Corflu 36 FIAWOL (Rockville, Maryland, May 1-4, 2019)
“They toiled over their crude mimeographs, turning out their magazines. These magazines have long since crumbled into dust, but who amongst us can ever forget the names? Grue and Hyphen; Amazing and Astounding; Galaxy and Quandry and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Startling, Confidential, Infinity, Dimensions—these names will never die!”
Robert Bloch, “A Way of Life” (1956)
By Martin Morse Wooster: One of the advantages of living in Washington is that eventually all the branches of fandom you’re interested in will come to you. I’ve been to three previous Corflus—two held in the Washington suburbs in 1986 and 1994, and the one held in Annapolis, Maryland in 2002. I always am happy to go to conventions I can get to on the bus, so when I heard Corflu was coming to the Maryland suburbs, I signed up. I had a good time.
Michael Dobson, with Curt Phillips as second-in-command, organized Corflu 36. Phillips, among other things, ran a very well stocked con suite, including three kinds of orange marmalade for breakfast.
Members got quite a lot of stuff. Dobson edited a 163-page fanthology of members’ writings, which is also available on Efanzines. Some mossbacks grumbled that Dobson used CreateSpace as his publisher, but I thought the book was well done. Also included in the members’ packet was Thy Life’s A Miracle: Selected Writings of Randy Byers, a 135-page anthology edited by Luke McGuff.
But that wasn’t all! We also got a framed print by Dan Steffan, in a limited edition of 90, which showed a nude Japanese woman with creatures on her back that resembled those of British artist Arthur Thomson. It was a very handsome piece of art, and I will put it on my shelf next to the Star Wars thingie I got at Nationals Park.
The attendance was around 55, with half a dozen fans from the United Kingdom, Murray and Mary-Ellen Moore from Canada, and 10-12 fans from the West Coast. You could spot the Californians because they were most of the attendees at the wine tasting organized by Spike.
Younger fans allergic to grey hair would not have enjoyed themselves. Four of the fans attending—Greg Benford, Jim Benford, Steve Stiles, and Ted White—began their fan activity before 1960. Most attendees began to be fans in the 1970s and 1980s. No one surveyed became a fan after 1990.
I spent much of the time in the con suite listening to stories about 20th century fan legends. I heard about the Scottish fan who, after losing a feud with everyone else in his club, dropped out only to appear in the pages of a tabloid completely nude except for a hand coyly placed over his manhood. The headline of the piece about the fan was ‘IT’S ORGYTASTIC.”
“Do you mean this guy discovered orgy fandom?” I asked.
“No, it was more like orgy con-dom,” said my source, who added that the fan liked showing up at the orgies he organized in a gorilla suit, because women liked sitting on his lap and stroking his fur.
But the story too good to check was whether two Arab sheiks offered to buy Baltimore fan Lee Smoire at Discon II in 1974 for two camels. This claim would be absurd and ridiculous about any other fan than Lee Smoire, who stories cluster around like gaudy barnacles. I cite it to add to Lee Smoire’s legend.
The first day of Corflu had the opening ceremony, where a sacred box is unearthed that included a crusty bottle of correction fluid or “corflu.” The convention chooses a guest of honor by pulling a name from the box, but you can opt out of the honor with a $20 donation. The winner was Jim Benford, who got all the donation money, which he reportedly spent at the fanzine auction on Saturday. His other prize was a pillow, designed by Alison Scott, which says “Dave Kyle Says You Can’t Sit Here” and has the badge of the Science Fiction League of the 1930s.
Saturday’s program included three panels and I went to two. A panel on archives featured Non-Stop Press publisher Luis Ortiz, who has just published an anthology of fanzine writings from 1930-1960, Michael Dobson, University of Maryland (Baltimore County) archivist Susan Graham, and Joe Siclari, head of fanac.org.
Susan Graham said that her library bought the fanzine collection of Walter Coslet in 1973 and subsequently acquired the fanzines of Peggy Rae Sapienza, who was graduated from the school. These fanzines included many of Sapienza’s first husband, Bob Pavlat, a famed collector. They’ve also gotten some Frank Kelly Freas art and some papers, including manuscripts by Isaac Asimov, Roger Zelazny, and Lawrence Watt-Evans. They’re still organizing their zines, but their website https://lib.guides.umbc.edu/fanzines has a finding aid and essays on feminist fanzines of the 1970s, fanzines’ role in society, and the Atlanta Science-Fiction Organization fanzine Cosmag.
Fanac.org scanned 2,000 pages of fanzines at Corflu. Siclari said that he had gotten research requests from unexpected places. They helped out the recent documentary on Ursula K. Le Guin, for example. And when the family of fan H.F. Koenig asked for copies of Koenig’s fanzines, they donated a copy of the family genealogy to Fanac.org.
There are also reports of what happened to Harry Warner, Jr.’s fanzine collection. It is apparently in one piece and is being stored at Heritage Auctions in Dallas. No one knows what Heritage plans to do with Warner’s collection.
The second panel was on Void, which included the zine’s editors, Greg Benford, Jim Benford, and Ted White, and Luis Ortiz, who is working on an anthology of pieces from the zine. Void began in 1955, with teenage fans Greg and Jim Benford as editors. When the Benford brothers moved from Germany to Dallas, Tom Reamy became an editor.
The Benfords put out 13 issues of Void between 1955-58. But Jim Benford decided to give up fanac for college. Another catalyst for change was when Kent Moomaw, a columnist for the zine, killed himself on his 18th birthday rather than be drafted. In 1958 America was at peace, so there was about a 20 percent chance he would be drafted.
Void then moved its headquarters to New York City, and continued with editors including Greg Benford, Ted White, Pete Graham, and Terry Carr. It lasted another 14 issues through 1962 with a final issue published in 1967.
Both Greg Benford and Ted White said that writing for Void inspired their professional careers. Greg Benford said that his fan writing prepared him to win a contest sponsored by Fantasy and Science Fiction that launched his career as a novelist.
“All of our fanac was fun because of the challenges we met,” White said. “I thought Terry (Carr) was a better writer than me, and it was a daily challenge to write to his level.”
Void even had a song, with the music being whatever you’d like. Here is the first verse.
“We are the Void boys
We make a lot of noise!
We sing songs of fandom
Hitting out at random
Because we are all co-editors of Void.”
Saturday night had two panels. “Just a Minac,” organized by Sandra Bond, was the fannish version of the British game show “Just a Minute.” The idea is that the contestants—John D. Berry, Rich Coad, Rob Jackson, and Nigel Rowe—would give one-minute speeches, delivered “without hesitation, repetition, or deviation”—on topics such as “The Nine Billion Names of God” or “My Favorite Beer.” This was not as easy as its sounds, and I thought it was agreeably silly. Nigel Rowe seemed the most creative contestant to me, but Rich Coad was the winner.
“The Time Chunnel” was a play by Andy Hooper that described two worlds, one where sf dominated and one where fandom ruled. In the fannish world, mimeos were much better but leaf blowers didn’t work. It had plenty of in jokes about fanzines, but also weird popular culture references; if you are excited by references to comedian Durward Kirby, best known as a host of Candid Camera in the early 1960s, “The Time Chunnel” is a play for you. I didn’t think it worked.
Since the FAAN Awards have already been covered, I’ll skip them, but I should write about Jim Benford’s guest of honor speech, which was very good.
If Greg Benford’s day job was as a physicist at the University of California (Irvine), his brother worked in technology. He said that fanzine writing prepared him to write proposals. “I had the best proposals,” Benford said, saying that fan writing ensured his proposals were better organized than other physicists with less writing experience.
Jim Benford has spent most of his career developing particle beams and other energy weapons. But three years ago he was given a ten-year contract by billionaire Yuri Milner to design starships. He now works on solar sails that could guide a future mission to Proxima Centauri.
The problem with solar sails, Jim Benford said, was “The Fearless Fosdick problem.” Li’l Abner fans will recall that Fearless Fosdick valiantly fought the bad guys until they blasted him full of holes. How do you create a solar sail that wouldn’t tear apart? Benford showed how a spherical shape would produce the best outcome.
He said that if someone in 1959 told him that 60 years in the future “I’d be talking to a bunch of fans about starships, I’d be a very happy man.”
Next year’s Corflu will be run by John Purcell in College Station, Texas, in a date to be determined.
 The best story I know about Lee Smoire is that, after John Lennon was assassinated in 1980, Yoko Ono asked for a moment of silence to honor him. Smoire was escorting people around the Baltimore Convention Center and when the designated minute occurred spent the time shouting, “DON’T YOU KNOW YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE QUIET?”
After Smoire left Baltimore for Perth, Australia, packed panels at the next two Disclaves told stories about her.