Sunday, June 17, 2007

My fanzine days

For those interested in my early science fiction days (all two of you) here's a brief piece I wrote for Earl Kemp's excellent web fanzine this issue. You can check it out in full at My fanzine days ran from 1957-1961. Somebody recently wrote a piece (as I recall) about a car trip that Roger Ebert, sf-mystery writer Wilson Tucker, Vic Ryan and I took to Cincinatti where the 1961 Midwestcon was going on. Them were the days my friend.

Ted White Still Scares Me

By Ed Gorman

The first science fiction fanzine I ever saw was edited by a man named Guy Terwilliger, and I believe it was called Twig. It was extremely spiffy. Guy (I may not be spelling his last name correctly) took enormous pride in his work. And that included the articles that were so nicely laid out. I was hooked. The year was 1956 or 1957. These people were actually writing about SCIENCE FICTION.

For the next four years I was an active fan. My favorite fanzine was Yandro. Juanita Coulson was not only talented but also nice. Husband Buck was gruff but nice. Hell, that kind of relationship played beautifully on screen (Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy). Why not in real life?

Yandro was a gathering place for two or three generations of fans and writers. My peer group, if that’s the proper characterization, was Roger Ebert, Vic Ryan, Mike Deckinger, and—And I can’t remember any other names forty-six or forty-seven years later.

I suppose there were more prestigious fanzines. But for reasons I don’t recall I never quite took to them. Maybe I was intimidated by them. I knew how stupid I was. But did other folks have to know?

When Richard and Pat Lupoff began publishing Xero I had two favorite fanzines. The Lupoffs were like the Coulsons, helpful and welcoming, even to Iowa hayseeds like myself.

I had two writing heroes in the sf field. Robert Silverberg and Harlan Ellison. I was stunned by the level of craft Silverberg had achieved by age eighteen. And early on you saw in Ellison’s work the darkness he would mine in the masterpieces that would start appearing from him just a few years later. And Silverberg’s masterpieces would follow soon after.

Toward the end of my tenure in fandom I published a fanzine called Ciln. I had no idea what Ciln meant. But the other people on the violent ward thought it sounded pretty cool, so I went with it.

The three [There are four issues, numbers 1, 2, 3, and 5, in the Bruce Pelz Collection, University of California, Riverside. –Robert Lichtman] issues were sort of spiffy (not as spiffy as Twig) because they came enclosed in two-color George Barr covers. Knockouts. Among the contributors were Greg Benford, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Robert Bloch. Bob in fact wrote for two of the issues.

I was then and am now political. I introduced politics every chance I got, especially in the letter column. Around this time Habakkuk was getting ready to appear. In case you never saw it, it was a thunderous exciting amalgam of mainstream politics, left-wing politics, fringe politics, beat writing, confessional writing, and a letter column that was probably read carefully by those FBI agents not busy following Dalton Trumbo and Rock Hudson around. It was where outcasts of all stripes hung out and I was right at home. All these remarks about Ciln and Habakkuk are from memory. Twenty-five years ago, in our second move, my wife Carol and I both lost boxes of the material we’d written in earlier times. I haven’t seen Ciln or Habakkuk for probably thirty years.

During my time as a fan there was one thing I dreaded and that was getting into a fanzine argument with Ted White. Even when he was wrong, he was persuasive. And when he was right, God help you. In memory anyway, he got into more fights than Ali had in his entire career. Most of them were minor battles but a few were epics.

The thing was, I thought Ted was an excellent writer. And an interesting writer. He was one of those people who could take a dull subject such as magazine circulation and turn it into a spellbinder, at least for those of us who cared about magazine sf. I probably read a hundred columns, essays, and long letters by Ted, and never found even one of them boring.

Later, when he began writing professionally, I enjoyed his books and stories too. And when he began editing Amazing and Fantastic…I don’t think he’s ever gotten his due for the astonishingly good job he did with them. They were among the few sf magazines I kept when I unloaded about a thousand or so of everything else when I was diagnosed with incurable but treatable cancer five years ago (doing pretty well, thanks).

And one of the reasons they were so damned readable was because of Ted’s presence in them. Stories, editorials, essays, responses to letters, even a few reviews, as I recall. And some fine stories from writers who would soon be major, not least Dean Koontz, George R.R. Martin, and Lisa Tuttle.

And best of all, I never got into an argument with him. He disagreed with me enough to ding me once in Yandro, but after I hid in my basement bomb shelter for six days, I was doing just fine.

I can still smell the mimeo ink, still rub my fingers together and feel the texture of Twilltone paper, still feel the pride in seeing that first George Barr cover as I stapled it to the rest of the fanzine.

I met an awful lot of very decent people back then and if there’s a heaven I hope that at least part of it is a vast newsstand where we can find all those sf magazines from our era sitting right next to the Ace Doubles and the Ballantines and the Bantams and the Signets that were the lifeblood of our vampiric obsessions.

This is a photocopy of the cover of Ciln 5 (n.d. 1961) with gorgeous artwork by George Barr. Courtesy Bruce Pelz Collection, The Eaton Collection, University of California, Riverside. (Earl's site has a fine cover reproduction)

Miscellaneous quotes from Ciln 5:

Comments on the Magazine Field, October 1961

Donald Wollheim, editor, ACE Books:

“The slump in SF periodicals has not affected ACE Books in any way.
“We will continue to publish on a monthly basis, keeping up our doubles and occasionally adding a second title per month in way of a good single novel or anthology.
“There has been no change in our print orders or pattern of publishing unless it’s been for the better.”

Richard Ballantine, publicity, Ballantine Books
“The SF slump is, I believe, largely confined to magazine publications in that field. Book sales are lower only in terms of number of titles available; the volume remains the same. This is to say that ‘trashy’ SF material is not selling—its elimination from newsstand distribution would eliminate the so-called ‘slump.’ Immediate Ballantine publishing plans include three forthcoming originals: 30-Day Wonder (Richard Wilson), Drunkard’s Walk (F. Pohl), and Trouble With Lichen (John Wyndham).”

I also asked why Ballantine found English SF more to their liking (besides the fact that it is better written).

His reply:
“In conclusion, the fact that British authors seem, in general, to have a better grasp on English usage than do their American counterparts is by no means trivial. Imagination, to be sure, is the keystone of SF. But it must be translated into the terms of the printed word.”

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Anonymous said...

Thank you for these reminiscences. They are valuable, and introduce me to people and literature that had eluded me. Please do more of these. You are inviting me into an absorbing world.

Richard Wheeler

James Reasoner said...

I love that image of the newsstand in heaven with all the good old stuff. Do you think St. Peter sells Spicy pulps under the counter?

Ed Gorman said...

Hi James--

From what I've been told St. Peter has a complete run of all the spicy pulps--detective, westerns and whatever else Leo Magulies chose to slap the "spicy" word on. It'll be quite a newstand.



Anonymous said...


Talk about bringing back some fond memories. Back when I was semi-active in fandom (mid 1970s) I remember receiving Yandro, SF Review, and tons of other fanzines... remember how excited I was when I got a LoC published, and I still cherish a card I received from Buck Coulson, encouraging me to be the writer I wanted to...

To quote a cliche, "good times, good times."

Alas, never published a fanzine... came within a few months of doing that and bang, became a freshman in college, and real world came crashing in...


Pink Mystique said...

I loved Yandro. I was 15 years old in 1963 when I entered fandom. Buck Coulson was wonderful to this would-be writer. We corresponded for five years. See my blog post "Look Over Yandro..." at blogspot.