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Kittywompus Tracks Fanzines - August 2000

Button31 August 2000

One final set of reviews for August; I'm still well behind on fanzines but I don't think they're coming in quite as fast as I'm reviewing them at the moment. My big news is that I have a new son; Jonathan Andrew Cain was born on Sunday 27th August. Like all the best babies, he has his own home page. At present he spends the vast majority of his time eating and sleeping, which gives me a little time for Kittywompus and other similar pursuits.

One of the 'other pursuits' is that I'm putting the final touches to Carved on Dead Trees, a paper version of this weblog. It's not a generally available fanzine; it's only available to those fanzine editors reviewed or mentioned in KTF who do not have web access. I've assumed that this is the case if people don't give an e-mail address on their fanzine; but if you happen to know that an editor who has got an e-mail address nevertheless cannot see the website, please let me know. The plan is to 'publish' it about three times a year, and it will exist in a large print as well as a 'normal' version.

Connection 2, Simon Ounsley, 47 Birkdale Drive, Leeds, LS17 7RU, UK. 20pp A4, availability: "for readily audible/legible letter of comment, fanzine in trade, show of interest, or just for being you."

The reason for having a large print version of Carved on Dead Trees is to give Simon Ounsley a sporting chance of reading it. Last week I received this second issue of Simon's perzine. Lead article this time tells of finding a dead cat in the street, and what happened next. A first, amusing, instalment of anecdotes from his honeymoon is followed by a rather weak and superficial musing on the Glitter case which betrays a poor understanding of the way that the web, PCs, and UK pornography laws work. But this becomes more interesting towards the end, when Simon points out that this piece is responding to something Christina Lake wrote in Never Quite Arriving, and that he believes it's a sign of fanzine fandom being healthy when fanzines are talking about each other. One of the purposes of this very log, of course. There's also an extremely promising letter column, including many people who have sparked on the request for recommendations in issue #1, and another pair of D West covers.

Trapdoor 20, Robert Lichtman, PO Box 30, Glen Ellen, CA 95442, USA. 48pp, available for the usual or $5.00 single copy.

Trapdoor won this year's FAAN award for 'Best Fanzine', and rightly so. I do not think there is another fanzine being published that matches this combination of carefully chosen current and reprint fan articles, each paired with a specifically commissioned header by one of a wide range of fan artists. A particular strength is the range covered; although there's often a slight tinge of nostalgia to many of the pieces in Trapdoor, you never really know what will be coming up next.

I particularly enjoyed Alice Sanvito's article about a Russian bathhouse, which would have fitted nicely as a guest article in Sheila Lightsey's fanzine full of international bathing experiences earlier this year. And Greg Benford's piece confirmed all my prejudices about Hollywood's process of turning books or ideas into movies. There's a reprint of a fine Burbee column from 1973 (is there any such thing as a non-fine Burbee column?)

Jeff Schalles gives fair warning that his reminiscences of living in New York are rambly; "I'm still pondering what I found there." I'm a big city dweller, and although I know that tales like this happen in London all the time, it always seems that other people who live in big cities find, well, more of the underbelly than I ever do. Not that I'm worried about this, mind. And Ardis Waters has been much discussed in fanzine articles recently, but Avram Davidson's poem "Beside the Ardis Waters" gave me, well, an unexpected perspective.

Trapdoor also seems to inspire letterhacks; its letter column is full of long, carefully crafted letters which progress and develop the themes covered in the fanzine. Finally, Robert's announced his intention to publish a bit more frequently in future; I'll look forward to it. A 'must-have' fanzine.

Twink 18, EB Frohvet, 4716 Dorsey Hall Drive #506, Ellicott City, MD 21042, USA. 40pp letter, available for the usual.

I'm almost as surprised to see that Twink has run to 18 issues as I am that Plokta has produced 20. EB Frohvet is a pseudonym who affects a royal 'we' in print, and his fanzine is resolutely low-tech, laid out in Courier with hand-written page numbers. All these things tend to put me off it a bit, thereby proving that I'm unnecessarily swayed by superficial gloss. Unusually for an SF fanzine, it concentrates largely on discussion, reviews, and criticism of SF, though other stuff fits in around the edges.

Robert Sabella's quarter-century old article about attending Clarion West in 1972 provides an interesting insight. In common with many others, I received regular missives this summer from David Levine, also attending Clarion West. I do not get the impression that David's experience at the workshop was quite as brutal as the 1972 equivalent. Harlan Ellison told Robert in no uncertain terms to give up writing. The 1972 Sabella didn't take this seriously, but went on to write an average of 30,000 words a year of completed fiction for 16 years without a sale. And now he is resigned to not being a published writer, but continues to write fiction compulsively. I understand the compulsion to write, but I'm not entirely sure I understand the urge to write fiction that people won't read. Weirdly, this article is illustrated using the urbane fox Sue Mason drew for "On Dustbins and Foxes" in my first fanzine, Trinketry.

The other long article this time is the sixth instalment of Frohvet's overview of black characters in SF. This time he turns his attention to Delany. I've found these articles frustrating; criticism at this length should, I feel, be trying to form conclusions and push forward thinking. But while this overview has been quite comprehensive in scope, it has tended to skate over the surface of the subject. I don't know whether this is deliberate, or whether Frohvet was unsure at the outset what he was seeking to achieve with the piece. But this section, for example, dismisses Octavia Butler as "a black feminist woman writing about black feminist women and largely for black feminist women. In short, she is a niche writer." Blatant superficiality like this -- and Frohvet acknowledges that he's not really qualified to make such a sweeping statement -- undermines any sense of scholarship and tends to derail a lengthy project.

There are also plenty of book reviews (which I'm not fond of), lots of fanzine reviews (which I am fond of) and 20 pages of letter column, which seems to follow the FOSFAX "print everything" school of letter column editing. The single biggest improvement Frohvet could make to Twink would be to stop printing the little bits of social verbiage that people put into their letters. We do not need to read insightful comments like "Thank you for Twink" (appearing multiply in this loccol), "Twink arrived in my mailbox on the same day as Stet", or "I have to confess that Twink got completely buried in the fanzine pile".

Most interesting controversy in the letter column, at least for me, is "why do North American TAFF delegates mostly only visit England and European ones mostly only visit the US?" I have to confess some culpability here, as I helped Sue map out her trip and, while she does manage to get as far north as Seattle (and of course, Chicago), she doesn't manage to hit Canada. She was very limited in time for this trip (three weeks is as long as she can bear to leave her cat Spooky) and we thought that five fannish centres was as many as she could manage. Canadian fans, while active in fanzines (particularly as loccers), are relatively few and relatively spread out, and it would just have been too difficult for her. On the other hand, it's a shame that Maureen didn't manage to visit Canada on her, much longer, trip.

Button22 August 2000

My threatening letter to MESH computers plc gives them a week before I take my story to the small claims court, trading standards and the computer mags; but the short version is that my shiny new computer doesn't work because of a hardware failure. These things happen, but this one has been substantially compounded by a Really Crap Customer Service experience. And no baby yet, which probably means I should avoid stress situations (like hanging on hold on a customer service line). But never mind; it all gives me plenty of time to read fanzines.

Xyster 2000, Dave Wood, 1 Friary Close, Marine Hill, Cleveden, N Somerset, BS21 7QA, UK. 10pp A4, availability: "you got this because I remember well".

One of the particularly nice things about doing fanzines is that you get all sorts of surprises in the mail. Like a fanzine from Dave Wood, who appears to have been inspired to dust off his mimeo for the first time in a decade when he got Quasiquote in the post. The main article here is a description of his wife's recent health problems, which explain some of 'why I haven't been writing recently'. Dave reports "the creepy feeling that I am in that country normally the territory of Simon Ounsley", and indeed, this article is not a particularly easy or pleasant read. The fanzine is leavened, however, by interlineations in the style of collaborations by pairs of very different authors, a short article describing his relationship with books, and a strong cover.

I remember Xyster from the 80s, even if Sandra has forgotten, and hope to see more fanzines from Dave Wood. Who is another resolutely unconnected person, incidentally; when I catch up with my fanzine backlog, the next project is the dead tree edition of KTF, which will probably only be available to offliners.

Now and Then #5, Harry Turner, 10 Carlton Avenue, Romiley, Cheshire, UK. 22pp quarto, available as an OMPAzine and on editorial whim in September 1955; who knows, these days? But you could write and ask Harry.

This is the latest in a series of what Harry calls "recycled fanzines"; facsimile copies of the fanzines that Harry and Eric Bentcliffe produced for OMPA and selected others in 1955/6. (Thanks to Rob Hansen's excellent Then for this information). I find myself full of questions when reading them. What (and why?) was the Romiley Fan Veterans and Scottish Dancing Society? Where is Harry getting hold of quarto paper, or does he cut down A4? How am I supposed to tell what parts of the text are Harry and what parts are Eric Bentcliffe? Has he really lived at the same address for 45 years? Perhaps I ought to send a LoC really, rather than speculating.

Perhaps my favourite speculative question, though, is this: What would the collection of active British fans in 1955 have thought if they'd randomly received facsimile copies of Plokta 20 in the post? I find that getting the complete fanzine in the mail, just as it would have turned up in 1955, a very curious experience. This is timebinding at its most edgy and fragile. Forget commentary, analysis, synthesis and selection; we'll just give you the actual historical experience and you can see what you make of it. It is remarkably strange, and somehow quite unlike reading through a pile of dusty offerings from the Memory Hole. What it's actually like, for me, is a little fannish time machine.

They do things differently there. There are no fanzines like this made any more; this fanzine is simultaneously completely recognisable as something of genus fanzine to me, and completely alien to what I expect a fanzine to contain or be like. Only a few of the contributions are credited (and none of the art), there are no addresses other than the editorial one, and there is no colophon. There are three long articles, of which two are fan fiction. (The third is John Berry's account of Harry Turner's first game of ghoodminton.) These are interspersed with little bits of editorial, a poem which I fail to understand, many advertisements for fine Widower's products (some very funny), and a lively letter column. But on the back cover it says "cannot be bought for mere money", so I know that I am amongst friends; and I really would like to send my fanzine back to 1955 in trade.

WABE #1, Jae Leslie Adams, 621 Spruce Street, Madison, WI 53715, USA, Tracy Benton, 108 Grand Canyon Drive, Madison, WI 53705, USA and Bill Bodden, PO Box 762, Madison, WI 53701-0762, USA. 20pp A4 (so who is their British agent?), available for the usual.

Although they'd been planning to do a fanzine together real soon now for some considerable time, the immediate impetus for Wabe was the Iron Faned competition at Corflu 2000. While it is true that the Plokta team did technically win, it's also true that we had spent much of the intervening week carefully writing, commissioning and editing articles in ways which meant they could plausibly be used whichever of the three themes came up. Roe vs. Wabe was very much truer to the original concept of a fanzine to be produced in a single hour; a feat which I now know I never, ever want to have to emulate, despite my having produced several con newsletters in two or three hours.

Wabe, however, is clearly a more finely crafted beast. Tracy Benton has designed the zine, with a distinctly retro style that, on closer examination, turns out not to be retro at all. Illustrations are mostly clipart, though Jae Leslie contributes a fine cover fitting with the sundial theme. Rather than go for a collective editorial, each editor supplies a separate one, which appear at the beginning (Jae on 'why are we doing this fanzine'), middle (Bill on 'why e-fanzines don't quite hit the spot') and end (Tracy on 'this fanzine didn't use all that much superfluous technology honest'). There are a couple of articles from each editor, with a guest appearance from Andy Hooper describing how he was diagnosed with diabetes. Condensed (and uncredited) fanzine reviews are sprinkled hither and thither throughout.

None of your intercontinental collaborating for this coedited zine, with all three editors in Madison. Nevertheless, Wabe doesn't yet demonstrate a strong sense of coherent identity or purpose, though the material in this issue certainly fits with their stated aim of being 'a fanzine which intends to publish all sorts of odds and ends'. Each of the constituent pieces of Wabe is entertaining, and go up to make a tasty smorgasbord. But there is no standout article here for me, and I confess myself completely baffled by Jae Leslie's "Fan and Superfan". Clues for the clueless in Walthamstow, anyone?

Dreamberry Wine, Mike Don, 233 Maine Road, Manchester, M14 7WG, UK 16pp A4, available primarily to customers I think.

This is the latest issue of Mike's book catalogue, but as usual it has a couple of pages of book reviews and a lively letter column tacked onto the end.

Button17 August 2000

I'm mostly spending my days sitting around waiting for the baby to turn up. You'd think that would leave me plenty of time to update the fanzine log, wouldn't you? Ah, well. There was George RR Martin's A Storm of Swords, amongst many other distractions. But we have had lots of fanzines, some of which are reviewed below in no particular order. And I must mention that I'm working on the log today while listening to Bagpuss: The Songs and Music. Heave! Heave!

Steam Engine Time 1, Bruce Gillespie, 59 Keele Street, Collingwood, Victoria 3066, Australia, and Paul Kincaid & Maureen Kincaid Speller, 60 Bournemouth Road, Folkestone, Kent CT19 5AZ, UK. 40pp A4, planning to be twice-yearly, probably available for the usual (though it doesn't say).

Steam Engine Time has been getting a lot of attention, because it really is a good while since there's been a fanzine strongly grounded in criticism of SF. The closest we have is Vector, the critical journal of the BSFA, although Twink makes a creditable attempt. But Steam Engine Time is considerably more ambitious than either of these; attempting to fill a niche that explores SF themes in more depth than is normal in either of those zines, but nevertheless not treating its subjects as 'academically' as Foundation does.

Assiduous readers will know that I'm not a great fan of book reviews in fanzines, so you might think that all this is not to my taste. You would be wrong; although I have no time for a couple of hundred words on 'why I liked this book', I enjoy well-written SF criticism, especially when it springs from a genuine personal enthusiasm for the subject at hand. And all three of the editors (Steam Engine Time is another example of intercontinental joint editing, as seen in ABV and Gloss) are well-known for producing thoughtful commentary on SF.

The editors have to some extent mined the apa Acnestis and Bruce's SF Commentary files for material for this issue, and very fine the articles are. Long pieces on Olaf Stapledon, RA Lafferty, Cordwainer Smith and a retrospective of British SF are interleaved with shorter pieces looking at where SF is going, and recording the 'essential books of the last 20 years' as chosen by panellists at Potlatch. I particularly enjoyed Paul's polemic, intended to be the first of a series of polemical arguments about where SF is and where it should be going.

The serious feel of the fanzine is accentuated by strong design and layout; but other than fine covers by Ditmar, art is restricted to book covers. This means that the overall feeling is just slightly austere. Nevertheless, this is an important new fanzine, with much to enjoy, and it strikes me as essential reading for anyone left in our subculture who still reads that skiffy stuff. I accept that isn't everyone. It will be interesting to see how Steam Engine Time develops; whether it can maintain the quality threshold without years of archives to help, and how the style will adapt to incorporate a letter column.

...and stuff 4, Doug Bell, 12 Hatherley Road, Bishopston, Bristol, BS7 8QA, UK. 18pp A4, available for the usual.

For this, the fourth issue of Doug's perzine, he's drafted in a friend, with a guest article on the history of the KLF. These were a pair of popstars who diversified to become one of Britain's most successful performance artists, at least if you define successful as 'getting shedloads of media attention', and for performance art, why not? Doug follows this up with his perceptions of visiting last year's Turner prize exhibition. Like the Arthur C Clarke award, the Turner prize often seems to be awarded for 'the body of artwork Turner would most have despised', and Doug looks at the nominees from the point of view of someone saying 'well, I know what I like'. Otherwise there's a memoir of a favourite bar, recently refurbished, a couple of pages of editorial, and a letter column. The title of ...and stuff cautions you not to expect anything of great depth, and it all slips down easily, like junket.

This Here 3, 4 and 5, Nic Farey, PO Box 178, St Leonard, MD 20685, USA. 16pp A4 or so, available for the usual, or as a Word attachment by e-mail.

Who would ever have thought that Nic Farey would become one of our most assiduous faneds? Three issues in as many weeks (at least it feels that way, thanks to poor Martin Tudor's hard disk crash); it's a far cry from Arrows of Desire, which was roughly biennial.

Nic's writing is fiercely personal at best; he has the knack of reporting what he's up to in a very warts and all way. And the lead articles in these three issues are installments of his experiences being treated for alcoholism following his third DWI. This is the sort of thing that sends some well-known letterhacks into apoplexy, of course. He describes the prevailing ethos of the treatment centre as follows: "It seems that if you've ever forgotten what you did, had a hangover, gone out for a drink after not drinking for a while, increased or decreased your tolerance, you're an alky, my friend." I think they'd have a bit of a problem with the whole of Britain, to be honest.

Sinister agents of the Calvert Country Treatment Facility have also been trying more subtle references to stop Nic from drinking, such as hiding wasps in his beer. The story of the ensuing Sudden Allergy Incident appears in issue 3.

I'm less interested by regular articles on the current state of play in the professional wrestling scene and reviews of recent albums that I've never heard, but hey, I was probably the only reader interested in the Farey series. He's also turned my slight tetchiness on the matter of editorial comment in the loccol into a running joke. Hey, as long as he keeps plugging the website, I'm happy.

Nic's industry has also extended to a complete web edition of This Here, with a promise of back issues of Arrows of Desire to follow.

International Revolutionary Gardener 3, Judith Hanna & Joseph Nicholas, 15 Jansons Road, Tottenham, London N15 4JU. 18pp A4, available for the usual.

The editorial warns that IRG (which has a title change to Interplanetary Revolutionary Gardener on the cover this time) only very occasionally mentions sf, and almost never mentions fandom. But do we really need sf or fandom when instead we can have Judith detailing her loving relationship with Barbie? As a holdout against the Scary Pink Aisle of Toys 'R' Us, I began reading with a healthy cynicism. But it's hard not to be moved by the tale of Judith's importing her childhood Barbie from Australia and kitting her out with a billion hand-made Barbie accessories (and not a few Mattel ones) and twenty pairs of shoes. "Joseph pats me on the head, looks disdainful, and clears away the wasteful packaging litter of pink cardboard and bubble plastic." I bet. This is probably the single fanzine article I've enjoyed most since beginning reviewing.

Most of the rest of this issue is a collection of short pieces from Joseph, collectively entitled 'Observations from Life'. Both this and Judith's second article largely cover local history and geography. Stories of Tottenham, and rambles through the Lea Valley, fall on fertile ground here; I'm very interested in the green spaces around this straggly bit of North-East London. I've walked or cycled over most of this ground many times, and drunk at practically all of the 'assorted riverside pubs'. But I don't know whether the vast global audience will find this material as entertaining as I do.

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