Frequently Avoided Questions
David Langford answers unfully and unfrankly ...
Title, Names and
- What is Ansible exactly?
A science fiction newsletter covering both the professional and the
fan communities associated with (primarily) written sf, with a special
focus on entertaining news/gossip and a deep-rooted lack of interest
in routine "Author Sells Book" and "Publisher Acquires
/ Publishes Book" stories. The editor David Langford's whim is
- Where does the name Ansible come from?
The word was invented by Ursula K. Le Guin. It's the instantaneous
communicator which appears in most of her "Hainish" sf
stories: Rocannon's World in 1966, The Left Hand of
Darkness, The Dispossessed (whose hero develops the
physics of the ansible), and others. Orson Scott Card pinched the term
in 1977 for his "Ender" series and I pinched it in 1979 as a
fanzine title. It's also been used by Vernor Vinge, Elizabeth Moon and
(in a different sense) Paul Park, and has become a standard sf term
for (fictional) interstellar comms links which are unhindered by
- Why the change from Ansible to Ansible®?
Someone planned to launch a generalist sf magazine under this name,
and I became worried about protecting my own use of it. A great many
people on Facebook promptly sent contributions towards trademark
application was approved on 8 July 2016. Again thanks to all!
This covers use of Ansible as an sf-related publication,
steering clear of the computer-related Ansible trademarks which unlike
this newsletter do not have the blessing of Ursula K. Le Guin.
- Do you know there's a wargames magazine
called The Ancible
This was the number-one query of late 2009. Yes: Kenny Robb, MD of
the magazine's publishing company, enquired in September whether I had
any problem with the name. Me: "I've been running my
newsletter Ansible for thirty years (and one month) with the
blessing of SF author Ursula Le Guin, who coined the word in a 1960s
novel. No objection at all to your use of a different spelling,
provided you promise never to object to my title!" Such are the
agreed terms of the Ansible/Ancible treaty.
- What is [was] The UK Science Fiction Fandom Archive?
This grandiose title was created by our original host webmaster
Naveed Khan in the early 1990s, and applied to a miscellaneous
grab-bag of available online sf texts hosted at Glasgow University,
including Ansible. On
taking over UKSFFA maintenance in 1995, I found I lacked the energy or
inclination to expand the generalist sf coverage, but regularly
updated the Ansible and (later) TAFF/GUFF
archives. In 2004 I set up a mirror site for Ansible at
news.ansible.uk. Owing to the
Great Robert Stanek Tiresomeness of 2005 (see Ansible
219), the mirror site became the primary one. Meanwhile TAFF and
GUFF migrated to my own webspace at taff.org.uk.
The Glasgow site was finally deleted in February 2009, and most of its
remaining material reinstated on other sites as
- Who is Thog and what is Thog's Masterclass?
Thog the Mighty, a not terribly bright barbarian hero, is the
creation of John Grant (Paul Barnett) in his "Lone Wolf"
fantasy novels. The Thog's Masterclass
section – featured in Ansible's second series since
mid-1994 – enshrines gems of "differently good" prose
from science fiction and fantasy, stuff which it is to be assumed that
Thog really likes. In 2006, Thog acquired his own website at
- What are those mysterious letters in square brackets?
Initials of sources and newshounds, whose names appear in full in the
closing credits unless I've made a mistake. For example, [PB] in the
text will probably refer to "Paul Barnett" in this final
- And what about other abbreviations and acronyms?
These are the ones most commonly seen ...
B5 – Babylon 5 (usually as a convention
B7 – Blake's Seven (usually as a
convention theme description).
BFS – British Fantasy Society.
BSFA – British Science Fiction Association.
C.o.A. or COA – Change of Address.
con – sf or fantasy convention. Mysterious words
including "con" are apt to be convention names, like
Britain's regular Eastercon (which see), Novacon
(Birmingham/Midlands), Armadacon (Plymouth), Albacon (Glasgow) and
Unicon (various university venues).
Eastercon – the British national convention, held each
Easter weekend; each has its own unique name rather than being
Eastercon nn, though Eastercon 22 in 1971 was a rare exception..
GoH – a convention or other event's Guest of Honour.
IRC – International Reply Coupon. Available from post
offices; exchangeable for overseas postage anywhere in the world. (See
SAE.) These cost so much more than their cash-in
value that they're usually kept for re-use/barter. A US dollar bill is
a more or less universally acceptable substitute.
pppn – per person per night, as in convention
accommodation costs: "£50 pppn".
presupp – when rival committees are bidding to hold a
particular Eastercon or Worldcon, they may sell "presupporting"
memberships to raise publicity funding. If the bid wins, presupporters
normally get a discount on supporting or full membership costs.
reg – a convention's full registration fee:
entitles you to attend the event and receive all relevant literature
(like the Programme or Souvenir Book).
R.I.P. – He's dead, Jim.
SAE or SSAE-- stamped addressed (or, as is tacitly assumed,
self-addressed) envelope. The address should be your own.
SFF – Science Fiction Foundation.
SFWA – Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
(Yes, they really did add Fantasy to the name without adding another F
to the short version.)
supp – convention supporting membership fee: a
cheaper rate that entitles you to the literature (progress reports,
etc), but requires that you pay the balance of the registration fee to
TBA – To Be Announced at some later date.
TBC – To Be Confirmed at some later date.
WFC – the annual World Fantasy Convention.
Who – Doctor Who(usually as a convention
Worldcon – the annual World SF Convention.
WSFS – World SF Society, the official body providing
continuity and rules for Worldcons. When you join a Worldcon, you
become a WSFS member for the duration.
ZZ9 – in full, ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha. British society
founded in appreciation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
and now covering sf/fantasy humour in general.
- Can you explain Ansible's publishing schedule?
The fifty issues of the first series (1979-1987) appeared
irregularly; then came a gap. The second series began with #51 in
October 1991. For ten years until October 2001 Ansible was
produced for the London sf pub meeting on
the first Thursday of each month, but may now appear days earlier or
later. I aim for the first of the month, but this doesn't always work
(especially at weekends, when the local printers aren't open, and even
more so on bank holiday weekends). The electronic version normally
goes out on the day of print publication, sometimes with slight
corrections. Additional "half issues" may be published at
the editor's whim for Christmas or major conventions, but don't hold
- With at least one issue per month, oughtn't you to have
published a lot more issues from that 1979 start?
The first series
was never quite monthly, and slowed down towards its close. Then came
the aforementioned gap from late 1987 to late 1991. See the
- How many Fanzine Hugo Awards has Ansible won?
Five – in 1987, 1995, 1996, 1999, and 2002.
- Is that all?
Ansible was moved by editorial fiat to the SemiProzine Hugo
category in 2003, and (to my great surprise) won against the tougher
Semiprozine competition in 2005. So actually it has won six Hugos. In
2009, rather to the editor's relief, it ceased to appear on this Hugo
- Any other awards? Ansible was also the Best Fanzine
winner in the relaunched
N3F sf achievement
awards ("Neffies") for 2004 work. Also, long ago, the
members of the 1993 British Eastercon, Helicon, voted Ansible
an Eastercon Award in the Short Text category. Possibly to prevent a
recurrence of this terrible thing, the Eastercon Awards were later
- Why don't you list the Lower Slobbovian SF Excellence Award
nominations and winners?
Space limitations, as with the Convention Listing
Policy: Ansible dutifully reports British and
international sf awards, but usually not other "local"
awards for which only inhabitants of [insert overseas country or
region of your choice] are eligible. Perhaps more controversially,
Ansible isn't keen on listing regular prizes restricted to
previously unpublished creators, but is prepared to stretch a point
for one or two like the James White Award which are based in the
British Isles and don't have multiple categories.
Book Reviews and
- Where should I send books for review in Ansible?
Study of back issues will show that Ansible doesn't run
fiction reviews. In the past it has occasionally covered
nonfiction/reference works of major importance to the genre, like the
1993 edition of the Encyclopedia
of Science Fiction, but such exceptions are very rare
indeed. (Blatant mentions of the editor's own books and ebooks are
another matter. He has a bad conscience about this, but bravely bears
up under the load.) However, newly published books received by David
Langford at 94 London Road, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 5AU are
listed on the imaginatively titled
Ansible Books Received
page. This records actual physical books, with proper ISBNs, whose
existence I have confirmed – an emailed PDF or ebook does not
- How about a banner ad exchange to promote my book? Sorry,
no. One of the reasons people seem to like the Ansible site is
that it isn't cluttered with banner ads, promotional download
links and the like. Although your promotional need is of course
special and unique, any exception is liable to open the floodgates and
encourage hordes of others to pester me in hope of becoming another
exception. So: no.
- Do you accept paid advertising on your website news.ansible.uk?
- Won't you please publicize the KickStarter (or equivalent)
fundraiser for my great new sf concept?
As a rule, no. There are just too many such projects these days. Very
rare exceptions may be made for non-commercial crowdfunding, such as
raising money for some notable author's or fan's medical treatment.
Again, please don't nag me.
- Publisher XXXX has bought my book – you must tell the
Sorry. Absolutely no "Author sells book!" stories. Ansible
doesn't attempt to imitate Locus
coverage of sf/fantasy book sales, acquisitions, publication
schedules, releases, or positions in bestseller lists.
- Why don't you link to my/our website?
Obviously the Ansible links page
doesn't attempt to list every sf site on the web. Convention and club
links will go in more or less automatically if British and relevant
– more about Ansible convention listings
below. Other link categories are more of a
personal choice, and it should be fairly evident that the listings
do not attempt to be comprehensive. The general Ansible
policy is not to link to sites devoted to authors whose work I'm
unfamiliar with (which doesn't indicate Langfordian disdain, just lack
of time to read everything) and publishers whose authors are unknown
to me. I'm not keen on vanity presses, or promotional material like
online fiction excerpts and film trailers unless included in a site of
more general interest.
- Will you add my SF shop to the links?
The dealer section of the links page – long confined to outlets
with which I'd personally had dealings over some time – has been
- How about this great blog?
If it's by an sf notable and talks reasonably regularly about
sf/fantasy or writing/publishing in general, then maybe. Though
exceptions may quite unreasonably be made for greatly admired authors
and old pals who include sf content, Ansible does not as a
rule link to blogs whose scope is confined, or mostly confined, to
self-promotion, politics, domesticity, gardening, fan fiction or cats.
- How about this great podcast?
Owing to long-standing deafness I remain supremely ignorant of sound
media and am unable to judge the virtues of podcasts and the like
– so Ansible tends not to link to individual audio
postings. Audio-centred websites of high reputation may be included
eventually, but please don't nag.
- Why don't you list our excellent convention?
Possibly because no one has sent the needed information? Note that
there are space constrictions: the bulk of the electronic Ansible
comes word for word from the printed edition, which consists of one
sheet of A4 paper. Convention listings in the monthly Ansible
are therefore confined to British Isles events with some sort
of sf/fantasy relevance. Exceptions are made for Eurocon and Worldcon.
- Isn't that a bit parochial?
No doubt. There is an old Welsh saying, probably to be found in the
Mabinogion, which translates approximately as: "He who
publishes a large-circulation newsletter at his own expense, and
refuses to charge money for it, gets to make the editorial rules."
But ... online only, the International
Conventions List complements the Ansible
events longlist. And there's another page for
- What information should we provide for an Ansible
The usual minimum for the print edition is: date(s), event name,
venue, cost of one adult membership, and a booking/enquiries address.
Web URLs may be included if there's room, and will also feature in one
or more of the British,
International and London
event lists, depending on the location and type of event. Listings on
these pages consist of date, name, location, and (embedded) URL only.
Lazy organizers who expect me to trawl their website for information
may well be disappointed.
- Why isn't our convention listed again this issue?
In print, conventions get a listing (a) when Ansible first
hears about them; (b) when significant changes occur, such as the
registration fee going up or the dates or venue being altered; (c)
when the event is actually getting close. An all-encompassing list
would leave no room for the more interesting parts of Ansible.
However, links in the main and
international and London
event lists online stay in place until the convention is over.
- So if our Guest of Honour changes, we get another listing?
Possibly, if space permits and Guest of Honour is being used in the
old-fashioned sense of an individual, or one of a few individuals, who
is being specially honoured. Conventions with thirty guests are
unlikely ever to get a full GoH listing in minimalist Ansible
– let alone an item about the glorious addition of guest number
31. "Grotney Spung is world-famous as the sixth vaporized
security man in that classic Trek episode 'Ten Red T-Shirts
Sitting On A Wall'. Nowadays he makes his living by signing
photographs for money."
- Why didn't you mention our Guest of Honour in our second
Space, as I keep saying, is limited. Ansible treats Guests of
Honour as news when first announced (space permitting) but generally
omits them from subsequent listings of the same event.
- Why do [did] monthly email/web issues have three separate
Answer from A255: "The multiple Ansible event
lists cause occasional puzzlement, not least to the editor. Everything
above the Geeks' Corner heading is from the print edition,
still appearing and still a single sheet of A4 paper, where space is
tight and the Con[something] list includes newly announced,
significantly updated and imminent events. Below the line, as it were,
the Conventions/Events Longlist is meant as a reminder of
what's on the links-page
event list: I'm frequently tempted to reduce this section to a
bare link. Apparitions [a late addition] deals with signings,
library talks and other doings that don't make it into the main
listing – but not appearances at main-list conventions
with their (warning: literary effect ahead) perpetual plethora of
peripatetic panel pundits." Since A260 the
Conventions/Events Longlist has indeed been removed from the monthly
e-Ansible: no one complained.
- How do I subscribe to Ansible by email?
Just step this way.... Please note that we
moved Ansible and all subscribers to a new list server in 2010
– use this page, not previous addresses in old issues of Ansible!
This page also offers an alternative email list for those who don't
like Google Groups (but which is more likely to be misidentified as
spam by touchy ISPs, so beware) and links to a further options page
for the RSS feed (plus Facebook, LiveJournal and
- May I copy the ASCII Ansible to my local BBS/whatever?
This query seems terribly outdated when it's so easy just to link to
news.ansible.uk. I'd much
prefer to be represented by the nice-looking HTML version of each
issue on this site. If you persist in making this enquiry, the answer
is usually yes, but please do ask me first and please don't alter the
text. I'd be interested to hear of Ansible turning up on
CD-ROMs produced by anyone other than myself and Interaction (the 2005
Worldcon), since my response to this permission enquiry has always
been "Yes, provided I get a copy of the CD-ROM." Besides
Interaction's, none has ever reached me.
- How can I get hold of printed copies?
If living in the United Kingdom, send me a wad of stamped addressed
envelopes at 94 London Road, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 5AU. Ansible
is also reprinted from Official Master Copies and distributed by our
Hero Agents, as follows:
- North America: Sorry, our NA agent gave up.
- Australia: Formerly distributed with subscription
copies of the Aussie newzine Thyme, ed. Alan Stewart, PO
Box 222, World Trade Centre, Melbourne, Vic 3005, Australia. Thyme
seems to be in suspended animation, but I gather that Alan
distributes Ansible at local gatherings or through an APA.
For those not in these inner circles, an email Ansible
subscription is advisable.
- Birmingham (England): Distributed with the Birmingham
SF Group Newsletter alias Brum Group News. Usually,
alas, about a month after publication owing to the regular clash
of BSFGN and Ansible schedules.
- Storm Constantine Information Service: distributed with
newsletters ed. Steve Jeffery and Vikki Lee France, 44 White Way,
Kidlington, Oxon, OX5 2XA – who also send out copies with
the "Prophecy" APA.
- Hey, I sent you a lot of first-class stamps – how come my
Ansibles arrive by second-class post?
I'm afraid I don't have time to keep track of this kind of thing.
Ansible is officially available for stamped addressed envelopes.
If you put first-class stamps on such envelopes, you'll get it by
first-class post. If you just send stamps, I'll merely (try to
remember to) make a note of how many issues they represent, and put
the stamps in the postage book.
- What are Ansible's submission guidelines?
You should read a lot of back issues and
guess the sort of thing the editor likes. Anything used (typically
sf/fannish news snippets and oddities) may be heavily edited or
paraphrased, but source credit is normally given. Email submission is
fine, but keep it short – though a bare URL is too
short: please explain what the linked story is about. Press releases
are apt to be ignored or filleted for substantive content. Line art,
preferably humorous, is used in every issue but must be comprehensible
after scanning (if necessary) and reduction to fit the printed Ansible's
art slot, 1.24 inches square. Please double-check Thog and other
sf-quote submissions for letter-perfect accuracy, and include the
quoted book's title, author(s), and year of publication.
- Any guidelines on what not to send?
I'm glad you asked. Do not send fiction, fiction reviews or poetry.
Because life is too short, Ansible (to repeat a point made
above) doesn't attempt to imitate Locus
coverage of sf/fantasy book sales, acquisitions, publication
schedules, releases, or positions in bestseller lists. (See also
Book reviews.) Launches of non-paying sf
magazines, especially online, are ten a penny and don't get covered
– though new paying markets may well be noted. Self-promotion is
likely to be ignored unless it features some suitably quirky news
interest or opportunity to mock the self-promoter. Commonplace
activities – "I have published or decided to publish a
fanzine [podcast, ebook], joined Facebook [Google+, Bebo, LinkedIn,
LiveJournal, MySpace], plan to attend XXXcon where I will be delighted
to meet my millions of fans" – are not regarded as news.
- What rates of payment apply?
None whatever. But look on the bright side: Ansible doesn't
cost anything. Although donations
are not refused.
- Can I send news with the condition that
you don't attribute it to me?
Much depends on context. An unattributable item from someone who has
a valid reason for not wishing their name attached may well go in as
asked. (Example: a certain World Fantasy Awards judge plucked Thog's
Masterclass items from WFA submissions and thought it more tactful not
to take credit for these.) If I know and trust the submitter, the
chances go up. Anonymous denunciations will be suspiciously
scrutinized for mean-spiritedness or potential libel.
- What are the typefaces used in Ansible, and why?
All fonts in the print edition are from Bitstream in their
proprietary Speedo format. The body type is Bitstream Charter,
specifically designed for good appearance at small point sizes (here 8
points), with its corresponding Italic, Black and Black Italic
versions. Centred headlines are in Clarendon Roman, and small type in
the masthead and credits boxes is Bitstream Swiss, i.e. another
Helvetica clone. Thog's personal font is Cloister Black Regular.
- You mean you ... don't use Windows
Not as yet. Ansible is still produced with the ancient
WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS. I could more or less instantly switch to WP
for Windows (which I use for another fanzine), but am not entirely
happy with the appearance at 8 points of the "identical"
TrueType body face offered by Bitstream, which is Charter ITC. Also
there are all theselegacy macros which auto-generate the clean HTML
version for the website and plain text for email....
- What about the website font?
The Ansible site's style sheet specifies Verdana, though your
browser settings may override this.
for SAE or ..."???
- What on earth are all those peculiar items that Ansible
is listed as being available for?
Besides stamped addressed envelopes, you mean? (See
above.) I admit to amusing myself in most masthead boxes by
adding something more or less esoteric and hard to locate. Some people
treat this as an unannounced quiz, and send desperate emails when they
can't identify the current item or items. For the benefit of those who
go mad over these items, there is an instructive
spoiler list here.