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Holding History

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011 | Posted by Bud Webster

sfwa-bulletin-11eBay.  It’s a silly place to be for any amount of time, not to mention its hideous potential as a money-sink.  I do spend time there, though, on a daily basis, and money as well.  It’s one of the sources I use to replace the stock I’ve sold at a convention, and it comes in handy to add to my personal collection on those rare occasions when I have disposable income.

Three weeks ago as I write this, I was lucky to have won a small lot of magazines that popped up on my radar because of the authors included therein.  I was up against another collector, and although the bidding was spirited in the last day or so I walked away with the prize.  And what was it, I hear you ask?

It was a dozen issues of the Bulletin of the Science Fiction Writers of America dating from 1967, the earliest being #10.  After I paid for them – with shipping, a little over a dollar each – the seller found another issue dated 1970 and threw it in.

A few days later the package came, and I slit the tape carefully to open it.  They don’t look like much: just 8.5×11″ pages folded in half and stapled to make a booklet.  The pages are browned; the few photos are black and white.  All in all, pretty unimposing, really.

So why were my hands shaking as I lifted them gently out of the box?

Consider: SFWA was not much over a year old in January of ’67.  It had been founded by Damon Knight in 1965 after he’d seen one or two other attempts to organize sf writers either flop miserably or blow up.  A visit to a meeting of the Mystery Writers of America showed him exactly what he didn’t want; at the time, it was made up more of fans than pros.

neb2008If you’ll forgive me for quoting from my own stuff, specifically “Anthopology 101: The Books That Saved SFWA” (originally in the Spring 2007 SFWA Bulletin and subsequently reprinted in Nebula Awards Showcase 2008, ed. Ben Bova):

Several attempts had been made to create one [a writers’ organization], but had failed; Knight blamed this on the inevitable competition of writerly egos and, rejecting the committee approach out of hand, decided that the only way to make it work was as a benevolent dictatorship, with himself as the BD.

So, in 1965 he sent out a stack of flyers to the sf writers he knew, with a brief message to send in their three bucks and join.  He tapped Lloyd Biggle to do some of the work, which Biggle did with zeal and alacrity (zealacrity?), handling most of the actual day-to-day tasks himself and, just as an afterthought, creating both the Nebula and the annual Nebula anthology as a way of financing the whole thing.  Wasn’t that prescient of him?  A significant number of the recipients sent in their filthy-pro lucre, and so SFWA was born.

One of the necessary adjuncts of organizing a writers’ organization and keeping it, y’know, organized is establishing and maintaining a means of communication.  Thus was born the SFWA Bulletin, dated July 1965, and thus was scientifictional history made.

Do you begin to see why my big, hairy and impeccably masculine hands were shaking?  Some of you do, I’m sure.

slave-girl-gorThe earliest one I received, #10 dated January of ’67, is the Directory issue.  Looking over those 268 or so names I am struck by two things: first, that this might very well have represented the vast majority of the sf writers in the US at the time; second, there are at least 40 names that I do not readily recognize, and of those there are 3 for whom I can find practically nothing in any of the sf references, online or onshelf.

One of those, W. E. Sprague, apparently co-wrote a couple of Russ Meyers’ flicks, but who are Anne Marple and Allan M. Hayes?  They must have qualified at the time, but I can find them in none of the various indices which list authors and their stories.  It’s a puzzlement.

What is just as surprising in its own way are some of the names that I do recognize: Greg Benford, for example, whom I think of as an ’80s writer, even though I knew his first story was in 1965; John Lange, who wrote under the pseudonym John Norman (yes, those books); Gene Roddenberry(!); and Tolkien, who had been given an honorary membership.

That’s just in #10.  In the other dozen issues are the Nebula Banquets (with photos), the Hugos (with photos), new members (Gahan Wilson, Philip K. Dick, Peter S. Beagle, Vaughn F. Bodé, Dean Koontz, A. Bertram Chandler, David Gerrold, Stanley Schmidt, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Gardner Dozois), and article after article of interest to the working writer, including contract talk (mostly by Damon Knight), how to live on the cheap in Ireland (in 1967, anyway), discussion of various Grievance Committee cases from before there even was a Grievance Committee, “What Works for Me” by different authors about their writing process… it just goes on.

sfhofOne item in particular sent a bolt straight through my head.  In #13, then-President Silverberg announced a new project:

The Contract for the first in a new series of SFWA anthologies has been signed.  Scheduled for future publication by Doubleday is a collection currently titled Science Fiction Hall of Fame, which will consist of 150,000 words of classic science fiction short stories and novelets [sic] published prior to the inception of the Nebula Awards….All stories in these anthologies are to be chosen by vote of the SFWA membership.

History in my hands….There’s more, though.  In #14, dated October ’67, there’s this brief squib:

Publishers’ Weekly reports that J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings has now penetrated to South Vietnam: the Vietnamese Second Corps has taken the lidless eye of Sauron as its battle emblem….’What happened, apparently, is that an American special service officer in Darlac province tried to improve his Vietnamese by translating The Lord of the Rings into it.  The local Vietnamese people became quite enthusiastic about Tolkien mythology and are adopting it as their own.’

There’s no direct indication that any of the military men also stared at goats, but I think we can assume that at least one or two of them did.

And yet, here is more.  In the August ’68 issue (#19), this note from then-President Alan E. Nourse:

Three years ago it seemed doubtful that any organization of sf writers would ever survive very long… Today there is not much question that SFWA is here to stay.  My job this year is to see that it remains vital, healthy and growing.

scavengersDr. Nourse passed in 1992, almost a quarter of a century later, but SFWA is still a force of good for sf and fantasy writers, with new members each year.

It’s important to place these little pamphlets in context.  I was thirteen years old when Damon Knight sent those flyers out, fifteen when Bulletin #10 was issued to the membership.

We were still a few years from that One Small Step, still embroiled in that war J. R. R. Tolkien touched, however lightly; Nixon was a year away himself, the Watergate Hotel still innocent (or as innocent as big-city hotels ever are, anyway), Operation Menu – the secret bombing of Cambodia – only a matter of months in the future.

Fifteen years old and eagerly reading everything I could by Knight, and Nourse, and Silverberg, and Blish, and Brunner, and Laumer, and Pohl, and Anderson, and Biggle, and Reynolds, and Carr, and Aldiss, and most of the rest of those wonderful, Wonder-filled giants whose very sneezes broke the sound barrier.  Their words still echo ’round the bones of the dayswhen SFWA first stomped upon the Terra like a stfnal Goliath, and all the sleazy rip-off editors and publishers trembled before them like slingless Davids.

I am holding history in my shaking hands.

7 Comments »

  1. Alan E. Nourse’s “The Blade Runner” is worth checking out. No robots, just underground surgeons.

    Comment by Mister_Alex - June 8, 2011 4:14 pm

  2. Yes, it is. As I recall, Dr. Nourse (pronounced “nurse,” by the way) was paid for the use of the title by the producers of the film, on the insistance of PKDick. He had several collections published, all of them worth looking for. I particularly recommend _Tiger By the Tail_ and _The Conterfeit Man_.

    Comment by Bud Webster - June 8, 2011 4:41 pm

  3. Well, I was a member of SFWA for about 17 years through the 70s and 80s, and I kept all the publications sent to me. I also had a huge run of Richard E. Geis’s fanzine (damn, what was it called again?) collected in cardboard boxes that I wanted to do SOMEthing with….but over the years….nothing. Then when we moved to an apartment, I had to get rid of loads of books and all sorts of other material that I had collected over the years. I miss it all, of course, and wish I had it back.

    Comment by Reader - June 10, 2011 1:47 am

  4. Reader, Dick did his zine under a couple of titles, Science Fiction Review and The Alien Critic. He also did a far more personal (and comepetely self-written) zine he called REG. As far as I know he’s still around, but I’m not sure if he’s still zine-ing.

    Dick’s zines were treasure troves of good writing, and was the first place I encountered the Barry Malzberg’s critical articles, as well as Ted White’s column “The Trenchant Bludgeon.” The letters alone are worth having as research material, and I wish I still had my old copies, too. It was then (and still is) a very highly regarded publication, edgier than Locus and Algol/SF Chronicle.

    Comment by Bud Webster - June 10, 2011 2:21 am

  5. I wholeheartedly agree with you, Bud. I loved Science Fiction Review, especially the letters that flurried in like a major snowfall every issue. That doesn’t happen anymore with the kind of online menagerie that has taken the place of LOC. I remember Gene Wolfe wrote in quite regularly, at one point informing Richard (and the rest of us loyal readers) that he had just put THE END to either ‘Shadow of the Torturer’ or the entire New Sun tetralogy. SO much has happened since then. I’m sure even Gene Wolfe was using a typewriter then to create some of the most wonderful SF-Fantasy of the last century.

    Comment by Reader - June 11, 2011 11:36 pm

  6. I don’t doubt for a moment that he was typing, Reader, but I can practically guarantee it was a Selectric. I’m not sure a manual would have accomodated all those abstruse words.

    Comment by Bud Webster - June 12, 2011 1:13 am

  7. Gee, I’ve still got all those issues, Bud. Remind me to sell them off sometime.

    Damon Knight, of course, also founded the National Fantasy Fan Federation in 1941, and we know now how that organization has gone from strength to strength over the intervening decades. Or Not.

    Algol/Starship (but not SF Chronicle: that was a separate news magazine) was a magazine of articles, not opinion, certainly never of the sort of “Let’s you and him fight” that Geis was so famous for fomenting.

    Comment by Andrew Porter - July 12, 2011 7:42 pm


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