I'm dozing in bed, curled up with Marianne and listening with half an ear to the radio. There's a sudden thunk from downstairs as the post arrives. I rush to the front door with a wriggly girl and a spring in my step. It was a good, heavy thud... what could it be? Joy of joy, it's fanzines! I sit the baby on the floor, rip open the manila envelopes and settle down to a good read.
Later, I'm logging on. Tripping their way cheerfully into my mailbox are a wide variety of e-mail fanzines. I file them too look at later. When I get round to it. If I get round to it.
This is the first problem with e-zines. They don't inspire in the same
way as paper ones. When a paper fanzine hits the mat, there's a little thrill
of realisation that someone thinks I'm worth a stamp. No matter how dull the
text, how pedestrian the layout, how badly edited (and no, I'm not going to
give examples), it's still exciting to get
fanzine in the post.
But for some reason, I don't feel the same way about electronic fanzines. Some of them are frequent, some contain excellent writing, some are innovative, some are daring. But they're not exciting. Nevertheless, they're probably the way forward.
The second problem with reviewing electronic fanzines is the traditional fannish game of Defining Your Terms. What exactly counts? Clearly, MT Void, which arrives weekly by e-mail, is a fanzine. But what about a web site? If Nigel E Richardson updates Countdown to the Big Four Zero four times a week, is he writing a fanzine? I'm going to include such diaries in this column. I really have only one justification for this; I enjoy these diaries and reckon they're in the best tradition of fan writing.
Nigel E Richardson wrote paper fanzines, before he decided that sf fans were a lot of sad bastards. Now he dallies with the jeunesse dorée who drink of the enchanted nectar dripping from the worldwide web. Now, I've been on line for a good long while, and I'm not exactly convinced that netheads are any less sad than fans. But what do I know? Certainly Nigel knows lots of people on the web who pretend to be gorgeous pouting teens with a penchant for leather. So that's all right then. And I can't deny that I'm entranced with his Countdown, in which he describes in lucid, intelligent text the petty misery of working in computing and living in Leeds. Unfortunately for the fans of his journal, his life has been brightened recently, first by Prozac and then by a relationship with one of the aforementioned leather-clad babes. Most recently he's been posting from a business trip to South Africa, but for me the hard reportage is less engrossing than the daily grind of Northern life.
Another fan who's mostly online these days is Lucy Huntzinger, also known as Felix, one of those secret Internet wizards you read about in the Sunday papers. I've not met Lucy in the flesh, but we've chatted regularly on ElderMOO. Her diary, Aries Moon, never descends to the grubby depths of her inner Id, but is reliably entertaining. Lucy is a major hate figure in the bitter world of online diarists; despairing of all the witless and banal diaries around, she started a ring, Archipelago, open only to those diaries she considered well-designed and interesting. This wanton elitism started a major flame war, lit by people who believe the Internet should be a shining beacon of mediocrity. After the conflagration died down, other rings appeared. most peculiar of these is Dreamscape, devoted to people who record their dreams in their diaries. Now, I don't know about the rest of you, but the average dream I have is completely unsuitable for putting on the web. Or, indeed, anywhere else. Another ring is dedicated to those people who update their diaries often. No measure of quality, topic, style, design; just frequency. Ideal for those Never Mind the Quality, Just Feel the Width readers who feel there's not enough text on the web to keep them entertained.
The third problem is deciding whether something that's not written by a fan can count as a fanzine. There's loads of stuff out there on the web which looks much like Nigel or Lucy's diaries, but isn't written by fans. A random example is The War Against Silence. As far as I know, the author of this weekly record review column, Glenn McDonald, isn't remotely interested in SF, though as he does collect small plastic dinosaurs perhaps we should send Ian Gunn round. Most weeks Glenn does get round to mentioning some records at some point. However, the beginning of each article is usually an whimsical canter around the nether regions of his psyche, currently deeply concerned with his recent house purchase. In the best traditions of fan writing, in fact. The charm of this column is the way he links his weekly joys and worries to the albums he happens to be reviewing. Indeed, I chanced on this site when searching for information on bands I liked.
Moving on from these regular diaries, there are also online fanzines which are much more like their paper equivalents. The most e-voluminous is MT Void, the weekly clubzine of the Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society. What Mt. Holz is has never been explained, although I've been reading the fanzine for months. In fact, the most frustrating thing about MT Void is the lack of a colophon or any other explanation. I still don't know whether it exists in a paper form or only on e-mail, though I suspect the latter. MT Void varies in length based on how much its contributors write each week. There's often a little SF news, usually pointers to interesting web sites or other snippets, and invariably a full-fat dollop of film reviews by Mark and book reviews by Evelyn and others. The book reviews are interesting enough if I'm planning to read the book but with little to engage me otherwise. On the other hand, the film reviews really sparkle. They're literate, knowledgeable, and week by week build up to a very competent database of recent movies. In fact, I would rather turn to MT Void for film reviews than to the review columns of the UK media.
My favourite bit, however, is Mark's weekly column of meandering chat, an example of which we reprinted in Plokta 6. These articles vary from serious to outrageous by way of frivolous. They often veer from topic to topic with little sign of a hand on the tiller, and sometimes read as first drafts. But nearly every week there is at least one delightful turn of phrase. Between the film reviews and these columns, I reckon that Mark Leeper is one of the better fan writers around. For some reason, Evelyn is the Leeper who picks up Hugo nominations. If you haven't read her writing, it's comprehensive and detailed reportage of books and conventions -- careful, considered, and, to my mind, utterly colourless. But how can a couple of hundred Hugo nominators be wrong? Overall, though, MT Void has a slightly ragged feel. If it landed on my doorstep every week, I'd be delighted. Arriving by e-mail, it's a curate's egg.
Tommy Ferguson has folded Tommyworld, which was a short, determined, near-weekly infodump from the deeper recesses of his psyche. However, the 22 issues are available from his web site, and fit together to give you a pretty good feeling of the sort of chap he is. This may be why he folded it. This is the sort of fearsome, personal, gutsy writing that I love reading, but can't personally ever imagine putting on a web site. But hey, that's just me. Rather than reviewing the past, I'll leave Tommyworld aside this issue, other than to recommend you go and look at it. Tommy has announced that he will instead be concentrating on his web site, with as much emphasis on pictures and design as on writing. This seems like a bit of a shame to me, because a cursory glance at the site gives the impression that Tommy is a much better writer than web designer.
Finally, Cheryl Morgan sends us her fanzine, Emerald City, which is lengthy, and which appears irregularly. Of all of these electronic fanzines, Emerald City looks the most like a paper fanzine to me. It's a perzine, crammed full of the tales of what Cheryl's been up to; reviews of the books she's been reading and the films she's seen, little rants about current topics, diary and so forth. Unlike Tommyworld, you aren't assailed by a sense of personal revelation; unlike MT Void, the reviews are discursive and relate to other elements in the fanzine. Overall, though, I'm sure the requirements of layout and printing would improve this fanzine. Cheryl doesn't like layout, and says she has no facility for it. But Emerald City is overlong. She says "Whilst I often try to write Emerald City as a continuous narrative, clearly it is hardly ever so." Writing in a narrative stream is not an excuse for not editing; we don't really need to know the flight times of her planes.
All in all, I'm waiting for the perfect electronic fanzine. If you're doing it, can you send it to me please? And can you include a sound file with it that simulates the noise of a fanzine thudding through the letterbox?
Fanzines reviewed this issue:
The War Against Silence
Countdown to the Big Four Zero
Various members of the Plokta cabal will review electronic fanzines in future issues. Send them to email@example.com or tell us where we can get them. Next issue: Marianne explains why they're not much fun to chew.
-- Alison Scott
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