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On Nova Express as Fanzine/Semiprozine

Correspondence following the Nova Express Hugo campaign micro-controversy in Ansible 120 ...

Dave Langford to Lawrence Person, 8 July 97 ... on receipt of Nova Express 4:3

Heaps of thanks for the new Nova Express (posted 5 July, here 8 July, gosh wow) and, indeed, the kindly remarks about the Loyal Opposition [of Fanzine Hugo rivals]. What a gentlemanly lot we all are.

I see you've adopted a new, lean and mean interview style now. 'Pause for food', indeed! The highlights of these transcriptions always used to be the café-society revelations of writers' inner souls ...

BRUCE STERLING: And another two helpings of the marshmallow coconut pecan fudge pie with double extra peanut butter.

WAITRON: You want molten Hershey bars dribbled over that?

NOVA EXPRESS: Sounds great. I'll have the same! Plus onions.

Lawrence Person to the World, 20 July 97

Hi there. Lawrence Person, Nova Express editor here.

Now that the latest issue is in the mail, I finally have time for all the things I didn't have time to do when I was getting it out the door (like sleeping). So I wanted to clear up a few misconceptions about Nova Express bandied about on the SMOF mailing list and elsewhere. To wit:

The Top Ten Misconceptions About Nova Express

10. We're a semiprozine.

We may look like a semiprozine (if by 'semiprozine' you mean 'clearly legible,' 'cleanly designed' and 'not mimeographed'). We may read like a semiprozine (if by 'semiprozine' you mean 'actually talks about written science fiction'). And, if you're hungry enough, we probably taste like a semiprozine as well ('Yummy! Ink!'). But, by the definitions of Article II, Sections 2.2.9 and 2.2.10 of the World Science Fiction Society (which are the only ones that matter for Hugo eligibility), we're a fanzine, because we don't meet any of the five criteria for being a semiprozine. To wit:

  1. 'Had an average press run of at least one thousand (1000) copies per issue' – Nope. For the most recent issue we printed 800 copies, which is the most we've ever done. Most of the time we hover between 700-750.
  2. 'Paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication' – Nope. Remember the motto we used on an earlier issue: 'The best you can get for labor this cheap!'
  3. 'Provided at least half the income of one person' – Ha! It is to laugh! 'Sucked away half the income of at least one person' is more like it. (There's another point of similarity we have with most fanzine publishers...)
  4. 'Had at least fifteen percent (15%) of its total space occupied by advertising' – Nope, not even if you count our subscription and back issue ads (which is hardly cricket).
  5. 'Announced itself as a semiprozine.' – Nope. Calling ourselves 'the fanzine that walks like a semiprozine' is as close as we've come.

So, one more time: As per Worldcon rules, we're a fanzine. And if some kind soul wants to buy several hundred subscriptions in order to push us up into the semiprozine category, we're all for it!

9. We're secretly funded by the Bavarian Illuminati.

They turned down our grant proposal.

8. We 'spammed' the fannish e-mail database.

'What we have here is a failure to communicate.' Or at least a fundamental misunderstanding of difference between narrowly targeted e-mail for strictly fannish purposes and mailings from the Woodside Literary Agency. As reported in the latest Ansible, what I actually did was cross-reference (by hand) names on the Fannish E-Mail Database with those listed as LoneStarCon2 members at the LSC2 web site, then sent a message offering to mail them a free copy. In fact, the exact text of the message was as follows:

Hi there! Lawrence Person, Editor of Nova Express here.

Since we're on the Hugo ballot for Best Fanzine, we're making an effort to get copies to any Worldcon members who might not have seen it. If you'd like to receive a free issue, reply with your snail mail address and I'll pop one in the mail to you.

Thanks!

God! Four whole sentences! The horror!

As you can see, we didn't ask for votes, or subscriptions. And unlike the assertion that we shotgunned the offer to everyone with an e-mail account (or '1,432' as one critic erroneously asserted), we sent it to [counts] exactly 195 people. Of those, more than 50 people asked for a free issue, while a grand total of two objected. Personally, I would think that getting a free issue of a Hugo nominated fanzine would be a Good Thing. However, it seems that some critics disagree...

7. We've broken the 'unwritten rules' of fandom.

Unfortunately, no one has sent us a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Fandom.

6. We don't run con reports.

We've actually published a few in the past (see, for example, Glen Cox's review of Armadillocon 9 in Volume 1, Number 3, or my report on SerCon 2 in Volume 1, Number 4, or my report on the 1988 Worldcon, 'Fear and Loathing in New Orleans: A Savage Journey into the Heart of American Fandom' in Volume 2, Number 3). We haven't done them lately because A.) No one has sent us one, and B.) I think that there are enough fanzines and web pages that do con reports that there's not exactly a crying need for Nova Express to publish them. If I can think of an interesting angle to cover LoneStarCon 2 from, I might change my mind...

5. We're secretly funded by the Church of Scientology.

No, no, no. While we do have L. Ron Hubbard's brain in a jar (see Volume 3, Number 1 for more details), we haven't sold it back yet. If you'd read the manuscript for Battlefield Pluto, you'd thank us for keeping the world safe...

4. We're campaigning for the Best Fanzine Hugo.

Well, duh. With our proud proclamation of our Shameless Campaign for the Hugos, this isn't exactly a secret. However, a lot of the Shameless Campaign is done pretty tongue in cheek. In fact, it was something of a parody of the many 'stealth' campaigns that have been waged for the Hugo and other awards in SF over the past decade or so (you know who you are). We thought the Shameless Campaign would provide a refreshing contrast. Alas, there are some people who just don't get it. HELLO! IRONY ALERT! WELCOME TO THE 1990s! When an ad starts off by saying 'Did you know that Communist Fanzines are trying to steal our Hugos?', it should be apparent that some of what's going on here falls under the category of 'humor.' Oddly enough, I was under the impression that humor was a fannish virtue. Unfortunately, I didn't count on that tiny but vocal minority of fans who are Irony Impaired ...

3. We have a professional distribution network.

If by 'professional distribution' you mean 'a few loyal science fiction book dealers who have supported us over the years,' then yes, we do. Mark Ziesing, Chris Drumm, and Robert & Phyllis Weinberg have all been carrying copies of Nova Express for quite a while now, and Adventures in Crime & Space has since they opened a couple of years ago. However, we've never been able to come close to making a profit. The best we ever did was get within spitting distance of breaking even, and unfortunately we're a lot farther away from that now ...

2. We've violated 'the prevailing fannish tradition.'

See #7 above. On the other hand, we're not afraid of innovation, and we don't feel a crying need to look like every other fanzine in the world. Alas, there are a few of That Small But Vocal Fannish Minority that has problems with personal possessives, so instead of saying 'I think ...' they say 'The prevailing fannish tradition is ...'

If you, Joe Fanzine Publisher, want to follow 'the prevailing fannish tradition' (whatever you think it is), great! However, I must admit I am puzzled why some people criticize Nova Express for trying something new. Just remember: This Is Not Your Father's Fanzine.

1. We're not 'fannish' enough.

Well, this one really chaps my hide! To me, fans, fandom, Worldcons, the Hugo Award, and all that jazz, are related to something called 'science fiction.' I'll even go further and say that I think the true heart of science fiction lies in its strength as a living literature rather than TV, movies, etc. If running book reviews, critical articles, and interviews with SF authors isn't 'fannish,' then you're right, we're not fannish. However, here I think the fault lies in the definers eyes rather than ourselves. And if your idea of 'fandom' is something completely divorced from written science fiction, well then you're right, because that's a 'fandom' I'm not a part of.

There. Does that clear everything up? (Probably not, but I hope it was at least good for a laugh or two from the non-irony impaired.)

– Lawrence Person, Editor Nova Express, lawrence@bga.com

Gary Farber to Lawrence Person and Lots of Others, 21 July 97

On Sun, 20 Jul 1997, Lawrence Person wrote to "smofs": First off let me say that from the limited view I've had of your zine, it looks like a fine zine; I'd be happy to acquire and read the issues I've not seen (most of them). The quality of your zine is no more a point of contention with me than is the sincerity of your intention and goal of doing a good zine.
> THE TOP TEN MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT NOVA EXPRESS
> 10. We're a semiprozine.
> We may look like a semiprozine (if by "semiprozine" you mean
> "clearly legible," "cleanly designed" and "not mimeographed"). We may read
> like a semiprozine (if by "semiprozine" you mean "actually talks about
> written science fiction"). And, if you're hungry enough, we probably taste
> like a semiprozine as well ("Yummy! Ink!").
Yes, in my personal opinion, you appear to be striving for the goals of a semi-prozine. That's fine.
> But, by the definitions of
> Article II, Sections 2.2.9 and 2.2.10 of the World Science Fiction Society
> (which are the only ones that matter for Hugo eligibility), we're a
> fanzine, because we don't meet _any_ of the five criteria for being a
> semiprozine.
[. . .]
However, while I completely agree that you do not technically meet the Hugo definition of a semi-prozine, I also observe that this is a choice of yours. Should you *desire* to be in the Hugo "semi-prozine" category, all you need do is a) declare yourself so (requirement 5 in your restatement of the requirements), and b) pay one contributor the break-the-bank sum of one penny (requirement 2 in your restatement of the requirements). So the following:
> So, one more time: As per Worldcon rules, we're a fanzine. And if
> some kind soul wants to buy several hundred subscriptions in order to push
> us up into the semiprozine category, we're all for it!

is a tad disengenuous. You clearly wish to win a Hugo (not something you've made a secret of, as you say) with great and powerful desire. You are chosing to compete in the fanzine category, rather than the semi-prozine category, as a *choice*, not because you are forced into the fanzine category, as you disengenuously imply.
[. . .]
> Personally, I would think
> that getting a free issue of a Hugo nominated fanzine would be a Good
> Thing. However, it seems that some critics disagree...

No, there is absolutely nothing wrong with giving people free copies of your fanzine. The point that appears to have been lost upon you, or that you are not aware of, is that most fanzines, for over forty years, have been and are available for "the usual," which includes "an expression of interest." This is one of the many overlapping touchstones of how we recognize an sf fanzine from our culture, though it is certainly not the dominant one nor a requirement. But when you push the envelope of the tradition of it being regarded as tacky for fan Hugo nominees to campaign for Hugos (for reasons I've previously cited on this list; I'll copy you that mail if you didn't see it and would like to) and combine it with announcements that your zine is available *only* to those who can offer you a Hugo vote, you've pushed well into the area that fanzine fans, on the whole, regard as highly tacky and violative of the custom that we don't run massive campaigns against our fellow fans to "beat them" to winning a Hugo. As previously stated, you could have avoided all of this fuss with a simple announcement of the availability of your zine for "the usual," and you would have been unlikely to have been asked for more copies than you were in fact asked for. That would have been the clueful and harmless way to go.
> 7. We've broken the "unwritten rules" of fandom.
> Unfortunately, no one has sent us a copy of The Protocols of the
> Elders of Fandom.

Generally speaking, when one reads enough fanzines and interacts with other knowledgeable fans, we pick up the "unwritten rules," largely because they are, in fact, written, though not assembled in any one place. When you miss one, you hear about it, as you have here.
> 6. We don't run con reports.
This is, by the way, the first time I've heard this cited as a complaint against you, and I'd agree that it is a nonsensical one; there's certainly no implication whatever that a fanzine must have con reports: what an odd idea.
[. . .]
> 4. We're campaigning for the Best Fanzine Hugo.
> Well, _duh_. With our proud proclamation of our Shameless Campaign
> for the Hugos, this isn't exactly a secret. However, a lot of the Shameless
> Campaign is done pretty tongue in cheek.

I appreciate your humor. The campaign is still tacky. Fans historically are turned off by such campaigns. We all participate in fandom, and most of us participate in written fandom: we don't do so for awards. We are capable of judging for ourselves which is the best zine in our opinion, and who are the best writers and artists to our taste. Campaigns don't change our mind, they just piss us off and convince us that the perpetrators don't know a lot about fandom. As previously pointed out, if we all took your attitude, we could all start campaigning in our .sigs for the Best Fan Writer Hugo for ourselves and our friends; we could start such campaigns all over every fannish mailing list and newsgroup and online service. Do you think that would be desireable? Or do you think you deserve a unique exception to the tradition of discouraging campaigns for fan Hugos?
> In fact, it was something of a
> parody of the many "stealth" campaigns that have been waged for the Hugo
> and other awards in SF over the past decade or so (you know who you are).
> We thought the Shameless Campaign would provide a refreshing contrast.
> Alas, there are some people who just don't get it. HELLO! IRONY ALERT!
> WELCOME TO THE 1990s! When an ad starts off by saying "Did you know that
> Communist Fanzines are trying to steal our Hugos?", it should be apparent
> that some of what's going on here falls under the category of "humor."
> Oddly enough, I was under the impression that humor was a fannish virtue.
> Unfortunately, I didn't count on that tiny but vocal minority of fans who
> are Irony Impaired . . .

No, this completely misses the point. Our sense of humor is just fine, thanks, as is our Irony Reader. Running a funny campaign to get a fan Hugo is still running a campaign; running a post-modern campaign wouldn't help, either. ;-)
[. . .]
> 2. We've violated "the prevailing fannish tradition."
> See #7 above. On the other hand, we're not afraid of innovation,
> and we don't feel a crying need to look like every other fanzine in the
> world.

Fine, kewl.
> Alas, there are a few of That Small But Vocal Fannish Minority that
> has problems with personal possessives, so instead of saying "I think . . .
>" they say "The prevailing fannish tradition is..."

That's one way to look at it. An ignorant or offensive one, but one way. Perhaps you'd like to come to CORFLU and defend this view?
> If you, Joe Fanzine Publisher, want to follow "the prevailing
> fannish tradition" (whatever you think it is), great! However, I must admit
> I am puzzled why some people criticize Nova Express for trying something
> new.

Just remember: This Is Not Your Father's Fanzine. Either you don't understand or you don't want to understand. Your privilege, but you shouldn't be surprised when you piss off fans who know something about fanzines and the fan Hugos, then. HTH. I will, incidentally, be resending this letter to the Timebinders mailing list, where the subject is of even greater interest. I suggest in the interest of fairness that you either re-send your e-mail to timebinders@smith.chi.il.us, or if you prefer, I'll be happy to do so for you (but won't without your permission, of course).
[. . . .]

– Gary Farber gfarber@panix.com
Copyright 1997 Brooklyn, NY, USA