TYPOS by Mike Glyer

This article first appeared in 2003 in Marty Cantor’s fanzine No Award.

No title in fanzine history has ever made a promise more certain of being kept than “Typos by Mike Glyer.”

This article is really about fandom’s great and infamous typos but after I put the word at the top of my draft as a placeholder I realized the letterhacks will be circling my own mistakes like sharks. Just let it be said no attempt is being made to dishonestly inflate the count with deliberate mistakes. I’ve shied away from that sort of humor since an embarrassing experience in junior high school.

Back then I used to write a daily journal in a spiral notebook that I carried in my shirt pocket. Another student, Lee Pierson, thought something so secret must be worth knowing. He grabbed my notebook out of my pocket and ran off to read it. Lee was probably the smartest kid in school — he graduated as a National Merit Scholar – which may help explain why he thought the teasing would be even more delicious if he copyedited every page of the journal before he gave it back. Having no comeback for his critique of my grammar, I weakly countered another point, claiming, “Some of those misspellings are intentional!” This merely invited Lee to have the last word: “Intentional misspellings are meaningless when true errors abound.” 

I’ve taken Lee’s axiom to heart, filing it alongside other famous rules of writing like those given by Mark Twain in “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses.” Whether or not I decide to obey any of those rules in this piece – would you notice if I did “eschew surplusage”? – every typo in this article will be genuine.

More than that, every one will be mine, a rarity in my experience with No Award. This time Marty Cantor will actually cut-and-paste the article from my word processing file. Previously, it’s been his inexplicable habit to print out a copy and retype my entire contribution from scratch. I shudder to think about those past experiences. Can you imagine anything more difficult to decipher than something I’ve allegedly copedited, filtered through Marty’s typing? Not even those 10 million monkeys with keyboards trying to produce Shakespeare can randomly equal that mess.

Fortunately (and here we finally arrive at the original topic: surplusage definitely has not been eschewed!), Marty and I publish our work in the fanzine medium, where readers tolerate a certain number of typos.

What is that number? I don’t know. You should ask the scientist who tells the FDA how many bug particles are allowed in a hot dog. Today scientists can be trusted to make these kinds of measurements. On the other hand, America’s 19th century men of science could not. David Peck, lecturer on the medical aspects of the Lewis and Clark expedition, says Captain William Clark spelled mosquito three different ways in his journal — never once getting it right! Clark’s guesses were musquetors, misquitoes, and musquitor. Of course, such mistakes are completely overshadowed by his great accomplishments and all the hardships he endured. If Marty Cantor routinely killed and ate grizzly bears for dinner nobody would say a word about the typos in No Award, either. Or much of anything besides “Yes, sir! How high, sir?”

Fanzine readers don’t merely tolerate typos. They actively exploit them as if they were the cultural equivalent to chromosomal mutations. The right typo can lead to immortality. Fans always sang parody lyrics to well-known tunes, but America’s resurgent interest in folk music during the 1950s opened the way for Lee Jacobs to make the typo that fans have embraced as the name of the activity. He submitted a manuscript titled “The Influence of Science Fiction on Modern American Filk Music” to SAPS. Official editor Wrai Ballard declared it unmailable, triggering a controversy that helped make this typo a permanent part of the fannish lexicon.

Walt Willis’s typo “poctsarcd” also earned enduring fame, as Harry Warner explained in A Wealth of Fable:

“While [Walt Willis] was corresponding at a great rate with Lee Hoffman, brief messages were crossing the Atlantic almost daily on postcards. For some reason Lee failed to mail any postcards for several days. Walter concernedly sent her one with the query, ‘What, no poctsarcds?’ Lee explained to him that she had been unable to find any ‘poctsarcds,’ after looking for them in every store in Savannah. Willis, publishing fanzines by a printing press at this time, immediately produced an ample stock of poctsarcds, clearly identified as such in the imprint, kept some for himself and sent the rest to her.”

Filk has become the common label for a popular fan activity, while poctsarcds keeps its place in the lexicon as one of the passwords fans use to show they are initiated into a deeper level of fannish knowledge. Besides dropping references to fanhistorical typos, the other ways fans demonstrate their great knowledge is by being able to answer questions like “Who sawed Courtney’s boat?” and avoiding the convention hotel where the Association of Narcotics Agents has started moving in.

Fandom’s occasional transformation of typos into hallmarks of sophistication is a contrast with the mundane world, though it only extends so far. The typos that are adopted into the regular fannish vocabulary are as rare as lottery winners. And Lee Pierson’s comment that intentional typos are devalued by too many ordinary typos, a writer’s equivalent of Gresham’s Law, helps explain why very few fanwriters are clever enough to profit from deliberately using them. Though the possibility that it occasionally works is implied in a passage from The Enchanted Duplicator by Walt Willis and Bob Shaw:

“’Horrible?’ laughed Kerles. ‘Everyone fights shy of me on account of these Typos, but actually they are quite agreeable fellows. Look, they will even do tricks for me.’ So saying, he stretched out his Shield of Umor, which was large and brilliantly polished, and gave a word of command. Instantly several of the Typos jumped neatly over the Shield, performing somersaults and such other odd antics that Jophan burst out laughing.”

Mostly, though, typos just make the writer look dumb. If he happens to be writing something that annoys anyone, critics will quickly find a way to point that out because we are trained to interpret sloppiness as evidence of sloppy thinking, even when it’s only sloppy typing.

It’s never wise for me to post my first reaction to a hot topic on an e-mail listserve anyway, and less so because I inevitably sabotage the effort by overlooking typos or the presence of extra words that ought to have been erased when a line was rewritten. I should stay out of arguments with fans who are also professional editors because in no time at all they make me sound sillier than monkey #10,000 on the Shakespeare project. 

Typos routinely turn into comic relief for readers on the sidelines of these arguments. LA fans who devoted thousands of words feuding with Charles Korbas, the white supremacist contributor to APA-L, weren’t above noticing the time he missed the comma and hit the next key over, giving himself a Korbasm.

It doesn’t require an argument or feud for mistakes to come under the magnifying glass, a friendly rivalry will work just as well, like the one between LASFS and NESFA. One year the LASFS voted the Forrest J Ackerman Award for Lifetime Achievement (the “Forry Award”) to Hal Clement. When the plaque arrived in Boston they noticed it actually said “Liftime Achievement,” tarnishing the effect, though it was a science-fictional sounding typo. Then a fanzine reporting on Hal’s win got another part of the name wrong, referring to it as the “Folly Award.” After that both coasts had a lot to say about the Folly Award for Liftime Achievement.

Typos committed by corporations, even the LASFS, are always regarded as blemishes on their image. Fans also can tend to be overbearing about mistakes of English usage by those for whom it is a second language. When some fans read Japanese animé subtitles they dread examples of “fortune cookie” English. On this very point, Fred Patten reported in his Apa-L-zine ¡Rábanos Radiactivos! an ironic fact: “Pioneer [Entertainment] has a minor public image problem due to a unique situation regarding its horror TV series Hellsing. Several characters’ names are deliberately spelled in ways that look like clumsy mistranslations…. Of course Hellsing itself looks like a misspelled reference to vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing in Dracula. This is at the insistence of Japanese author Kouta Hirano, who also does not want it revealed that the apparent misspellings are a requirement. No explanation; he just wants it that way.”

It’s impossible to think about typos without recalling my most humbling fanpublishing experience: editing the 1998 Mythcon progress reports. The committee was full of scholars, research librarians, and plain old perfectionists, every one of them an infinitely better copyeditor than me. I might have graciously admitted that from the start and appreciated the extra help. But I seemed to be having trouble navigating my zeppelin-sized head through doorways at the time. Each time I e-mailed a draft progress report to the committee I cringed to see the huge e-mails full of corrections coming back. Of course, the bottom-line improvement was well worth it.

Far beyond any copyediting I endured, though, is what John Hertz righteously committed on behalf of the late Rick Sneary.

Sneary’s idiocyncratic spelling was a fannish legend. As Harry Warner gently wrote, “Illness in childhood prevented him from suffering the subjection to old, tired ways of spelling words that afflicts most of us. As a result, he frequently improvised novel spellings that often cast a new light on a word or entire phrase.”

Whether Rick wanted his text kept intact or not, most faneditors could not help cherishing the opportunity to participate in his legend by laboriously transcribing every word as he had typed it. Actually, Rick’s close friend Len Moffatt is quite certain that Rick hoped the editors would clean up the mistakes.

When John Hertz was working on the memorial collection of Sneary’s writing, Button-Tack, Mark Manning forwarded the text of a letter where he had painstakingly reproduced all of Sneary’s misspellings. Obedient to Sneary’s preference, John Hertz copyedited all of them away.

We should all have such a friend. In fact, I do!

Future of Fanzines Past

This article of mine was originally posted on Trufen.net in October 2004.

From-purple-fingers-to-pixel-flingers: When you go, your fanzines stay here – a rule made to avoid cluttering up all Eternity like one big Slanshack. So what will you do to make sure they have a nice warm home?

One solution is to donate them. Pick out a library that is building a fanzine collection. Three ambitious libraries have websites that let you step in and take a virtual tour of their fanzine holdings – UC Riverside’s Eaton Collection, Temple University and the National Library of Australia.

Eaton Collection: The niftiest and most fannish website shows off the Eaton Collection at the University of California, Riverside. Curator George D. Slusser, Ph.D. has put a lot of ingenuity into this display. On the front page, the animated rocket of Fanac blazes above a background that resembles a faded old Twiltone fanzine cover, complete with two rusty staples in the margin. Five icons link to the website’s main divisions – watch how they animate when you click on them!

The foundations of the Eaton Collection’s fanzine catalog came from Terry Carr, Rick Sneary, and Bruce Pelz. It is the most extensive fanzine collection available to researchers. When J. Lloyd Eaton donated his 6,000 hardcover sf books to UC Riverside he helped aim them in the right direction. Bruce Pelz gave them 190,000 fanzines. The collection also has Rick Sneary’s personal correspondence, a unique fanhistorical archive.

Slusser’s website shows remarkable sensitivity to fanzine fandom’s subtle nuances. You can’t get more “inside” than to quote Arnie Katz (from The Trufan’s Advisor) in making a point about print-versus-electronic fanzines. Equally delightful is Slusser’s impatience with the claims of teenaged faneditor Harlan Ellison: “[His fanzine’s] cover promises ‘Ponce de Leon’s Pants,’ a fantasy by Mack Reynolds, which is nowhere inside the covers. Why bother to copyright this stuff?”

Of course, Slusser isn’t completely perfect either – for example the Carr Collection page refers to “Bob Bergeron” as the editor of Warhoon and Linda Bushyager’s “Grandfalloon.”

Then there is the unintentional irony. When Slusser says “The Carr fanzines are stored in acid-free containers in acid-free boxes” I’m sure he means they were acid-free before Richard Bergeron’s prose was slipped inside.

Temple University: Another zine collection is on the opposite coast. Temple University (in Philadelphia) accepted donation of the Paskow Science Fiction Collection in 1972. It has grown since then to 30,000 volumes (plus other stuff, like manuscripts, they can only gauge by the cubic foot… sounds like my office!) Their catalog of fanzine holdings is available at the Paskow Collection’s modest website.

Lots of popular fanzines are represented, though like the Platte River the collection is a mile wide but only an inch deep. There’s one issue of Mimosa, two issues of File 770, the first three issues of Trap Door, and so on. There are whole handfuls of a few other zines, for example, seven issues of Dick Geis’ Psychotic. And a like number of issues of Locus — just none dating later than when Charlie Brown lived in Boston!

Surprisingly, some of the most prolific fanzines are missing entirely. There are no issues of Ansible at all. (But how long can the Paskow Collection be kept uncontaminated, when anybody with an internet connection and a printer can own a complete run?)

National Library of Australia: On the far side of the world, the National Library of Australia owns a fanzine collection with a different slant, primarily Australian media fanzines contributed by long-time Star Trek fan, Sue Batho (formerly Smith-Clarke).

Unfortunately, the webpage about her collection is full of grindingly earnest prose, a jarring contrast to Batho’s appreciation for good entertainment. The tendency begins with the site’s description of Batho herself:

“It would not be unfair to say that Susan Smith-Clarke is one of the founding mothers of media SF fandom in Australia. The accompanying history of Star Trek fandom shows that Susan Smith-Clarke has been involved in many ways and through many years with fandom.”

Z-z-z-z-t — Wha’? I’m sorry, I nodded off there. Not that the earnest narrative completely smothers the subject. Batho’s personal sense of humor peeks through whenever zines are called by their titles, though I suspect the writer picked up some of them with a pair of tongs, for example:

“In this collection, are a number of issues of The Captain’s Briefs….”

However, for newcomers to the field the webpage explains basic terms with unexpected fannishness. Its definition of fanzine reads:

“The actual word means a magazine produced by a fan. Fan itself means, of course, a SF fan, just as Fandom, the collective noun, means SF fandom and nothing else. A non-fan is a mundane, which is why the word does not need any qualification.”


Your Fate Is in Your Hands: When you decide to donate your fanzines, there will be two general questions to think about.

The first question is: Do you want to send them to the place having the most success in acquiring and presenting its collection, or do you want to strengthen a collection that looks like it needs a boost?

It’s not a casual decision. In researching this article I was disappointed to find nothing online about the fanzines held by Bowling Green State University’s Department of Popular Culture. They had an accumulation (it wasn’t organized enough to deserve being called a collection) when I attended there in 1975, most of it donated by Vern Coriell (founder of the Burroughs Bibliophiles.)

The second question is: How will you make sure the transfer happens?

You can do it in your lifetime (as Bruce Pelz did) or through a properly drafted will. By all means, avoid Harry Warner’s mistake of leaving them to the local church and hoping things work out!

One last thought — the representative from the Eaton Collection told John Hertz they are perfectly happy to receive duplicates of zines already in the collection, feeling that makes the holdings more accessible to researchers, the same as having more than one copy of a rare book.

Update 03/05/2009: Updated the links to the Eaton and Paskow collections.