Richard E. Geis died on 4 February in Portland, Oregon. He was 85. He’d not been much in evidence in fandom in recent years, but from the Fifties through to the Eighties, in the peak years of print fanzines, he was a popular and prolific fan writer and editor. He was nominated for the Hugo award 34 times, at least once every year from 1968 to 1986 aside from 1972, and collected 13 rockets, although for some reason many online sources cite the figures of 30 and eight respectively.
Geis’s fanzines appeared in a variety of titles and formats, although they do form one continuous run. Or maybe it’s two. Either way, it started in 1953 with the first issue of Psychotic, 20 ditto’d pages of most self-written material. (I’m going on second-hand sources here as I’ve never seen a copy). Psychotic continued monthly and its page count, circulation, and influence within the fan community grew. With #17 in 1954 it switched to offset printing. In 1955, and starting with issue #21, it was reborn as Science Fiction Review following a change in editorial policy to make it a more overt review of, well, science fiction. Whatever anybody else thought of the change, Geis was unhappy with it, and regretted the new direction, feeling “it had become more work than fun.” There were only three issues of Science Fiction Review before he killed the title. After three more small circulation Psychotics—one through the Fantasy Amateur Publishing Association (#24), a single sheet (#25), and a third distributed through a group called The Cult (#26)—he gave the unfulfilled subscription money to charity and quit publishing.
For a while at least. He re-emerged in 1967, after spending the intervening years writing porn novels and getting into slot-car racing. The three issues of Science Fiction Review were ret-conned away, along with—albeit seemingly less deliberately because he’d forgotten about them—the last three small circulation Psychotics, and he picked up with Psychotic #21 in November 1967.
Like its forerunner incarnation, the new Psychotic grew in page count and circulation, and earned Geis his first Hugo nomination (for best fanzine) in 1968. He reported the results in the 56-page letter-sized duplicated Psychotic #27 in September 1968—and then followed that two months later with a 70-page offset half-sized fanzine called (inevitably) Science Fiction Review although bearing the sequential number 28.
The new Science Fiction Review proved more durable than its previous manifestation in 1955, if characteristically Geisian in growing its readership while fiddling with its format. Offset gave way to a return to letter-sized mimeo after three issues, and the fanzine won the Hugo in 1969 and 1970 in which latter year Geis was also nominated as a fan writer. Students of narrative momentum will probably see where this is heading. With his circulation pushing 2,000, Science Fiction Review #43 (March 1971) saw a switch to half-sized offset and then there was a title change to . . .
. . . to Richard E Geis. But first, I’ll backtrack a bit. I’ve not seen the earliest Psychotics from the 1950s but Ted White, looking back on them in #22 (December 1967), saw them as “topical and the focal point of fannish doings,” the place “where we heard the news. Where the clan gathered.” Ted saw the first death signs of that initial run in the switch to offset printing, “a move towards formalism and what some felt to be pretentiousness. Readers argued about it and then sighed and gave up when Dick announced an all-sf-review policy with the name change.”
The revived 1960s Psychotics, #21 onwards, were duplicated. It may seem daft to dwell on these different modes of reproduction but they really did, I feel, create a tone independent of the words that were on the page. Psychotic #21–27 mixed fannish material—fanzine reviews, convention politics, fan history—with more science fictional content, and a strong letter column featuring many prominent fans and professionals of the time. There’s really very little change with the formal switch to Science Fiction Review with #28, with some columns and regular features carrying over, including Geis’s trademark bickering dialogues with his own “Alter-Ego.” The fannish material does gradually diminish—it’s notable that the 14 pages of letters in #34 features 22 correspondents, all of whom were to some extent professionally engaged in writing, illustrating, or publishing, and including some of the biggest names of the genre (they were also all men)—but the warmth is still there as the clash between the science fiction New Wavers and traditionalists is played out across its duplicated pages. The format came at a price, though. In the early 1970s Geis found he needed two full weeks to print, collate, staple, envelope, address, and mail each of his eight issues a year, hence the understandable lure of offset even with the attendant implied formalism.
Richard E Geis, though, was different again from its various precursors, “a personalzine, a diary, and a journal, and a place for letters of comment. It has little structure. It is published for my benefit, mostly. No artwork, no outside contributors except, as mentioned, some interesting letters I can argue with, if some show up.” I’d argue that it does have a structure. It’s a series of dated entries, looking at what’s in the mail, what’s on the TV, what’s in the news, book reviews, and always “The Nature of the Beast,” an honest, open, and direct examination of the Geis psyche of just that kind that people routinely write down and send to a few hundred of their closest friends and anybody else who’ll pay a dollar a copy. Really, it reminds me of nothing so much as the LiveJournals I was reading a decade ago, only without the friends-locks. Some of his correspondents were surprised to discover they were reading a man in his mid-forties. You can tell he saw it as a real change of direction as he started again at #1.
It didn’t last long, though, only a little under four issues. Shortly before concluding what would have been REG#4, Geis changed the title to The Alien Critic although he kept the #4 bit; and then with #5 he went to half-sized offset again for a few issues, then duplicated for a few more, then offset again, before a title change with #12 to . . . yes, you’ve guessed it, Science Fiction Review. This last change was more than simple whim. It was brought about following legal advice in the wake of correspondence with another similarly titled publication.
Even so, Geis seemed to finally accept where his destiny lay. Apart from a half-sized offset #13, Science Fiction Review continued as a regular offset letter-sized publication with no title changes until #61, Winter 1986, when it finally ceased publication, 33 years, 109 fanzines, and between five-and-a-half and six thousand pages after the first Psychotic in 1953.
And now you know what you’re looking for if you want to track down a complete set.