Monday, June 02, 2014

On Blogs and Fanzines

Monday, June 02, 2014
3.3.13: Best Fanzine. Any generally available non-professional periodical publication devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects that by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, that does not qualify as a semiprozine or a fancast, and that in the previous calendar year met neither of the following criteria:

(1) paid its contributors or staff monetarily in other than copies of the publication,

(2) was generally available only for paid purchase.

The above is from the Constitution of the World Science Fiction Society (as of September 2013), and is the definition the category of Best Fanzine.  I wanted to open with the definition because we should be clear as to exactly what we are talking about when we are discussing fanzines. 

I bring this up because Mike Glyer wrote a short article this morning titled "Hugo Nominated Fauxzines" in which he had this to say:

While paging through the Hugo Voter Packet a friend of mine discovered that the four blogs up for Best Fanzine are represented by samples made to look like real magazines, with selections from their entire year’s work and new introductory material.

This annoyed my friend, who is one of the old guard with strong opinions about the difference between fanzines and blogs, and what belongs in the Best Fanzine category.

I almost wrote that "there seems to be a significant disagreement between previous generations of fans and newer fans who came to fandom during the internet age as to what, exactly, a fanzine is", but it would be more accurate to simply say that there is a significant disagreement between those two segments of fandom as to the nature of fanzines (and perhaps fan writing and fan culture in general, but I'm not quite sure about that).

When I last engaged in thinking about and discussing the nature of fanzines, which was mostly during the Hugo Award seasons from 2010 to 2012, I had been stridently in the camp of "Blogs Are the Modern Fanzine!"  I expected and hoped that we would see more blogs nominated as fanzines and a greater recognition of the excellent fan writing that was occurring outside of the "traditional fanzine".  It is important to note that 2009 was the first year the "or the equivalent in other media" distinction was added to the definition in the WSFS Constitution. (see the 2008 constitution).  Prior to this, a blog or anything else that could be considered a fanzine would have to have had discrete issues.

But, "or the equivalent in other media" takes care of that issue.  With the internet and the various publishing platforms which can be utilized to deliver content, having individual "issues" is less vital than it was when a fanzine had to be printed and mailed.  Having discrete issues was the only way to deliver content, whether it was in a fanzine or Sports Illustrated.  Traditional fanzines still exist on the internet and many can be found on efanzines, each with a discrete issue published as a PDF (or whatever format the editor chooses, I imagine).  But with other publishing platforms, the requirement of a discrete issue is eliminated. The site is the destination, with each articles standing on its own or being part of a series of building a conversation.  The opportunity to more rapidly engage in a conversation, either with the content of a given article or with the issues of the genre at large is significant.

Blogs are fanzines, just in a different format.  There is very much a living culture going on in the traditional fanzines (Christopher Garcia is an excellent advocate for them), but a similar fan culture exists outside of the traditional fanzine and blogs are doing the exact same thing as those fanzines, but they are doing so in an ongoing way. The "equivalent in other media" of a blog is simply to continue to produce quality writing.

Ultimately, this is science fiction and fantasy fandom talking about itself and trying to define itself.  My assumption is that we write about science fiction and fantasy because, to some extent, we care about it.  We value it.  We value the ability to participate in a conversation about science fiction and fantasy.  And, because we are talking about fanzines and blogs and the Hugo Award, we also care about the Hugo Awards and wish those awards to remain relevant and continually looking forward and for the best work.  This year, four blogs were nominated for Best Fanzine with one "traditional" fanzine also nominated.

This is what I have been looking to see for several years, but it isn't about excluding the traditional fanzine. It is about being inclusive of the multiple ways fan writing can be delivered.  It is about recognizing that a fanzine can take on many different shapes and sizes, whether it is written by a single author, a team of authors, has an editor curating content or just overseeing a staff of writers. It can be delivered via print, PDF, or a blog. It can allow commenting to further a conversation sparked by an article, or it can require the articles to stand alone and let the conversations occur in other spaces.

A "fanzine" used to mean one specific thing, but the nature of that thing has changed over the years and the definition of the category for the Hugo Award has also changed, just slightly, to allow for additional media to be included.  I can only hope that when it changes again in the future to make room for different forms of fan writing that we cannot imagine today, that we will be welcoming of those new forms of media and "fanzine."  It would be a shame if after clamoring for inclusion of the work that we do, we are unable to see how some unknown form is exactly what we're doing, just in a way we didn't envision.  


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