My Life as a FanEd

This article was written in March, 1990.

Some of you know me as chairman of Noreascon 2 and/or editor of The Mad 3 Party, but I’ve been in fandom quite a bit longer than that. In the beginning there was MITSFS and The Twilight Zine.

I discovered MITSFS (the MIT Science Fiction Society) in my freshman year at Radcliffe (1963-64). One of the women in my dorm, Sue Hereford (now Suford Lewis), had belonged to the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society in high school, and she introduced a bunch of us to science fiction fandom.

Not that MITSFS considered itself to be part of fandom in those days. Its motto was, “We’re not fans; we just read the stuff”. But at MITSFS we discovered the same cheerful irreverence, quirky sense of humor, and acceptance of the oddities of others that is characteristic of fandom. We found MITSFS to be a refuge from the pomposity and conformity that we were sometimes smothered by at Harvard, and we got into the habit of dropping in to the MITSFS meetings about once a week. And since, at that time, MIT was a predominantly male institution, we were welcomed with open arms.

One of the people we met there was Dave Vanderwerf (known as DAVe, since his initials were D.A.V.). DAVe was a nice guy who had a reputation as being somewhat ineffectual, but he was a fan and proud of it. Why, he had even attended Discon I in 1963. And he subscribed to and read fanzines. In spite of his reputation, DAVe turned out to be the founding father of organized Boston fandom. It was his idea to have a local convention called Boskone, and he ran the first couple of them, he established the Skylark Award, and he initiated the first Boston Worldcon bid (Boston in ’67). He also tried to found NESFA, but he got the name wrong, and his club, the Boston Science Fiction Association, failed to get off the ground.

At that time, DAVe was editor of the MITSFS fanzine, The Twilight Zine, which came out more-or-less quarterly. (Usually less. This was my first exposure to the phrase, “Real Soon Now”.) I got involved in helping to put out a couple of issues, and rather enjoyed it. So when DAVe got tired of the job, I suggested to my ex-roommate and best friend, Cory Seidman, that we take over as a team.

The only problem was that, at that time, I couldn’t write. Or at least I was convinced that I couldn’t, due to a very intimidating freshman writing course that had totally screwed up my head. (After that, I made a science of discovering courses that would fulfill the Harvard Liberal Arts requirement without requiring hardly any written papers. Economics and Music were two good ones.) So we made a deal: Cory would do any writing that was required, and I would handle the organizational parts, like maintaining the mailing list. We would share the labor-intensive jobs, like typing and collating.

Publishing a fanzine in those days was a fairly primitive operation. We typed directly onto mimeograph stencil, using a deep blue waxy fluid called corflu (for “correction fluid”) to paint over mistakes. (Cory actually appeared, painted blue, as “A Bottle of Corflu” at a Worldcon masquerade during that period.) We were thrilled to have access to a new-fangled machine, the IBM Selectric typewriter. It had a removable type ball, so you could easily change the typeface, dropping in an italic ball for titles, a Greek letter ball for equations, and so forth. Larger point sizes for headings had to be done by hand, by use of lettering guides and styli with points of various diameters. We did have access to electrostencilling though commercial services, but it was very expensive and we used it only for artwork. Since the charge was by the page, we would cram several pieces of artwork onto one sheet, and then cut them apart and glue the fragile electrostencils into holes cut into the typed stencils.

For paper, we used the mimeo-friendly “twilltone”, long fabled in fannish song and story. We ran off each issue on an A.B.Dick mimeo available at the MIT Student Center, and in the process we learned a lot about running that particular machine. I remember that it used an ink pad rather than a silkscreen, which had the feature of leaving a grid of white spots on any solid black area. To minimize this, we got into the habit of buying and installing a brand-new ink pad each time we ran off a new issue. The mailing list was originally maintained on index cards, although later I believe we converted to punched cards and used hand-wired accounting machines to print out address labels. (This was after we saw how Filthy Pierre used this method to produce the MIT SF Society’s Index to the Science Fiction Magazines, but that’s a whole another story.)

Cory wrote great editorials in a typical light fannish style. Her subject matter was sometimes fannish (generally con reports), but also ranged from a defense of the borough of Queens (“Rego Park is so called because it was first developed by the Real Good Construction Company. That makes it highly typical of our rich cultural heritage.”) to a description of the cookies served in our Radcliffe dorm on Saturday nights to the poor souls who didn’t have Saturday night dates. For the rest, the job of the editor was mostly just trying to extract material from people, rather than being terribly selective. Sometimes we got material just by noticing amusing things around us rather than actually getting someone to write something. (The cover for our first issue was a baroque etching featuring triumphal arches that we stole from a placemat found at Ken’s at Copley, our favorite late-night hangout.) Being published at an institute of technology, TZ tended to emphasize the techie approach to life. Some of the contents that I recall:

  • Excerpts from the minutes of the MITSFS meetings. We had fun coming up with the title of this feature, which started out as “Return of the Son of the Ghost of MITSFS” and progressed through such titles as “The Ex-Wife of the Son of the Ghost of MITSFS”. The minutes were almost totally content-free, but served to give a good idea of the flavor of the meetings. (Many years later I stopped in at a MITSFS meeting and found that nothing had changed!) Sample excerpts: “The set of treasurers present is empty”, and “Arluis [Tony Lewis, in his days as an MIT grad student] entered and snarled with aristocratic contempt that such a device [a Coke machine proposed for the library] would attract riffraff. He was ignored.”
  • A series of great cartoons of geniis in bottles by Jack Gaughan. (“Genii in the Pepsi Generation”, “Disposable Genii – No Deposit No Return”, “Genii Made into a Lamp”, and so forth.)
  • Excerpts from exams, such as one question from an 18.02 (MIT Physics) midterm. It started by quoting a situation from a James Bond novel in which he guessed that his martini was bugged by twirling it. The question asked the students to “calculate the moment of inertia of a stuffed olive where part of the pimento has been replaced by a radio transmitter (neglect the toothpick antenna).”
  • Transcripts of WTBS (the original name of the MIT student radio station, now called WMBR after selling their previous call sign to Ted Turner for big bucks – but that’s another story) commercials forApple Gunkies (those “rhomboidal pellets of true-fruit flavor, machined to exacting tolerances by skilled native craftsmen with pride in their work.)

After a while, Cory got a little tired of getting stuck with all the writing, and encouraged me to give it a try. Since I had been studying computer programming (yes, Virginia, they did have computers in those days, albeit primitive ones), I came up with the idea of writing a story in Fortran instead of English. My first attempt (co-authored with DAVe) was about Goldilocks and the three bears, and was titled “SUBROUTINE STORY(GOLDIE)”. It was a compilable Fortran 2 program that used concepts like arrays and iteration to show GOLDIE stepping through the WOODS(100) and COTTGE(3), and conditional statements to test IF (TOOHOT(PORIDGE)). We had plans for a whole series of Fortran stories, starting with IF (IHAD(HAMMER)), but luckily we never went any further with this concept.

[Imagine my surprise when the first time I googled for my name on the internet I found this site which had enshrined this early effort for posterity.]

Fanzine publishing was a great introduction to fandom because it was a great way to meet people. There weren’t as many regional conventions in those days, and travel was expensive, so the main way fans got to know each other was through fanzines. There were a number of people we got acquainted with by receiving their letters or their artwork for TZ, and it was always a great thrill to meet one of them face-to-face at a convention. All told we published six issues on a quarterly schedule in 1966 and 1967. Then we graduated and left TZ for other hands to continue.

The following year, DAVe got involved in another bright idea. A popular fannish newszine, Focal Point (the File:770 of the day), had recently ceased publishing fan news, and was sorely missed. DAVe, Ed Meskys, and Charlie Brown, chatting late at night at the 1968 Boskone, I think, came up with the idea of a distributed newszine. Three editors, each in a different location (Boston, New Hampshire, and New York), would publish issues in rotation. The idea would be to spread the burden of publishing, and also to collect more gossip because each editor would theoretically have his own network of sources. DAVe and I wanted to call it Pulsar. (Pulsars had just been discovered and some people thought they were interstellar communications beacons.) But Charlie and Ed voted for Locus

DAVe edited the first trial issue and I typed it up. It was a single two-sided mimeographed sheet which was sent free to about 2000 people to solicit subscriptions. The feature story was on the death of Anthony Boucher; a Lunacon report described how discussion of the movie 2001 with Arthur C. Clarke dominated the proceedings; and there was a note that Star Trek had hired John and Bjo Trimble to handle their fan mail. The first trial issue came out on May 10, 1968, and announced a bi-weekly publication schedule and a subscription rate of 10 issues for $1.00. DAVe did a second trial issue and the first real issue, and the next four issues rotated through editors as planned. At that point, Ed became rather busy with organizing a Tolkien conference, and DAVe acquired a second job as was fafiated (forced away from it all) for a few months. So Charlie got stuck with the next few issues, working up to 250 subscribers and a price of 8/$1.00. By issue 8 (Sept. 28), Charlie announced that he and his wife Marsha were now the sole editors of LocusThe rest is history (and a whole bunch of Hugos.)

At this point, we skip over many years. During this time, DAVe dropped out of fandom. Cory married Alexei Panshin and they moved to Perkasie Pennsylvania where they embarked on writing serious books of SF criticism like The World Beyond the Hill. And I became a convention-running fan, chaired Noreascon Two in 1980, and left fanzines behind for a long time…

Our story jumps ahead to 1986 when Boston seemed sure to be selected to hold the 1989 Worldcon. My dilemma was to find a job I’d enjoy doing that I could volunteer for before I got dragooned into doing something more energetic than I had in mind.

For Noreascon 2, George Flynn had published The Voice of the Lobster – a fanzine devoted to providing a behind-the-scenes look at running a Worldcon. It became a forum for people to send in their suggestions, and for us to explain the reasons behind our decisions.

I liked the idea of having such a fanzine, but I wanted it to do more. I thought we could use it to communicate with the convention staff. To run a modern Worldcon, we needed to recruit hundreds of people from out of the area to help out at the con. I figured that the more these staffers knew about our plans, the easier it would be for everyone to work together smoothly when they all got to the convention.

So I presented to chairman Mark Olson the idea of a combination fanzine that would serve both purposes. It would be sent free to our staffers (and people we expected to recruit) and would also be available by subscription to anyone who was interested.

At that time, we already had a bid fanzine that had been started by Laurie Mann. Pat Vandenberg had edited it for about two years and was now ready to hand it off to a new volunteer. So I took over The Mad 3 Party for the last year of bidding and the three years of convention planning.

Fanzine production had really changed since the Twilight Zine days. We now used computers and laser printers for text editing and typesetting, low-cost xerographic printing for reproduction, and kept track of our mailing list on a database management system. It was a good thing, too, because it would have been extremely difficult to put out a timely zine without this new technology. (Toward the end, I was putting out a 22-page issue every 6 or 7 weeks.) Circulation grew steadily throughout its run; issue 33 went to about 570 people: 250 subscribers, 270 committee and staff, and about 50 freebies to newszines and Worldcon bids and committees.

The most original issues of M3P were produced in my first year of publishing, summer 1986 through summer 1987. At that time, there wasn’t much Noreascon 3 business to report on, so I made a major effort to write articles that involved digging up facts and drawing conclusions. The Bid Finances Issue (December 1986) described the Boston in ’89 bid strategy, and compared bid expense reports obtained from the 1988 and 1989 bidders. The Body Count Issue (June 1987) had articles on where people spend their time at conventions, based on actual statistics collected at ConFederation and Boskone.

After we won the bid, Mad 3 Party became less my own work and more straight reporting of convention news and policy. It covered just about every aspect of the convention planning, from organization structure and hotel negotiations, to Hugo administration and area brainstorming. During this period, I did get to practice one skill that I had started to learn as chair of N2: explaining policy decisions to people who didn’t know all the background facts, and writing calm and rational responses to angry letters.

It’s hard to tell for sure, but I like to think that M3P made a major contribution to Noreascon 3 by giving people from outside the local area a good understanding of what our plans were and how we would work together. When the committee assembled, everyone knew (more or less) what was where, who to see for what kind of problem, what our policies were, and generally what to expect.

(Fandom apparently agreed, as after this article was written, The Mad 3 Party won a Hugo award for Best Fanzine 1989. Coincidentally, this was the same year that my college roommate and her husband (Cory and Alexei Panshin), also won a somewhat more prestigious Hugo (Best Non-Fiction Book) for The World Beyond the Hill.)

This article originally went on to recommend that future Worldcon committees consider publishing a zine like The Mad 3 Party. But of course technology has changed yet again, and now we use the web, and tools like e-mail list, weblogs, and perhaps wikis to accomplish what I tried to do with The Mad 3 Party.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *