Ansible Review of the Year
A performance which probably makes no sense at all, much of it having actually been written during Conspiracy (the 1987 Worldcon held in Brighton, England, and elusively chaired by Malcolm Edwards). One would-be-controversial panel title, "Why Have the Americans Hijacked the Worldcon?", caused more of a stir than its planners had intended. The MCFLF flyer appears by the vigorously withheld permission of Chris Priest.
A live fanzine is what I'm expected to give you now (at least, according to L. Ron Hubbard's Pocket Programme of the Future). I am not too good at this subtle impersonation stuff; at the Masquerade I was denied a spot prize because they said I'd totally failed to look like a human being, and pretending to be a fanzine is harder still. [Waves copy of Ansible.] Try to think of me as being printed in two columns of invisibly tiny type. I want to see you squinting. I want to see bloodshot eyes throughout the room ... yes, most of you are ahead of me there.
Well, the historical background of my little SF newsletter Ansible doesn't really bear examination: but this is the Fan Programme, where the lid gets ripped off, and if it isn't Greg Pickersgill will rip it for you. So first, a bit of clarification. Some new fans may have the horrifying idea that Ansible is named after the faster-than-light communications gadget found in the works of Orson Scott Card. I wish to deny this terrible charge and point out that it's named after the faster-than-light communications gadget found in the works of Ursula Le Guin. Mr Card pinched it, in shameful imitation of me.
I've always wanted to ask Ursula Le Guin whether there was meant to be a hidden significance in the word. After I'd published my first few issues, Chris Priest wrote in gleefully to tell me I was the proud editor of a newsletter whose title was an anagram of Lesbian.
That first issue appeared at Seacon '79 in this very hotel. By the time I reached double figures I'd actually achieved the breakthrough of publishing a few bits of news, in between the vulgar remarks about people like Chris Priest. But Ansible was always keen to print up-to-the-minute items like extracts from such famous novels as Neuron World:
This was the Stygian darkness of which poets wrote. This was the pit of Acheron of which the creators of classic prose made mention. This was the kind of darkness which made thick, black velvet seem like chiffon by contrast. This was the kind of darkness that turned pitch into translucent polythene, when the two were placed side by side....
This was the back page of ... Ansible 9!
Thank you, Lionel Fanthorpe. The same issue carried an anonymous flyer inviting people to join a dynamic new fannish political movement:
Are you a Middle Class Fan? If so, you are a member of a nice but persecuted minority, and you are invited to close ranks with those of your own kind. The MIDDLE CLASS FANNISH LIBERATION FRONT will protect your interests.
You are a Middle Class Fan if:
- You live in the HOME COUNTIES, the THAMES VALLEY or a SMART SUBURB.
- You possess a DEGREE, a PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATION or a WORD PROCESSOR.
- You buy at least ONE HARDCOVER SF NOVEL a year.
- You prefer J. G. BALLARD and URSULA LE GUIN to LARRY NIVEN or ANNE McCAFFREY.
- You SECRETLY COLLECT SF as a HEDGE AGAINST INFLATION.
- You have PUBLISHED SF PROFESSIONALLY.
- You have had a REJECTION from Asimov's Sci-Fi Magazine (same as 6).
- You have a TRENDY DISABILITY, such as deafness, literacy or wit.
- You are ABLE TO READ WITHOUT MOVING YOUR LIPS.
- You DONATE BLOOD or support the EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT.
- You read THE SUNDAY TIMES, FOUNDATION or ANSIBLE.
- You think WORKING CLASS FANS do actually smell a bit.
Are you a MIDDLE CLASS FAN? Now is the time to sit down with a nice cup of tea and be counted. Just fill in the form below....
TO: D. WEST, 17 Carlisle St, Keighley, West Yorks, BD21 4PX.
Yes! I am a Middle Class Fan and proud of it, and wish to join THE MIDDLE CLASS FANNISH LIBERATION FRONT. Please send me full details of how to look down on people, type out my own litho plates, make macramé pot-holders, cook vegetarian dishes and produce my own Christmas cards. I enclose £20.00 (American Express and Diners Club accepted)....
Who actually wrote this flyer remains a closely guarded secret, but computerized textual analysis hints that the style seems strangely influenced by that of Inverted World, The Space Machine, The Affirmation and The Glamour.
Other popular Ansible features included Hazel's Language Lessons, which reached their high point with the vital information that the word komaria in Kikuyu means "to touch somebody reprovingly or threateningly with a stick and say 'wee!'". David Garnett's serialized Dictionary of Science Fiction Terms only lasted long enough to cover the letter A, thank God, though some fans out there are still waiting hopefully for the promised Part Two: From "Bastard" to "Buttock".
The actual news items were sometimes a tiny bit less reliable. For example, in issue 44 I put in a rude bit about how Colin Wilson had been interviewed by Lisa Tuttle and spent all too much of the session going on about how he liked young lady interviewers in tight jeans. This was a deplorable misprint and I have to apologize: sources close to Lisa later corrected me and pointed out that Mr Wilson had been far more interested in asking the colour of her knickers.
Before I go on, I'll just read some selected critical responses quoted in back issues of Ansible:
"It's a riot!" said Foundation (well, Colin Greenland anyway).
"As a newszine, it is the Emperor's New Clothes," enthused Mike Glyer in File 770.
"The cosmic adventure of the ultimate soldier on a desperate mission beyond death!" observed Timescape Books.
The British Fantasy Newsletter complained that Ansible is: "Not nearly as controversial as its reputation belies."
"We demand an immediate public apology," wrote Andre Norton's attorneys.
"Fandom," declared Greg Pickersgill as early as the second issue, "is a damn sight better life than pushing peanuts up the Pennines with your penis."
US fan Roy Tackett remarked, with characteristic tact: "There is, somehow, something attractive about the thought of sitting back and watching the English get nuked."
Robert Heinlein wrote, enthusiastically, "Our teeth grated, and my nipples went spung!"
"We thought of suing you," added Fred Harris, "but you haven't any money."
And William McGonagall had the last, deeply moving word: "And when Life's prospects may at times appear dreary to ye, / Remember Aloys Senefelder, the discoverer of lithography."
I think this establishes Ansible's credentials for sober, hard-hitting, no-nonsense, factual journalism. The following review of the last twelve months consists, I must warn you, of items even Ansible couldn't bring itself to print. Switch off your tape recorders and put your short-term memory in neutral, please—and remember the definition of fanzines I once found in that famous SF novel Come, Hunt an Earthman by Philip E. High:
"A Zine is a terror weapon. It rends and distorts, twisting the structure of the target completely out of shape."
An exciting new science fiction magazine was launched, called Amazing Stories and edited by Hugo Gernsback ... no, sorry, that must have been in 1985. I forgot to say that Ansible is sometimes a tiny bit late with your actual news.
In Sweden, twenty-six fans were injured in a zap-gun battle fought over the hot issue of whether "bheer" should be spelt with an "H", or with two.
Thanks to a leak in the Cabinet it was revealed that the British government had successfully issued court injunctions in Australia, America and the United Kingdom which for sixteen shameful years have prevented an allegedly "subversive" and "politically embarrassing" book from being published. Its title is, of course, The Last Dangerous Visions.
In a very loud public statement, Harlan Ellison commented: "That's not fucking funny! The book is finished, complete, and the manuscript is all ready to be delivered. I'm just waiting for the final rewrite job on one last story, by L. Ron Hubbard."
John Brunner wrote to New Scientist magazine complaining that his expensive word processor wouldn't print out the Sanskrit and Middle English characters which he constantly needed for his daily correspondence. The next issue featured Harry Harrison's strongly worded reply, saying that there was no problem at all if one simply translated it all into Esperanto. The week after that, Sam J. Lundwall sent in a trenchant letter from Sweden, complaining about the way insular Englishmen like Harry Harrison talked about Esperanto and science fiction as though they owned it, when in fact both had been invented in Continental Europe in 1887.
SF fandom was plunged as usual into controversy when the Pope published a science fiction novel called Immaculate Genesis: there were worries about massive Hugo bloc-voting by members of the little-known "Catholic" cult which has been openly condemned by several British governments since the reign of Henry VIII....
"Gosh wow, fans, this is all a bit of an embarrassment for us," said the chairman of the Vatican City Worldcon bid.
A dynamic new writers' organization, the SFWGB—Science Fiction Writers of Great Britain—was founded, to grant to British authors their inalienable rights of fame, royalties and the pursuit of free booze in a private room well away from the fans. Any writer would be qualified to join if he or she had published three stories in SF magazines anywhere in the world, except America.
Joanna Russ wrote an angry public letter to complain that the announced Conspiracy '87 programme is sexist, since it features masked balls.
The Moral Majority developed a simple new scientific test to determine whether SF and fantasy books are Godless, immoral, and deserving of being burnt. Books which are suspect—i.e., which have been published—have their entire print runs stacked in Death Valley and napalmed. If God doesn't miraculously save them (explained the Reverend Jerry Falwell), this will be a direct condemnation from on high. Most fundamentalists condemned this approach as "half-hearted" and "wishy-washy", suggesting that we should get straight to the root of the evil by extending the same technique to authors.
Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov received an advance of six hundred billion dollars for a proposed novel to be written by both their word processors in collaboration. (This was originally going to be done via a specially set-up geosynchronous satellite linkage, but it turned out that Asimov's word processor was afraid of heights.)
The working title is 2000 and Foundation: this will reconcile the Clarke and Asimov future histories by revealing that all along, the secret directing intelligence behind the mysterious monolith and the Second Foundation has been John W. Campbell.
London's post office workers held their traditional, seasonal celebrations of Saturnalia in Trafalgar Square, with wild orgiastic dancing around a huge blazing bonfire of undelivered Conspiracy hotel booking forms.
Geoff Ryman abandoned his plans for a twenty-five-minute play adaptation—for performance at Conspiracy—of Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren. "It wasn't challenging enough for me," he said. "Instead, I'm now planning to do a fifteen-minute monologue version of Stand on Zanzibar."
The Society for the Promulgation of More and More Science Fiction Awards announced an exciting new trophy, the Volsted Gridban Memorial Award For Consistent Integrity. This would be presented as a consolation prize to authors who after ten years of publishing SF still haven't received any other sort of award. Unfortunately, the judging committee couldn't find any writers who qualified.
The British SF Association finally paid heed to the critics who complained that its magazines didn't have the popular appeal which would attract a wide audience. Membership increased tenfold on the appearance of the new tabloid version of Vector, retitled The Daily Sci Fi. Highlights of the first issue were the nude picture of Anne McCaffrey on page 3, an Agony Aunt column run by John Norman, and the feature article 10 Tell-Tale Signs That Show Your Neighbour Is A Trekkie.
Swedish fandom was once again plunged into all-out war, as usual. An agonized press release reports: "This is the most appalling and shameful scandal to have rocked world fandom since science fiction was invented by Sam J. Lundwall in 1887." The issues involved are a bit unclear, but the central dispute seems to be about whether or not Otis Adelbert Kline was or wasn't a better writer than Captain S. P. Meek.
Convention fans were horrified by the recent discovery—unearthed in an old copy of Fahrenheit 451—that books are inflammable and could be used as weapons to set fire to convention hotels, or even more probably, convention hotel managers. A hastily proposed amendment to the Worldcon constitution requires that these dangerous items be peace-bonded—sealed shut with wheel-clamps borrowed from local police—before they can be allowed at conventions. "Even that may not be enough," said a spokesfan. "We dropped a copy of Battlefield Earth from a height of 100 feet on to a volunteer gopher, and it seems that even with peace-bonding, these books can be pretty dangerous...."
Meanwhile, Ian Watson joined the Freemasons.
A new science fiction magazine was announced from Davis Publications Inc: Vincent Omniaveritas's Magazine of Cyberpunk, full of hard-hitting, action-packed, information-dense essays demonstrating conclusively that "cyberpunk" SF is infinitely more wonderful than any other form of literature since Gutenberg. It is hoped that after the first year, the magazine size can be expanded to allow the inclusion of some fiction.
Later that month, riots erupted in the streets of Stockholm as Swedish fandom debated the issue of whether professional magazines should be bound up with staples. (One bloodily divisive side issue concerns the rival merits of the two spellings "sthaples" and "staphles".)
At the Easter convention, old-time fans complained again that the traditional feel of fanzines had been destroyed by all these computers and laser printers. They called for a return to the golden years when fanzines were created on old-fashioned IBM Selectric typewriters and reproduced by traditional hand-crafted offset lithography.
In Britain, H.M. Government denied scurrilous rumours that they planned to introduce a tax on books. "We've worked out a much fairer approach," the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced. "We're bringing reading into line with television—with a simple, no-nonsense tax on the receiving apparatus. The annual tax will be levied on all users of eyes. As a special bonus, a single licence will allow each individual to operate as many eyes as he or she wants, provided they're all kept in the same house."
In line with Government educational policy, there will be large discounts for illiterates.
D. West published his longest fanzine article yet: "Repeat Performance", a dazzling 144-page analysis of something or other, which explores transsexuality, baked beans, investment strategy for unit trusts, how to make your own toilet paper, the reasons why the rest of British and American fandom are a load of wankers, and the morality of mud-wrestling. All these strands are brilliantly drawn together into D.'s final conclusion, which is that writing fanzine articles is a waste of time and only an idiot would do it.
The 1986 Heineken Lager advertising campaign received vast numbers of nominations for the Hugo Award, in the categories Best Novel, Best Non-Fiction and Best Dramatic Presentation. After long debate the Worldcon committee brilliantly compromised by shortlisting it under Best Fan Artist.
Greg Pickersgill had a nifty new idea for a team event which could fill a twelve-hour stretch of fan room programming at Conspiracy ... synchronized ceiling watching. Competitors would lie back and stare in unblinking silence at the ceiling, excluding all thoughts from their minds and thus demonstrating that they had enough grim mental self-sufficiency to read even Piers Anthony novels. Unfortunately this suggestion never made it to the Conspiracy programme-planning meeting, since Greg accidentally spent that day practising the advanced techniques of his new sport.
Brian Aldiss announced his new literary project. Thanks to massive popular demand from his bank manager, he's working on an immense sequel with one of the following tentative titles: Helliconia's Edge, The Helliconia of the New Sun, Chapter House Helliconia or Helliconia August Bank Holiday Weekend.
At the same time, Bob Shaw came to an important realization about his Ragged Astronauts series. In the first book he established that he could bend the laws of physics as much as he liked, since this is a different universe with different physical constants. His new brainwave is that this different universe will also have different rules of grammar, syntax and spelling! As he told Ansible, "This could save a fortune in proofreading!"
The London "Forbidden Planet" bookshop attracted attention with its 100-foot-tall papier-mache display model of J. G. Ballard, made entirely from recycled copies of the fourth Conspiracy progress report.
In America, a Senate investigatory committee received anonymous letters from Puerto Rico and Cincinnati, accusing the last six TransAtlantic Fan Fund administrators of being heavily involved in shipping arms to Iran ... as well as legs to Iraq and fishnet tights to West Yorkshire.
Swedish fandom achieved another historic first! "This is the proudest and most exciting development ever," says Ahrvid Engholm's enthusiastic press release about the first use of tactical nuclear weapons in a fan feud.
August 1987: Conspiracy
In a savage confrontation on Friday night at the Worldcon, hotel liaison person Katie Hoare was confronted by six psychopathic hotel managers wielding flick knives and bicycle chains. Later, a spokesman for the RSPCA complained that this sort of graphic violence was totally unfair to hotel managers.
The fan programme item "Why Are Americans? How Dare They Continue To Exist?" was expected to be controversial. Happily, after mere hours of discussion and only a few minor flesh wounds, fannish common sense prevailed—Mike Glyer and the entire Los Angeles SF Society agreed to having been totally in the wrong, and promised to correct their errors by applying at once for Welsh citizenship.
This dramatic conversion was brought about by the diplomacy of Greg Pickersgill, who smoothed over all the weekend's international frictions by clearly explaining the proper definitions of important fannish terms. For example, "intolerably imperialist cultural chauvinism" translates as "being American", and "understandable patriotic spirit" merely means "insulting Americans".
After nasty experiences with slimming drugs earlier this year, Bob Shaw was happy to announce from under a Fan Room table that he'd switched to an exclusive diet of the new and organically produced appetite-suppressant called "gin and tonic".
Fans were delighted to hear that Britain's most famous unreadable author, Robert Lionel Fanthorpe, has turned his black belt to good use and made three million pounds from evangelistic mugging. In a staggering act of generosity he has used the money to set up an independent foundation for the promotion of fine SF ... Fanthorpe Services Inc. The first major classic unearthed for publication by the associated imprint, Thousand Year Rule Press, is "Leo Brett's" famous March of the Robots.
("Strange metallic things; things that were alien to the soft green grass of earth. Terrifying things, steel things; metal things; things with cylindrical bodies and multitudinous jointed limbs. Things without flesh and blood. Things that were made of metal and plastic and transistors and valves and relays, and wires. Metal things. Metal things that could think. Thinking metal things....")
Several major pundits have already praised this to the skies as the work of a true master—world-renowned critics and authors like Algis Budrys, Orson Scott Card, Anne McCaffrey, Gene Wolfe and Fred Harris.
Despite initial worries about Scandinavian feuds being carried on at Conspiracy, Swedish fandom won everyone's heart by simply sharing a bottle of whisky and passing into a mass coma. The only sour note was struck when a hotel barman tried to charge them corkage on the miniature. (Oh dear, these old gags will creep in.)
Mike Glyer protested hugely at the insensitivity of the Committee in allowing a Fan Programme item with an offensive title. The Ansible Review of the Year is a clearly chauvinist name in that it fails to grant equal time to the vast majority of SF newsletters called File 770. In a controversial reply published by the convention newsletter, Martin Tudor offensively and publicly stated, "Er, sorry." Mike was so affronted by this that he unilaterally boycotted the hotel swimming pool.
The Ministry of Defence refused to comment on persistent but elusive reports that an unidentified floating Malcolm Edwards had been sighted hovering 200 feet over Brighton beach. Sceptical observers pointed out that although the Committee has been investigating these rumoured brief sightings for five whole days, there was still no hard evidence that con chairman Malcolm Edwards exists.
At this point I'd better stop, for the usual reason that I stop doing an issue of Ansible. It's not so much the constraints of time and space; it's just that I can face only so many lawsuits and death threats per issue. Even now I have a terrible feeling that at tonight's SFWA party, Fred Harris and I may be booked for a mutually enrichening exchange of hurled drinks (1). If I get out of this hotel alive, I'll promise to think about beginning to consider starting work on Ansible 51 ... real soon now.
Meanwhile, thanks for listening.
(1) This feeble attempt to establish precognitive powers is transparently a later afterthought [Ed.]