I was reading a science fiction magazine the other day. It was the June 1976 issue of Amazing Science Fiction, the "big all new all star 50th anniversary issue!" featuring stories by Isaac Asimov, Lester Del Rey, Harlan Ellison, Fritz Leiber, and others. But in deference to these gentlemen—and I note that the nine pieces of fiction are all written by men aside from one story co-written by Lil and Kris Neville—I'd actually pulled this particular issue down from the shelves for an installment of "The Club House." This fan column (sometimes rendered as "The Clubhouse" and it wasn't always consistent between contents page and heading in any given issue) originally appeared in Amazing back in the late Forties and early Fifties. Its author, Rog Phillips, later took it to Universe Science Fiction and then Other Worlds where it made its last appearance in April 1956. Ted White resurrected it shortly after he took over the editorship of Amazing in 1968, first under the hand of John D. Berry and then, from 1974, Canadian fan, Susan Wood.
The June 1976 column is concerned with the previous year's Worldcon, Aussiecon, the first world science fiction convention in Australia. It was a small Worldcon by the standards of the time, with only about 600 people attending, while the bookending Worldcons in Washington DC and Kansas City each drew over 3,000. Wood was a fan guest of honour, in which capacity she found herself hauled off to a press conference alongside convention chair Robin Johnson to help explain what it was all about. And the column does build on that rather nicely, I think, by addressing various possible answers to a journalist's question, "Why are you here?" Wood talks about the convention programme, and the visiting and local science fiction professionals, and how people worldwide had raised money for a special fund to import veteran fan Bob Tucker to the convention—bringing along science fiction author Wilson Tucker as a free bonus—while a regular fund that alternately sends Australians to North America and vice versa had on this occasion brought across Rusty Hevelin. There are quotes from fellow guest of honour Ursula K. Le Guin's speech at the convention in which she also posed that "why are we here?" question and answered, "Well, I think we have come to celebrate." And there's the matter of Wood's own status as fan guest of honour, which is always a tricky one. Why "fan" guests? Do you simply like SF more than anybody else or are you just very good at liking it?
For Susan Wood, though, it was about the people, the gathering of the tribes, the opportunity to confirm in person friendships that were formed through a pre-Internet communications network consisting of letters and small assemblages of duplicated paper circulated through the mail: fanzines. Susan had been the co-editor of Energumen from 1970 to 1973 (as Susan Glicksohn and with then-husband Mike Glicksohn), winning a Hugo for it in that final year. Her own fanzines were Aspidistra and Amor and these, alongside contributions elsewhere, contributed to her regular appearances on the fan writer Hugo ballot throughout most of the Seventies. At Aussiecon she got to meet John Bangsund, Leigh Edmonds, Valma Brown, Bruce Gillespie, Eric Lindsay, and other fans engaged in that same network. For her, the answer to the question "why are you here?" was, as much as anything, "to have dinner with my friends."
I never knew Susan Wood. She died in 1980, five years before I encountered fandom. Most recently I was moved to revisit that June 1976 column by the death of her ex-husband, sometime co-editor, and fellow Aussiecon fan guest, Mike Glicksohn. I never met Mike either, although we did swap a few emails and as best I can figure we were actually in the same room at the same time on at least three separate occasions. Mostly, though, I knew Mike and Susan through those old fanzines, publications that I first read about and later picked up from convention giveaway tables or as pass-along gifts from friends, and some of which have now been scanned and posted online, a communication that flows up the timestream where it once flowed merely around the world from Canada to Australia.
So why are you here? I'm here, in a purely localized sense, because Niall Harrison asked me; but taking a wider view, because back in 1985 a chap called John moved into the hostel for young civil servants where I was then living and encouraged me to go to monthly London fan meets at The One Tun and the following year to a convention called Mexicon II in Birmingham, a convention locked away so far back in deep time that Niall was moved to remark of its successor three years later, and with what I hope is mock incredulity, that ". . . information about it available online is limited to a few cryptic mentions in Ansible." And that's where I've been for the last twenty-six years—almost literally, as I still go to the first-Thursday-of-the-month London fan meetings. The venue has changed probably half-a-dozen times in the intervening years, but the current haunt, The Melton Mowbray, is just around the corner from the now-gone original venue, The White Horse, which was fictionalised by Arthur C. Clarke in his 1957 collection Tales from the White Hart.
The fandom that Susan Wood described in 1976 still exists. It has evolved of course, and proliferated. The Aussiecon she described was the thirty-third Worldcon. Last year saw Aussiecon 4 which was the sixty-eighth, with over three times the membership of its precursor thirty-five years earlier. This year's Worldcon is Renovation in Reno, Nevada, where one of the guests of honour is the late Charles N. Brown (he died shortly after accepting the invitation), founding editor and publisher of Locus. Now it's a slick glossy magazine, but in its early days Locus was another one of those duplicated bundles of paper, carrying reviews and listings of other fanzines, and occasionally running contributions from Susan Wood and Mike Glicksohn. Fan funds still take delegates between Australia and North America, and indeed between Europe and Australia and Europe and North America (and elsewhere as well) even though more people are able to afford to make these trips at their own expense. There are still fanzines too, if now rarely duplicated. Sometimes they're on paper, sometimes online, sometimes both, and sometimes—depending on your definitions—they're blogs and podcasts. There's still the occasional suggestion that these old and new media exist in opposition, the former the province of old-time fans who still feel that there's something not quite right about the Internet and for whom blog is still "the indefinable concoctions of alcohol and other things that circulate at conventions," while the latter emanate from younger fans who don't actually recognise the existence of a world pre-William Gibson.
Personally, I think it's all part of the fannish mix. I confess that I still prefer reading long texts on paper rather than screen, although I'm sure that's habit and years of conditioning rather than ideology. I also like getting fannish communications in the mail, even if sometimes it's not the optimum way of communicating. There's not as much of it as there once was and that's entirely reasonable; my exchanges about this column have all been by email, obviously enough. But here's one of those things that you wouldn't put in fiction because it's too implausible. As I was partway through writing this column, I had a postal delivery. It was an entirely unexpected gift—books and CDs (more old tech, I know)—from Bruce Gillespie and Elaine Cochrane in Australia. Bruce, at least, had been at Aussiecon and is mentioned a few times in that Susan Wood column. He's been producing SF Commentary—and much more—for forty years, and we've been exchanging fanzines for fifteen of those years. I met him and Elaine for the first time at Aussiecon Three in 1999, and again at various places and times in the last decade through to Aussiecon 4 last year. The gift has nothing to do with science fiction or science fiction fandom, but it seems to me that it's still a part of that communications network. And it makes me want to fly halfway around the world to have dinner with my friends.