John Hertz: Fanzines at the Eaton Collection

Flyer for John Hertz talk at Eaton Collection 

By John Hertz: Last month I gave a talk at the Eaton Collection on fanzines. Eaton is one of the Special Collections in the Rivera Library, Riverside campus, University of California; the largest publicly accessible holding of s-f in the world.

At the 2004 Worldcon, Fan Guest of Honor Jack Speer in presenting a Hugo Award said the fanzine remained the most distinctive product of the science fiction community. He knew; he’d been with us seventy years. It still is.

When Bruce Pelz died in 2002, Eaton already had Terry Carr’s and Rick Sneary’s fanzines. The Carr zines, thanks particularly to Robert Lichtman, were fairly well indexed. The Sneary zines were indexed. The Pelz zines had been beyond Bruce’s powers during his life. Early in 2009 Eaton finished a preliminary indexing. I had put in time – it’s only two hours’ travel by freeway or rail – bearing a hand.

To the uncivilized mind there are no interests but personal interests. If it doesn’t gore my ox I don’t care. If the book isn’t about me I won’t buy. The civilized mind is broader. My question for the day was, what good are fanzines to people who are not part of the s-f community, who may not read science fiction? Dr. Melissa Conway, head of Special Collections, had long been alert to it. What if drinking companions of King James’ translators had published amateur journals about the work, and the apple crop, and the latest songs? Kipling’s imagined glimpse in “Proofs of Holy Writ” is delightful, but its focus is close on the topic – as many people mistakenly think of fanzines. And, besides the resonating note of s-f, fanzines are a voluntary world of letters, where people write, and read, for love.

I had no trouble overflowing a display table with fanzines that come in my mail. Mike Glyer had kindly sent with me a few dozen of the latest File 770, which I gave everybody. In my audience were students, librarians and staff, and people who didn’t speak. Except the library folk, most had evidently never dreamed of such things. Those who knew s-f knew books, films, prozines. Why wasn’t there fiction? Why on paper? – as they wrote in paper notebooks. Why wasn’t there pay? – as they thought ahead to basketball. The usual. I didn’t mind at all. Two plus two made four last year too. We adjourned to fruit and cookies. None of File 770 was left behind.

Eaton had kindly made a flier which spoke of 50,000 Pelz fanzines. Was this a typo? We had long heard of 250,000. Actually there are about 70,000 – someone rounded down – but indeed something happened. Space. Pelz had a lot of fanzines, like many collectors had acquired others’ collections, and had never gone all through to organize the lot. A judicious retention of duplicates, the ideal policy, calls for comprehensive knowledge, beyond the powers of Eaton’s staff – I said Space, but it’s related to Time. Joe Siclari had always told Pelz he’d take anything Eaton didn’t. He and Dr. Conway confirmed this disposition. I asked Siclari “Have you provided for them in your will?” He changed the subject.

All Over But the Shouting

Kevin Standlee of the FOLLE committee points out in a comment that the Ackerman and Ley Hugos were reclassified as Special Awards five years ago, the change first appearing in the Noreascon 4 Souvenir Book. Questions about Ackerman’s estate only surfaced the issue for debate. But Rich Lynch, a fellow member of the FOLLE committee, feared there was decisive resistance to making the correction – which triggered his protest to a fannish listserv.

I really dislike making Kevin the lightning rod for this deal simply because he’s willing to discuss it in public. He’s already corrected the official Hugo Awards site. It’s not even clear he had a hand in the decision: “Honestly, I don’t know who the specific person was who changed it, but the change had stuck and was in the FOLLE records.” Nor do the FOLLE committee reports attached to the minutes of 2004 Worldcon Business Meeting give any details about why changes were made to the Hugos, only those made to Worldcon history are explained.

So I will confine myself to a couple of basic questions. Kevin, you were on the FOLLE committee at the time, didn’t all members know about the changes – how was that work done? Also, it would not have taken five years for this question to come up if FOLLE annotated its work on the Hugo list the way it does the Long List of Worldcons — what would it take to have that done, something which will add transparency and credibility to the work?

The FOLLE committee was created in 2003 at the TorCon 3 business meeting, and its original members (in office when the changes were made) were Mark Olson (Chair), Kevin Standlee, George Flynn, Joe Siclari, Vince Docherty, Rich Lynch and Craig Miller. The committee’s organizers told the TorCon 3 Business Meeting:

[Our] policy is to have the Long List include the version which in our judgment best reflects the facts as understood by the people involved, and to document whatever variations or details we have discovered in the notes. We will respect historical judgments as long as they are not clearly in error, and we will attempt to objectively verify any corrections or notes we add.

I have always admired that vision statement, and the latest revelation concerns me because the result isn’t consistent with the goal.

It’s easy to make an educated guess whose database is perpetuating the change. The FOLLE report in the 2004 WSFS Business Meeting minutes mentions:

We have made huge progress in developing a Long List of Hugos using data supplied by Dave Grubbs and the ISFDB and are now (slowly) working to perfect the entries. (N4 has somewhat diverted the chairman’s attention, but we’ll get back to work…)

The Internet Science Fiction Database still characterizes the Ackerman and Ley Hugos as “Special Awards.” That designation was given to all committee awards on the list published in Noreascon 4′s Souvenir Book (2004), making clear there was a reclassification involved, not just a layout decision.

Can it be that the Long List of Hugo Awards was more accurate before people set out to perfect it?

Before leaving the subject I want to field a couple of questions that hit my e-mail today.

Q: Should I include Slater on the Hugo winners?
I think not. Ackerman was voted the Hugo by the participating membership. Ackerman’s gallant gesture ought not to be confused with an actual legal right to overrule the voters’ choice.

Q: Was Ackerman’s Hugo identical to, say, Alfred Bester’s Hugo?
I can’t say from personal experience. I would expect Ackerman’s Hugo to be identical to the others (or as close as Jack McKnight could produce them) since they made a point of giving his first. But even if it is identical, that wouldn’t by itself decide the conceptual argument of how Ackerman’s award should be classified. For example, Chesley Bonestell’s special committee award was a Hugo rocket — and that’s why the rules were subsequently changed to forbid giving Hugos rockets as committee awards. At the time of the first Hugos there would have been no bar to doing so.

I’ll end by repeating that the most helpful piece of evidence in this debate has been 1953 Worldcon committee member Bob Madle’s confirmation that all the categories were voted on. So there’s no justification for reclassifying Ackerman or Ley.