Invisible Ansible

Cheryl Morgan’s indignant post “Now I’m Invisible” shamed Starship Sofa guest editorialist Jason Sanford into announcing that he would make a “correction” to identify Emerald City as the first winner of the Best Fanzine Hugo to be primarily published online, and not Electric Velocipede as he had said.

The problem is that neither fanzine with a dog in the fight is entitled to claim that distinction.

It belongs to Ansible.

I could get a copy of Ansible e-mailed to me at least as long ago as January 1995, before Emerald City ever started publishing. In time, Ansible also could be retrieved by FTP, read on newsgroups and accessed on the web.

Not that it’s clear to me the distinction “primarily published online” is worth losing any sleep over. All three fanzines are/were distributed in more than one medium and it’s rather arbitrary to pick one as being “primary.” Electric Velocipede (2009) and Emerald City (2004) were both (at the time they won) fanzines with paper and web editions. (It is beyond counting how many times Cheryl Morgan has scolded inkstained trufen not to forget the existence of those paper copies of Emerald City.) And while Ansible distributed large numbers of paper copies, the electronic version, relayed by a variety of technologies, became the predominant source of sf news for a large and ever-growing online readership.

But any glory in owning this title properly belongs to Ansible.

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19 thoughts on “Invisible Ansible

  1. As I said in that discussion, it’s all in how the ‘zines started, which is a distinction that some people seem to be ignoring. Ansible may have been primarily electronically distributed, but it got its start as a “traditional” paper ‘zine, and in the minds of the Old Guard, it still was, whereas EmCit was something that first came to the attention of traditionalists primarily through its electronic edition first. I contend that Ansible was granted “grandfather rights” in the discussion because in the minds of the conservatives, it was really a Proper Paper Fanzine whereas ‘zines like EmCit were not. The arguments over format of the 1990s seem about as silly as the Staple Wars do now, but it did seem pretty important to the people at the time. Of course, it seems obvious that the real reason was that to a whole lot of these people, it wasn’t a Real Fanzine unless the complainers personally knew and approved of the person publishing it, and the arguments over format were merely a screen for their narrow, conservative, and parochial views.

  2. While it was only a Best Fanzine nominee, rather than a winner, I think it’s worth noting that Chuq Von Rospach’s OtherRealms had both paper and electronic editions in the 1980’s, much earlier than the 1995 date that Mike cites for Ansible. OtherRealms was a Best Fanzine nominee in 1989 and Chuq was a Best Fanwriter nominee. I only knew him from usenet at the time, as I assume was true for other voters as well.

  3. Mike – I think Franklin’s attempt to transmit the Po’ Richard fanzine via electrified key predates Sam’s pigeons by a little, but I might have my dates crossed….

  4. I suppose it depends on what you take for the meaning of “primarily”. If it refers to the number of people who read the issue in that form, I’ll point out that each issue of Mimosa had a hardcopy distribution of maybe 250 copies. But each issue was also posted to the Mimosa website, and far more than 250 people viewed it there. I can’t remember for sure when the Mimosa website first came online, but it may well have been before 1995, and by then it had won 3 Hugos.

  5. @Kevin: It’s hard to discern what (if any) actual basis there is for your comment. There were paper copies of Emerald City, yes? I believed Cheryl when she repeatedly stressed their existence over the years. I saw dumps of them on freebie tables at Bay Area conventions. So I’m missing the mystical quality that makes Ansible more papery than Emerald City for purposes of this discussion.

  6. @Rich Lynch: The “whois” search I ran on, the domain where you host Mimosa, returned a registry date of November 1999. What was the zine’s original online home?

  7. Mike: Yes , I almost mentioned Saul Jaffe in my comment above. But I chose to focus on the fanzine category where I think that OtherRealms — a Hugo-nominated sercon fanzine with both print and electronic editions and which heavily emphasized reviews (as I recall OR) — deserves some mention as an earlier predecessor to EmCit.

    As for Saul’s SF-Lovers Digest, I remember it fondly. It provided my first exposure to many areas of fannish conversation.

  8. @Rich: It occurred to me to look at the old L.A.con III website — when Mimosa was nominated in 1996 Chaz put up a link to, which is no longer active and I haven’t figured out how to research when that site went online without paying for the service. Also, my Wayback Machine search didn’t return anything for that subdirectory.

  9. @Mike: “It’s hard to discern what (if any) actual basis there is for your comment. There were paper copies of Emerald City, yes?”

    Yes, but all of the prior winners got their start exclusively on paper and only later started distributing themselves electronically. (File 770 among them). Although EmCit had paper copies available — I know; I printed most of them — I think it safe to say that it started as an electronically-distributed fanzine.

    It appears that this distinction is completely lost upon you and most other people. I guess that’s a good thing now — people take it so much for granted that of course one would distribute work electronically. But you seem to have forgotten what a huge difference it seemed to make back then, and how many people seemed to think that only ink-on-paper ‘zines should ever count.

    I’ve always felt the complaints over electronic distribution made about as much sense as the Staple Wars, or complaining that photocopying wasn’t as Fannishly Pure as mimeography, or other things like that. The main reason for such arguments, in my opinion, was that anything new was Dangerous and must be destroyed. Besides, like a lot of format arguments, people know that trying to argue substance won’t work, so they’ll seize upon technicalities as a smoke-screen for their dislike of the substance. This isn’t limited to Fandom — just look at the specious questioning of the current US president’s birthplace (and the utter disregard of any evidence, and constant moving of goalposts to make proof impossible) for an example of such nonsense.

  10. This distinction is not so much lost on me and other readers as it is comprehended as an attempt to claim for Emerald City a fanhistorical accomplishment which genuinely belongs to another zine. And all for the worthless pleasure of running Jason Sanford under the harrow because he paid a mistaken compliment to Electric Velocipede?

    Most of the true online pioneers did not win a Hugo and thus have been artificially excluded from the discussion. But Ansible is in fact is well-known for having made itself ubiquitous in the 1990s through online distribution strategies.

    Doesn’t it strike you as ironic that by the time Emerald City won its Hugo in 2004 even Arnie Katz was distributing his fanzine electronically (Vegas Fandom Weekly started that same year)? That’s a warning against placing the emphasis on the wrong issue. Emerald City is not historic because of its technology but because of its community. It won a Hugo as the standard lifted by a rising generation of people for whom discussing science fiction is a central interest, something that had been allowed to go out of fashion for too long.

  11. Mike:

    Yes, I’m aware things changed by 2004. But I remember — even if you wish to pretend it never happened — the hue and cry on trying to exclude works on technical ground solely because people didn’t like the content.

  12. @Kevin: Who excluded what works on technical grounds, for whatever reason? Someone who attended the Worldcon business meeting and helped make the rules? Or just someone who expressed an opinion but exercised no actual influence over the rules? Neither your you-know-what-I’m-talking-about-but-I-won’t-actually-say-it approach nor broad generalizations about the Old Guard, traditionalists, conservatives and things being “grandfathered in” is going to end up counting for much if all that’s behind it is a lingering resentment about stuff rich brown and a few other fans wrote.

  13. Okay, Mike, you win. Nobody had the slightest problem with electronic publication of anything whatsoever. All of the complaints and accusations of lack of legitimacy never happened. Happy now?

  14. Wouldn’t a better question be why you aren’t happy now? You’ve long since had the Hugo rules modified to make it perfectly clear electronic work is eligible. You lead the official Hugo Marketing Committee. You and Cheryl run the official Hugo website. You won. It’s hard to visualize someone as a winner and a victim too.

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