophile Fandom; the monopoly on jokes about cow shit is still held by Meara and Paul Skelton.) In the end technique drives out feeling, and the reader is left acknowledging the wit without being moved by the humour.

There is a vital moment in all art when a performance ceases to be a clever imitation of appearances and becomes a believable reality with a life of its own. A piece of mimicry may be admired for its technical brilliance, but without the real commitment of some part of the author's own personality it remains passionless: a glittering but inert thing rather than a living creation. Langford's wit and skill in fan writing constitute a virtuoso demonstration of remote-controlled sleight-of-hand. The detached author watches from a distance, and all his words are simply colours on a carefully painted mask: a thin, bright layer of concealment.

The co-editor of DRILKJIS, Kevin Smith, is an even clearer example of the same syndrome. While Langford does have his own personal style (long overdue for spoofing -- expect a fake issue of TWLL DDU as soon as the intricacies of the semi-colon have been mastered) Smith has spent most of his issues of DOT in leaping from one form of parody to another. He does it very well, but in the end one feels inclined to ask (as with Langford): is this all?

Every now and then some newcomer raises the question of Greg Pickersgill's fannish reputation. Why, they ask, should this man's name be so prestigious, even if he is a th1ng of hairy beauty and a joy forever? After all, how long is it since he did anything? Well, setting aside STOP BREAKING DOWN and his contributions to SEAMONSTERS, one reason why the surly spectre of Pickersgill continues to lurk at the back of so many fans' minds is that he was the archetypal fan writer who both thought about what he was doing and, having thought, let it all rip with nothing held back.

With the work of Langford and Smith we are back in Polite Society, and not all their skill can put sufficient gloss on the fact that their efforts are directed as much towards concealment as revelation. It is the world of the Social Smile, in which any hint of the uncomfortably serious is turned off with yet another merry jest.` Not to put too fine a point on it: this is the Best of Middle Class Fandom.

Middle Class is a regrettably imprecise term, and one that has been much misused, particularly as a political catchphrase. All the same, there is no other description which so well conveys the same sense of self-limiting carefulness, narrow diligence, prudent ambition, restrained imagination and above all positive terror of letting appearances slip. Middle Class fans are essentially secretive not particularly because they have any dark secrets to conceal, but because their identity is defined for them by what other people think. For example, a Middle Class fan writer might well despise some aspect or aspects of convention and conformity but he would have a considerable struggle to say so convincingly without turning the statement into a joke. Truth always has to be made acceptably respectable. Langford and Smith produce not personal zines but persona zines: fan writing as a Public Relations exercise.

Well, so much for restraint, but what about freedom?

And at this long-awaited moment bursting down the door -- bouncing from under the bed -- smashing through the window -- leaping out of the closet -- come the Dynamic Duo Thinman and Prettyboy Wonder -- DOREY and NICHOLAS.

Some sort of comic book scenario does seem appropriate here (lots of exclamation marks) and "Batfandom" is a more striking title than "Surrey Limpwrists". Still, even with a name so (appropriately) lacking in machismo the fame of Captain Alan and the Crepe Crusader has managed to spread itself far and wide. After all, they have secured the honour of Dave Lewis's disapproval. (Whatever people say, the world would be a poorer place without David Lewis. We have his own word for this though John Collick is still waiting for a sight of the wages slips.) They have written many reviews correcting the vulgar errors of the vile fannish lumpenproletariat. They have offended Terry Jeeves (and doubtless one or two others) with many frightful oaths and curses. They have excoriated Pete Presford, Keith Walker, and all the other traditional targets for reform and abuse. They have seized control of the BSFA. They have published a fanzine.

In short, they have done absolutely everything. Who could ask for anything more?

Who indeed? But one might perhaps point out that while the Typo Twins may have done everything, they haven't done any of it very well.

A hard and long look at the writings of Langford and Smith leads to the conclusion that there is indeed nothing new under the sun: their efforts are simply more accomplished versions of the sort of carefully limited work which is as old (and in some ways as stale) as fandom itself. After Bob Shaw, Langford is the natural heir of Walt Willis. The best work is excellent indeed but excellent within a very narrow field.

A hard and long look at the writings of Dorey and Nicholas leads to the conclusion that what appears to be independence and freedom from restraint is in fact nothing more than aimlessness given the cover of aggression. Dorey and Nicholas have no real idea what they are doing or where they are going. Indeed they probably never even consider these questions but simply operate on reflex response. The name of their game is reaction: making a noise, creating a stir, attracting attention. The foundation of nebulous and imperfectly absorbed radical ideas has been neither developed nor clarified and is now almost irrelevant. As with Punk Rock the first blurt of crude vitality and excitement has congealed to a series of stage mannerisms: performance as a cynically exaggerated public display of narcissism.

One reason for considering the fanzine field as a whole rather than in the old format of capsule comments on individual titles is that the majority of fanzines connect and affect each other. It is in this context that Langford's TWLL DDU and Smith's DOT are attacked. Taken in isolation there is much less to say against them, but as models and influences for the rest of fandom they must be given harder treatment. The argument that justifies pornography on grounds of literary merit is fallacious; the real question is whether or not pornography itself is justifiable. The greater the literary merit of any piece of writing, the more effective it is likely to be. Similarly, Langford and Smith probably know what they are doing and certainly have a good deal of ability, but this is the exact opposite of a reason for failing to express disagreement with the basic premises (conscious or unconscious) of their approach. The better they are the more effect they may have, and therefore the more critical attention they need.

The attention given to Dorey and Nicholas owes less to high quality than to output and visibility. Both have been among the most prolific writers of the last couple of years, Dorey with his own GROSS ENCOUNTERS and other publications and Nicholas in the Maule's NABU and a seemingly endless stream of Letters of Comment elsewhere.

Alan Dorey has quite often shown himself to be a fairly awful writer, but in the beginning this seemed excusable on the grounds that what he lacked in skill and clarity was made up in energy and enthusiasm. There was always the feeling that if the basic message could be extracted from the verbal garbage it might turn out to be not too far from reasonable. However, a good prose style is much more than a matter of literary fastidiousness. Clear writing and clear thinking go together, and Dorey's work does not show much sign of either. The Dorey approach to the use of language (and logic) is a little hard to fathom until it is realised that he prefers to use a Thesaurus rather than a dictionary, apparently believing that all the words in any collection of synonyms or homonyms mean more or less the same and are accordingly interchangeable at whim. This appallingly slipshod approach produces sentences that might have been written by an imperfectly programmed computer translating a corrupt Russian version of a partly illegible Serbo-Croat copy of a Chinese original.

Joseph Nicholas, on the other hand, is a very much better writer, though similarly addicted to the sort of hyperbole which is the literary equivalent of a noisy ostrich trying to get up enough airspeed for takeoff. Both the Batfans are fond of advocating extreme penalties for those who fall under their displeasure, and both use to the full all the standard tricks of casting slurs upon the mental, moral, physical, intellectual and sexual capacities of their chosen enemies. Here again Nicholas has rather the better style, since Dorey employs all the finesse of the Jungle Rot Kid crashing through the undergrowth in search of his very last packet of dope.

Although both are generally placed in the school of "tough" fanzine reviewers neither one has ever managed to play the role in truly convincing fashion. Their invective is windy and bombastic, too overblown to be taken very seriously. The insults suggest a sort of schoolboy bellicosity: namecalling that takes courage from its apparent success and safety but would recoil in startled panic at the threat of any real retaliation. If they did meet with any genuine resistance they would certainly find themselves hard-pressed, since their aggression is based less upon any firm principles than on a jumble of vague prejudices and a general desire to make a stir.

The one principle Dorey and Nicholas have understood and absorbed is that of showing no mercy: kick hell out of the fanzines and fans you don't like. Such subtle qualifiers as reasons for the standards they are supposedly enforcing seem to be much less clear in their minds. Mostly they operate on gut reaction backed up by assertion and bluster. The unspoken rationale is: If we don't like something and can think of six colourful ways of saying how bad it is then that makes us critics. and no scumbag editor had better say different.

In fact the pair has no right to any title beyond that of literary juvenile delinquents. In their present mode of behaviour they are attempting to have it all ways at once: claiming status and privilege without making any distinction between the easy rhetoric of denunciation and genuine effort towards analysis and diagnosis. They are not critics but critical psychopaths: existing for the thrill of the moment and devoid of any direction or discipline, yet feeling free to seek amusement at the expense of others with the same failings but less bounce. Their fanzine reviews have no real relationship to criticism in the wider sense of the word. As often as not the review columns are simply the old mailing-comment capsules in a different format: the individual headings have been dropped and a certain amount of linking material provided so that the whole thing can be faked up as an "article". While both have talked a great deal about "the need to maintain standards" neither one has over provided much in the way of definition: a clear and consistent statement of what fanzines are, could be, or should be.

Alan Dorey simply charges ahead, apparently in the hope that if he hits the typewriter often enough something sensible will eventually fall out. Joseph Nicholas is in slightly less of a hurry, but also does much of his thinking on the run, as with his series of rambling and self-contradictory speculations on the need for a "New Maximum Leader". (This strange fascist-sounding phrase seems to signify some kind of Messiah to carry the fannish masses into the Promised Land. It is hard to escape the suspicion that Nicholas rather fancies himself for the role.) Given his high output some allowance must be made for occasional inconsistencies, but what really vitiates Nicho1as's polemics is his regular hedging on the issue of fannish commitment. Several times he breaks off from some impassioned outburst on fandom or fanzines to remind readers that, after all, "Fandom Is Just A Goddam Hobby."

This is pushing intellectual dishonesty to the limit. Readers may well ask why, if Fandom Is Just A Goddam Hobby, Nicholas should expect the slightest attention to be paid to his own writings, which seem to be based on quite different assumptions? The Lipsalve Lover is simply trying to cover his vulnerability to the opinions of others. Having taken his own interest in fandom far more seriously than any hobby he is afraid that the audience might not follow him, and can't bear the thought of being laughed at for such uncool enthusiasm. Either he lacks the courage of his convictions or the convictions are too disorganised and feeble to support much in the way of courage.

Middle Class Fandom strikes again...

In a recent issue of FOUNDATION Barrington Bayley observed that in all essentials the hardcore enthusiasm for SF is a form of religion. It is certainly a form of faith: either it cannot be explained or it needs no explanation at all. (The self-justifying done for public consumption scarcely ever touches the inner truth of the matter.) Much the same is true of fandom. The analogy does not necessarily imply any particular merit or importance; it simply indicates a certain quality of pervasiveness. The two poles of fannish belief are FIJAGH (Fandom Is Just A Goddam Hobby) and FIAWOL (Fandom Is A Way Of Life). Neither seems to be a wholly accurate description unless given very broad interpretation. Perhaps it would be better to say that -- for the believers -- Fandom Is A Part Of Life: it does not directly affect everything they think or do, but neither does it exist in complete isolation. In this context Nicholas's position is that of curate in a pub trying to be accepted as one of the lads by telling them how he doesn't really believe all that stuff he spouts on a Sunday. (Meanwhile, Alan Dorey is writhing around on the floor and Speaking In Tongues. Glory, glory.)

That Nicholas and Dorey should be considered to have any significance at all as fannish critics is a sign of just how directionless fanzine fandom has become, and how debased its standards. The empty mediocrity of reviewing as an exchange of praises has simply been inverted to become an equally empty mediocrity of reviewing as an exchange of insults. The insults are occasionally more imaginative and entertaining than the praises used to be, but this is still not much of an advance.

The sheer intellectual and ideological poverty of the Batfandom approach was recently illustrated in their joint publication ANOTHER BLOODY FANZINE. Several fliers announced the coming of this Ultimate Ballbreaker. The first of these was an ingenious fake (attributed to Langford and/or Smith) which was a good enough imitation to deceive several people completely. Indeed, so well did this forgery capture the manner and message of the Dynamic Duo that the poor sods had little alternative to giving it their own (rather petulant) endorsement. After all, a couple of variations on "Rivers of blood will flow" and "Lots of dead wood will fall" left them with scarcely anything to say.

It might have been thought that by the time the first (full) issue appeared they would have dreamed up something new to say but no. ABF 1, trumpeted as the Killer Fanzine of the year, turned out to be about as lethal an engine of destruction an a wet cigarette end. It contained an unimaginative collection of standard polemics, a couple of jokes, a few letters, and no ideas worth a damn. Assuming the editors sent out lots of copies to easily-shockable Americans they may find themselves with enough material for one more letter column, but otherwise there seems to be no reason why they should bother publishing a second issue at all. All the noise contains no message and the stamp-their-faces routine is becoming about as exciting as a paraplegic Morris Dance. Pretty soom even the victims won't wake up.

Well, it seems that Son of Roget and the Chiffon Kid are not about to save the world after all. [They'll have quite enough trouble staving off the collapse of the BSFA.) So where's this New Wave of the future? Where're the new young hotshots who are going to rescue fandom from the boring old farts?

Echo answers: yes er well coff coff mumble mumble er well. As a matter-of fact, Echo is too damned embarrassed to answer at all. Of course, there's John Collick. And Steev Higgins. And that brat Collick. And young Higgins... And some others who are best left unnamed on the off-chance that if they're overlooked they might either get lost or get better.

(Perhaps this is rather unfair. Fans can shoot to prominence very suddenly and it may be -- it better be -- that some future Example To Us All is currently lurking in the ranks of the obscure. Likewise, Higgins and Collick might well shoot rapidly down the tubes to join the general apathy and inactivity. Both have been told so many times how much is expected of them that it would not be surprising if they did nothing at all, just out of sheer bloody-mindedness.)

Anyway, both these young punks have recently been heard making disapproving noises at established fannish modes. In FOR A FEW FANZINES MORE Collick has a good bang at the repetitions and limitations of personalzine anecdotal reportage -- who got drunk when/where/how much etc. In PERIHELION and STOMACH PUMP Higgins makes similar complaints from a slightly different angle, asking why people are not encouraged to write more about the serious or non-fannish parts of their lives. (David Bridges, who has successfully done just that in ONE-OFF and THE RAGGED TROUSERED PEDALCYCLIST has also asked the same question.)

The way in which any Establishment absorbs or disarms criticism is to admire the cleverness, praise the originality and then do nothing. Lip-service to the ideals substitutes for any genuine implementation of changes. This is particularly easy to do when reforms are put forward in piecemeal fashion and have no clear overall plan or supporting ideology. Diversion into a morass of trivial arguments and objections is almost inevitable. The reform of the BSFA, for instance, will never make any real progress until it ceases to be a mere cosmetic tinkering with makeshifts and becomes a radical re-examination of fundamentals. Similarly, change in fandom demands attack on a very broad front.

The prevailing tone of British Fandom is Middle Class: a mixture of sham, self-complacency, concern for appearances, conformism, insecurity and sheer gutlessness, British fans are a bunch of sheep, always ready to-follow each other's tails and bleat threateningly at strangers to the flock. There's been a fashion for Wolf's clothing recently, but that hasn't really changed much. Fannish conformism is not so much a matter of rigid orthodoxy as of observing certain limits; a dash of daring goes down very well provided it does not out too deep. Following Fashion sums it up: the pursuit of a vague and shifting consensus on appearances. Some fans are slightly in front and some are slightly behind, but those who move too far in either direction will certainly be stigmatised as out.

As that much-quoted sage Kevin Smith has already remarked: Fandom is a process. In other words it is defined not by some exterior code or formula but by what actually happens. Perceptions of what is happening, however, are often considerably muddled, particularly by the fallacy of reasoning from metaphors as though they were the literal truth. All the talk of "Sercon versus fannish" and "The sercon backlash" is no more than semantic confusion. The metaphor of a political contest (legitimate up to a point in that it indicates some conflict of opinion and ideology) has been pushed to the absurdity of a power struggle which one side must win at the expense of the other. This is simply not true, yet from the agonising that goes on one would imagine that there was a danger of a fannish coup, after which the losers would he incarcerated, exiled, or totally silenced by having their typewriters and duplicators seized by the new, all-powerful regime.

Such simple-minded nonsense casts doubts on the comfortable theory that fans are smarter than the average bunch of drunks. All fans are free to do exactly as they please at all times. They are also free to promote their own favoured points of view -- and those who differ are equally free to ignore what they do not like. All it takes is the nerve and self-confidence to pursue an independent course. When it comes to deciding this course the sercon fans are more bigoted and the fannish fans more inclined to whine, but neither side has the power to impose its will on the other. Anyone with a mind of his own would recognise this fact, instead of displaying the witless passivity of those people who sit in front of their televisions and complain about the awful programmes they are forced to watch. Still, it is well known that thinking for yourself is likely to hurt your bead.

The real division in fanzine fandom is not between fannish and sercon but between those who take the business of writing as writing seriously and those who see it as no more than a means of promoting opinions, indulging the ego, or making social advances. The fannish fear of serconism is a fear that the writing will have to be taken seriously.

A yawning gulf separates British and American fandom with most of the yawning coming from the British side. American fanzines are dull with a dullness that thuds down on the reader like the darkness of concussion, undramatically extinguishing all light of hope, interest or animation. The worst thing that can be said about them is that they do not seem able to recognise even the possibility of the boredom they inflict. Any objection that all this stuff about Feminism, Cognitive Estrangement in the works of Poul Anderson, Southern California lifestyles, so-and-so's identity crisis) is just plain tedious is likely to meet with blank incomprehension or be put down as evidence of incurable moral degeneracy. (After all, it's meaningful, isn't it?) A laborious bright silliness and ponderously playful punning take the place of wit, and "seriousness" is apparently defined as anything sufficiently self-absorbed to be blind to all perception of absurdity. Presumably American fans do have a life after birth, but on the evidence of their fanzines few seem to exist except at the extremes of callow youth or advanced senility.

This horrible alternative to what British fans see as fannishness is sometimes cited as a reason for resisting serconism. After all, who wants to be part of a fandom like that? The buggers probably spend their spare cash on Pepsi-Cola and copies of ISAAC ASTRAL'S SPACE HOSPITAL ROMANCES. However, this is something of an ad hominem or guilt-by-association argument. If American fanzines are dull it is because of the writing, not the subject matter. In fact, in one sense the Americans are more adventurous than the British: they are prepared to tackle themes and subjects which British fandom usually leaves well alone. The results may usually be awful, but the intentions are sometimes good.

On the other hand, the chief intention of British fandom seems to be to get along as easily as possible. If in doubt, crawl back up your own arsehole. Anecdotal reportage and gossip demand little effort and will always find an audience, simply because the immediate appeal of any piece of fan writing depends on whether or not it is by or about some person or persons known to the reader. It takes only a short acquaintance with fans and fanzines to note the preference for a moderately bad gossip column over an average book review. This may be regarded as deplorable but other factors being equal it certainly forms the basis of the readers' ratings of one fanzine over another, one piece of fan writing over another.

Or course, other factors rarely are equal, in particular the quality of the writing. Good writing needs no ideological justification (though that does not forbid criticism) and a sufficiently well-written piece on anything at all is likely to prove acceptable. There is a sort of sliding scale for the quality of writing needed: you can get away with practically anything in the fannish gossip area; serious SF comment demands more skill; non-SF material not concerned with fannish personalities needs even more effort and so on right down the line until you come to How I Discovered The Cosmic Meaning Of Life On My Fifteenth Birthday. If you want any readers for that one you'd better be a genius.

Thus the real objection to the Collick/Higgins wish for a shift away from fannish gossip is that any such move means a lot more work before it gets as much return in egoboo. In the sercon field you have to make it good and run much higher risks of failure. No one is under any obligation to be interested in what you have written, however much it may mean to you personally, and once the protection of fannish name-dropping is abandoned you're entirely on your own.

Well, if in-doubt crawl back up... This seems to be the motto of FEAPA, the recently proposed Fannish Elite Amateur Publishing Association. FEAPA is such a silly idea it could be a joke, but it seems a rather pointless piece of satire unless directed at the USA, which has scores of apas to Britain's lorely and moribund OMPA. Apas in general seem to reflect the peculiarly American belief that the best training for literature is journalism: regularity and facility come first, with quality very much in third place. (Why anyone should want to pay to meet deadlines remains a mystery.) A second characteristic is indulgence in the snobbery of artificial exclusiveness and secrecy. The defensive self-deprecation of FEAPA's title does nothing to dispel this image. (One of the rules is that members should not be told what the acronym stands for; another is that membership is by invitation only.) The declared aim is "to encourage good writing" but it is not explained why members should wish to dim the glory of their brilliance by restricting readership to the Chosen Few. The only logical explanation is that the coarse general public might be less ardent in their admiration.

Whether intended seriously or not, FEAPA seems doomed to early death or total obscurity. The sheer size of American fandom makes some limitation of circulation reasonable, but there is no real and rational justification for a British apa -- no justification at all except the desire to be part of a mutual admiration society. The only exception might be in the case of something devoted primarily to art in particular work produced by processes best suited to short-run printing. However, not only does no-one at all take any interest in stencil colour printing, silk screen, wood and line cuts and all the other more arcane reprographic processes but there are precious few fan artists who are even much good at plain drawing. And if the artists lack skill, the editors are even more lacking in discrimination. The awful habit of scattering meaningless drawings at random through the pages of fanzines still persists. Apparently the feeling is that either the writing is so poor it needs camouflage or the readers so dumb their poor little brains need frequent rests from all those long words. In the case of some fanzines both views are correct.

The sheer lack of imagination displayed in most fan art is positively shameful. The visual possibilities of SF are limitless but usually end up as yet another Jeeves rocket ship or pair of big tits. Harry Bell, Jim Barker and Rob Hansen have all done good work, but the work of the first two still frequently resembles something lifted from a sheet of Letraset and Hansen often relies too heavily on techniques borrowed from comic books. (John Collick's cartoon strip in FOR A FEW FANZINES MORE demonstrates that work can succeed almost on imagination alone technical skill is simply a useful extra.) The dismal state of fan art (and fan taste) was well indicated by Graham Charnock's Worldcon Programme Book, which featured some truly atrocious scrawls.

(Indeed, the most vigourous and lively British fan art of the moment is that practiced on the features of Joseph Nicholas every time he passes out though there is still some controversy as to whether the result represents an object d'art or merely an objet. trouvee. In retrospect it is astonishing that no one managed to sell Nicholas to some passing American at the Worldcon... "Now here we have a genuine Found Joseph... Not signed, but authenticated by many expert hands... Guaranteed more or less complete with all working-parts... The cylinder stuck up the left nostril is not a vibrator but a tube of Dr Godfrey's Old Original Opium Lip Salve... Two dollars only... Three with handbag...")

In all areas British fandom has declined into a state of acceptance of second, third, or fourth best. The best writers such as Langford are simply competing with themselves, and the rest aren't competing with anyone. Why should they, when they can get away with any old crap? So what are the critics doing? Surely the function of KTF fanzine reviews is to kick the shit out of anything which is less than a wholehearted attempt at excellence?

Critics? What critics?

Unfortunately, there aren't any critics. The people currently operating are simply pissing around with no more style or sense of direction than the crudzines they're reviewing. Their efforts are more harmful than helpful, since they contribute to the delusion that exchanging stale insults is a form of genuine creativity.

In DEADLOSS Ohris Priest commented on the weakness of the critical background in fan writing and mentioned the D. West article in WRINKLED SHREW 7 (later issued in revised and more succinct form in the BSFA YEARBOOK) as one of the few successful examples of fanzine criticism. This seems an appropriate moment to state that the article in question is the oniy detailed attempt to create a proper theoretical basis for fanzine criticism. Whether its arguments were right or wrong is at present irrelevant. The point is that no one else has even attempted to establish a comparable position. (Pickersgill's reviews, while obviously carefully considered, do not actually provide any direct and organised statement of theory; his judgements are concerned with individual cases and do not articulate basic principles so much as act upon them by instinct.)

The distinction between reviewing and criticism is not always easy to make. Good reviewing will have at least some background of criticism and (where the subject is fanzines) criticism will probably include some element of reviewing. Examples of reviewing might be the short comments by Ethel Lindsay in SCOTTISHE or by Rob Jackson in MATRIX. The best and clearest example of fanzine criticism is the West article in the BSFA YEARBOOK, where most of the first version's references to specific titles have been dropped to leave only the general arguments.

Reviewing provides basic information: a sketch of subject matter and a rough assessment of how successfully it has been treated. Criticism is less of a consumers' guide and often assumes that the reader is familiar with the details of the subject; the aim is assessment of aims, methods and achievements in the wider context of the whole field. (Reviewers sometimes behave as though the reader is automatically familiar with the works being considered. This does not necessarily turn them into critics. Unless they are skillful writers it simply makes them bad reviewers.)

It is not special pleading to say that fanzine criticism and review demand a different approach. The very limited audience and the complications of personal relationships must both be borne in mind. The small and active readership means that the critic has much more chance of seeing his words (good or bad) take some effect. He is not simply writing advertising copy or providing informational briefing for passive consumers. The tangled web of personalities (and most fanzine fans have some acquaintance with their fellows, if only at secondhand) introduces all sorts of considerations of prejudice or bias based on animosity or friendship.

True objectivity in any form of literary criticism is impossible, simply because there are no standards of measurement which are established beyond dispute or exception. An inch is an inch, but a masterpiece is a matter of opinion. It is possible to give a reasonable imitation of objectivity by adopting an impersonal and dispassionate mentor which avoids pronouns, presents opinions with methodical thoroughness, and generally cultivates the air of calm superiority and omniscience appropriate to God Almighty. This kind of trick can have certain subliminal effect even on those who see through it, but it should never be mistaken for the real thing. Certain standards do exist which are wisely recognized in broad outline, but this is purely a matter of convenience. The truths of criticism are simply a set of handy assumptions which are subject to change at any time.

A more realistic critical ideal would be impartiality: the acknowledgement that critical judgement is subjective coupled with a determination to apply the same standards consistently to all works, regardless of authorship. In other words; a good fanzine from your worst enemy gets a good review and a bad fanzine from your best friend gets the shit kicked out of it.

Some people just can't face this. The work of an enemy obviously has to be attacked, and to hell with whether it's justice or not. Likewise, what are friends for, if not to pat you on the back? (Some of them will only pat you on the back when they have a knife in their hand. Not everyone can manage to praise the work of a friend. Sometimes this is sheer jealousy, but quite often it is due to that peculiarly masculine inhibition which sees anything but insults as unmanly.) Possibly even this lesser ideal demands compromise with human frailty. After all, machine measurements may do very well for machines, but fans and fanzines demand a little more subtlety -- if only for the critic's own entertainment.

Those people such as David Lewis who speak of "Crusades" and "reforming zeal" take a rather too limited view of the motives of fanzine critics and reviewers. Some effort is demanded, certainly, but the work is well repaid in enjoyment. There is, first of all, the pure and simple joy of trouble-making. Stirring up the animals with the sharp end of a stick is fun. Slipping a banana skin onto the path of the self-complacent is not so much duty as pleasure. Stern Puritan notions of moral purpose and high principles have nothing much to do with it. In the end, critics are simply arrogant bastards who know they are arrogant bastards, and want to see how far they can push it. There's nothing more fascinating than testing to destruction...

On the other hand...

Those who prefer to stay semi-respectable (or who just fancy a more covert style of shit-stirring) could take another angle: fandom is the longest running of all soap operas, the biggest board game around, a natural arena for fantasy power-plays and the vicarious enjoyment of passion-filled melodramas. Where else could you got such a fascinating tangle of characters, such a delicious mixture of solemn farce and esoteric social comedy? You can pick it up or lay it aside as the mood goes; even (sweet creativity) get in there on your own account and render the whole scene even more delightfully fucked up than before...

But this is basically the old trouble-making routine: have fun with your local ant-heap -- watch the little bastards run. For solid virtue the academic line is best; the sociological and psychological insights offered by study of fandom's intricate system of group-interaction, social stratification, interpersonal relationships and taboos and rituals.

On the other hand...

And if that don't suit, you could just go over in the corner and piss on the carpet. The simplest answer of all is that one of the strongest and most persistent of human impulses is curiosity, and fandom offers plenty of scope for its gratification. What will the little buggers think of next?

From time to time the claim is put forward that all fans (or some large proportion) are social inadequates, misfits, failures, refugees from the Real World or otherwise fatally flawed in character, mind or body. As often as not this comes from someone who has himself been notably unsuccessful in coping with the fannish Rest Home's awful pressures, but even from a more credible source the accusation would remain debatable. Anyone who does not make a habit of walking around with head averted, eyes half shut and mind totally closed should be aware that what is miscalled "Normal Life" includes a great deal which is bizarre, eccentric, aberrant, odd, quirky or just plain nuts. There are more crazy people outside fandom than in -- but it just happens that whatever craziness fans possess will sooner or later make itself very obvious to onlookers. Some degree of self-revelation is built into the nature of the scene. Strong writing and strong drink both unleash secrets. Even without either, fandom still has a tendency to let the mask slip occasionally.

This is fandom's real virtue; the inclination to tell the truth without fear or calculation of the consequences. In no other field is this really possible. The greatest asset of fanzines is their absolute independence. The only limiting factors are intelligence, skill -- and nerve.

In her UNDER THE INFLUENCE Cathy Ball comments on recent duplication of subject matter in British fanzines. Where reportage is concerned her abjections are legitimate, but for fannish theory and ideology there is no final and absolute truth, and therefore the arguments can never do more than pause for a while. Anything living changes, and Art is not to be judged by the measure of its conformity but by those qualities which endow it with a unique personal life of its own.

British fanzine fandom has been grinding to a halt for several years, but the trend towards stagnation has been concealed by the skin-deep pseudo-life of the gossip-column commentaries purveyed by "fanzine reviewers" and "fannish critics". Now the cheap thrills are all used up, and the future calls for the birth of a genuine critical tradition; a rethinking of fundamentals and an end to the lazy acceptance of the easiest way out.

For most of the time life is a matter of habit and dullness -- a dullness to which the mind adapts itself either for self-protection or convenience. A solid and unimaginative routine is not necessarily unpleasant and may even have attractions as a safe refuge from the terrors of free thought and action. But still there is the nagging of that most insidious of questions: is this all? Is there not some small area in which the restraints and limitations of the commonplace can be lifted or transcended, even if only momentarily?

Fanzines and fandom appear to offer just such moments of freedom, and it seems a great pity when fans, so far from taking their chances, seem determined to bind all their imagination and spirit to the dully conventional and conformist. (One more time now: Middle Class Fandom Rules). After all, it is a very small step they are invited to take. The hyperbolic excesses of fanzines and even the drunken cavortings of fans are mild enough frolics when considered in a larger worldly context. The Big Bad Wolves of fannish fandom are neither very big nor very bad, however much gusto and apparent conviction they may bring to their roles.

Fandom is more than Just A Goddam Hobby but still just one of the games people play perhaps more seriously, more enjoyably, and even more profitably than most, but still a game in the sense that a wrong move or a failure is not a total life disaster. The way the fans are playing it now, though, you'd think they're frightened their balls will drop off if they squeak out of turn.

Go forth and be original, you little wankers, you creeping Urban Peasants. Go on. Who's coming out first?

Er well er coff coff mumble mumble ain't nobody hore but us chickens, boss.

Ah, get out. And don't dare any of you come crawling back to ask: Master, Master, what must we do to be original?

Fucking hell, this stuff gets boring. How many more times do I have to do it?

D. West

March 20th 1980