By Mark Plummer
23 July 2012
Some years ago, Chris Garcia experienced a moment. It was back in 2009, just after the Seattle Corflu. It had been a good convention and I'm sure all the attendees had had a fine time, but Chris seemed to perceive it as more than that, as a faultless alignment of the fannish stars, the whole microcosm briefly attaining a state of perfection and pupil-dilating splendiferousness. So moved was he that he lost all residual sense of linguistic restraint. You can see the results in his monument to that instant, issue #206 of The Drink Tank, in which he achieved an all-time personal best and probable world record Awesome Quotient of 2.2. The AQ figure is calculated by counting the number of appearances of the word "awesome" (or derivatives) and dividing by the number of pages in the fanzine excluding the cover. The contention that this is an all-time personal best is of course a fannish assertion, the expression of an opinion as fact because the speaker feels it's probably correct and certainly ought to be correct but can't be bothered to check, but there had never been another Drink Tank like it, you bet.
Regular readers of Chris's writing will probably have noticed a number of its stylistic features. We are familiar with his zealous attachment to the exclamation mark and his fidelity to the capital letter in the middle of a word where it doesn't belong, the latter being something I put down to a formative and traumatic experience with early Jon Courtenay Grimwood novels. But above all else there stands his devotion to the word "awesome," a devotion so complete that under normal circumstances one almost feels sorry for those few people and objects on which he does not bestow this adjectival appellation. After the Awesome Overkill of The Drink Tank #206, somebody—who might just possibly have been me—proposed the creation of a new fan fund which would raise money to scoop up unemployed adjectives from abandoned LiveJournals and mail them to Chris in the hope that they might increase the linguistic diversity of future issues.
As I recall, it all came to nothing—I think the postage proved prohibitive—but it didn't matter. These days devotees of old-school Chris have to make do with John Coxon's Chris Garcia Tribute Act (currently touring pubs and clubs in the Peterborough and Leicester areas) while the AQ of The Drink Tank has been artificially propped up by certain fans, most if not all of whom turn out to be me, continuing to allude to the receding days of All Awesome, All The Time. Chris's style has been evolving, and has attained its near-ultimate state in a recent article in Apex Magazine, "What It Is We Miss When We Don't Read Fanzines" (online and in issue #38). It runs to nearly two-thousand words and yet the A-word only appears once. Even more remarkably, that single appearance immediately precedes my name, something that I suspect may be more a reflection of my tendency to comment on past excesses rather than any personal displays of awesomeitudiousness.
It's a world turned upside down, one in which we can only take consolation in the dogged retention of the wholly unnecessary intracapitalisations such as "WorldCon." Students of the Garcia Style are even now writing scholarly papers on how "exceptional" has become the "awesome" for 2012. The new preferred adjective appears half a dozen times in this one piece, applied to Aiden Moher's A Dribble of Ink blog and at least eight separate fanzine titles, and demonstrates why Chris is a good choice to address this particular subject in a venue such as Apex. His enthusiasm for the fanzine form is, dare I say, exceptional. Or awesome. Probably both.
I think Chris makes some fair points about the differences between fan writing in fanzines and blogs, most obviously that "There is an immediacy that exists in blogs that doesn't really exist in most zines." This is most apparent in the direct response to fanzines which, depending on the frequency of publication, may not be seen by anybody other than the editor until weeks or, more likely, months or even years have passed, requiring fanzine aficionados to embrace "long now" thinking. I'm less convinced that "[fanzines] live and die off of a feeling of completeness; each issue is a package tied together capturing not a moment in time, but a continuity" while "Blogs feel less 'complete' in that each post is typically separate, exists for itself and may not tie in to anything else in the blog." Sometimes, yes, but it seems to me that this isn't entirely comparing like with like in that the continuity Chris describes can be present in both the best fanzines and the best blogs.
I feel similarly about Chris's contention that "[fanzines] are places where content that is meant to stand through time ends up." Again, sometimes, certainly. I can see, for instance, that the fanhistorical material in Peter Weston's Relapse is intended to form an enduring repository of information and stories about the first few decades of British fandom (and, to some extent, British science fiction) as the firsthand experience of these eras slips beyond living memory. But I don't see that as a direct consequence of the chosen form. The function could as well be performed by a blog, and the fact that it isn't is more a reflection of Peter's personal preference than anything else. And both fanzines and blogs can exist primarily for a "now," even if the fanzine's "now" is more likely to be a few weeks rather than a few days.
It is partly true that "zines have roots in fandom that are not as strong in blogs, leading to a focus on events like conventions and fandom history that you'll not find in many blogs," although I think I'd have favoured the word "deep" rather than "strong." Fanzine editors and writers are, I suspect, generally more likely to be conscious of their place at the top end of a community that's been in existence since the 1930s which may in turn be because, again generally speaking, they're older. Bloggers, though, may be more firmly embedded in the broader fandom as it's played out here in 2012 and so when Chris says, "Many bloggers have become that ranting commentator who never actually participates in the events they react to; a claim held often against many zine writers of earlier days" I suspect that's true of some fanzine writers of the present day too.
And that, I think, is the key thing about Chris's article: that it tries to identify differences between fanzines and blogs when it seems to me that there are really far more points of commonality. What You Miss When You Don't Read Fanzines is the stuff that gets published in fanzines, just as What You Miss When You Don't Read Blogs is the stuff that gets published in blogs. If as a devotee of one you dismiss the other because it's old fashioned and outmoded or ephemeral and impermanent, then I think that's a mistake. As Chris concludes, "Both approaches are valid, and while one may over-shadow the other in number of participants, it is important to remember that great material may be found even in the shadowed valleys we may not want to pass through."
One fanzine which has been around since before the Web but has easily survived the transition to it, attracting a vast blog-like readership in the process, is Dave Langford's Ansible, this month celebrating its 300th numbered appearance. The first series of fifty issues spanned the period between the two Brighton Worldcons in 1979 and 1987. The title returned in October 1991 and has appeared monthly ever since. Here in 2012 I suspect relatively few fans are reliant on Dave's newsletter to bring them the first report of, say, the Nebula Awards winners, but the ages may still have cause to be grateful for Ansible's extensive coverage of the doings of the science fiction and fan community.
The first series issues were generally longer than those post-revival. Younger fans, used to the post-1991 single-sheet incarnation, gasp at the realisation that Ansible once had a staple, just as even younger fans gasp at the realisation that Ansible was once most commonly experienced on paper. Nowadays an issue runs to two-and-a-half to three thousand words, so the entire enterprise is probably still a little shy of the total wordage of Clarissa. I confidently assert, though, that Dave has easily outstripped Samuel Richardson when it comes to intelligent and witty commentary about the BSFA, the Hugo Awards, and James Bacon. I will leave it to a more diligent researcher to establish who has the edge when it comes to immoral rakes and innocent heroines.