Article


eFanzines

In its 20th year, founder and manager,
Bill Burns, looks back at eFanzines.

 

eFanzines was born out of circumstances in November 2000.  On the old Memory Hole e-list, Marty Cantor was bemoaning the inefficiency of e-mailing multiple copies of the PDF edition of his fanzine , No Award.  As I already had a webserver and the time and ability to run the project, it made sense to start a central site to host fanzines for editors who didn't have their own on-line space.  Marty was the first to sign up, and others soon followed: the site now hosts over 125 titles.  Additionally, from the beginning I also included links to fanzines already on line elsewhere.

Initially, I aimed it to be just as a service which would free fanzine producers from having to worry about the mechanics of hosting PDF editions of their primarily paper fanzines.  But almost immediately I was asked to host electronic-only fanzines, and I realized that eFanzines could also be a venue for editors who didn't want to deal with the costs of producing and mailing paper fanzines.

In the 1960s there was a fan-run service in the UK called PADS - the Printing and Distribution Service, which for only the cost of materials and postage would take a fanzine editor's content, stencil, duplicate and collate it, and mail the finished fanzine.  Logistically it was doomed to failure, but the electronic version of this works perfectly.

Given today we have Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites of all kinds, and many different ways to keep in touch with our friends around the world, one might ask what relevance do fanzines have now that we have blogs, websites of all kinds, and many different ways to keep in touch with our friends around the world? Indeed, wouldn't it be a kindness to kill them off?

Well, perhaps I'm old-fashioned, but I find all of the alternatives to fanzines unsatisfactory in one way or another.

Fans have always had ways to communicate with each other: in the early days of fandom, starting in the 1930s, they wrote to the prozines and eventually to each other; they started local clubs; they organized conventions. When electronic bulletin boards (BBS's) started up in the 1970s, fans met there. At the beginning of the Internet, Usenet newsgroups were the place to hang out, and as email became widespread, SF and fannish themed e-lists were started, and then came blogs.  But all of these are ephemeral or intangible in nature - by which I don't mean that they can't be permanent, but that they have no specific form and no unity.

Websites (other than those which, like eFanzines, are designed as archival) have a similar problem.  The essence of a good site is that there's always something new - but often that means you can't pin it down.

Conversely, fanzines, whether paper or electronic, embody the best features of all the other media. They have editorials, articles on every topic, artwork, and, most important, letters from the readers commenting on previous issues or raising new topics.  Each issue is designed by its editor as a cohesive whole and stands as a unit.  It is the only form of all the ones I have mentioned of which this is true, and this is the fanzine's most valuable attribute.

Today some SF fans won't be familiar with traditional SF fanzines at all.  Yet they can easily get involved: there's nothing stopping them producing one.

For someone who's an SF reader having had not too much interaction with fandom, it might be best to start with what fanzine fans call a sercon - serious and constructive - fanzine.  This will normally have quite a bit of content that's actually about science fiction, which is by no means true of most fanzines.  On that basis, for an example, I'd recommend any of Bruce Gillespie's fanzines.  For a single issue, try Steam Engine Time #7 (found here), whose 44 pages will be a good solid read. Let me add an alternative - Steven Silver's Argentus #7, still with lots of SF content but a little lighter in tone.

As for what types of fanzine eFanzines will host, the answer is very many different sorts.  It's difficult to define a "science fiction fanzine", but I know one when I see it.  I don't accept fanzines whose main theme is media or comics or fan fiction, but there are fanzines on the site which include all of these.

Because of the ease of publication, and the possibility of reaching the large audience which regularly visits eFanzines.com, the site has published the first fanzines of several new editors. For potential newcomers, I'd suggest browsing the site and reading a few more fanzines than the ones mentioned here, then put an issue together and send it to me for review.  I've turned down almost no-one!

As for fanzines that I personally rate, it is almost impossible to pick among so much good material, but of the current fanzines, number one has to be Earl Kemp's eI, for the breadth and depth of its content. (Disclaimer: I do the production on the zine for Earl, but he is solely responsible for its content).

Number two is Chris Garcia's The Drink Tank, for the obvious enthusiasm he puts into its production, and the offbeat and wide-ranging material that he runs.

Number three is Chunga, edited by Andy Hooper, Randy Byers, and Carl Juarez, for the always-excellent selection of artwork and articles enhanced by fine style and layout.

Of historical fanzines, Science Fiction Five Yearly has to be a favourite; not only for its concept (it publishes one issue every five years) but also for the sustained high quality of its content, from the first issue in 1951 to the final issue of 2006, which won the Hugo for Best Fanzine.

No list of fanzines would be complete without a mention of Hyphen, the brilliant and surreal fanzine of Irish fandom, publish intermittently from 1952 through the 1980s. Sadly, most issues are not on line, but there are a number at fanac.org/fanzines/Hyphen/ and one issue at eFanzines (with a piece by Patrick & Theresa Nielsen Hayden which shows the kind of writing they did before blogs, and I wish they'd do again).

And finally, not a fanzine, but a fine example of how the professional and fannish worlds came together in the 1950s - Walt Willis's columns for the British prozine Nebula.

All in all there is a tremendous amount to get out of fanzines.  For myself running eFanzines the satisfaction I get has to be the opportunity to present material which would otherwise almost certainly never have been published.  As well as encouraging new editors, some of whom have gone on to publish paper fanzines and become more involved in fandom, I've also been privileged to work with fans such as Dick Geis and Earl Kemp who've been around since the 1950s and didn't have the resources to produce a paper fanzine or the ability to put together an electronic one.

And finally, what could be better than regularly finding in my Inbox the writings of some of the most talented and creative people I know - science fiction fans?

Bill Burns

 

Bill Burns is British fan and was a member of the Manchester and District (MaD) SF and the Delta SF (film) groups back in 1964. He was one of the founders of the Leeds University Science Fiction Group in 1966.  Shortly after he was made a Knight of St Fantony.  He has been on several Eastercon committees in the late 1960s and early '70s before he moved to US.  There he started eFanzines which has won a number of Faan Awards as well as once being short-listed for a Hugo.  He still makes an annual pilgrimage back to Britain to attend the Eastercon.  As well as eFanzines, he has a major website on the history of the Atlantic Cable and subsea communications, and other sites on various aspects of the history of technology.

 

 


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