Fanzine Spotlight: Astrolabe

It’s time for the next entry in my Fanzine/Fancast Spotlight project. For more about the Fanzine/Fancast Spotlight project, go here. You can also check out the other great fanzines and fancasts featured by clicking here.

So today, I’m pleased to feature the SFF newsletter Astrolabe.

Therefore, I’m happy to welcome Aidan Moher of Astrolabe. Aidan Moher also edited the blog A Dribble of Ink, winner of the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Fanzine.

Astrolabe logoTell us about your site or zine.

Astrolabe is a semi-monthly newsletter delivered free to your inbox. It’s stuffed full of features, reviews, book recommendations, fandom musings, retro video games, the coolest stories from around the web, and general geek goodies.

Past issues have covered what video games have taught me about worldbuilding, how Terry Brooks literally changed my life, a deep dive into non-fiction feature writing, the sick feeling you’re not reading enough, and the perils of going viral.

You can find it at aidan.substack.com. The main newsletter is free, and I’ve also got a $5/month subscription option that comes with exclusive content—like full transcript interviews, longer features, etc.

Who are the people behind your site or zine?

Just me!

Well, sort of.

I launched Astrolabe as a solo effort and published 11ish issues that way, and I’m still the solo editor/main writer, but I’ve recently launched a new series called Transmission Received. I want to bring plenty of new voices and perspectives to Astrolabe by inviting people for a focused discussion about a particular topic. One of my favourite things about being an editor—going all the way back to my days with A Dribble of Ink—was bringing forth stories and providing a platform for many voices. Transmission Received is a chance to tell many, many stories. Each edition will include a main feature interview in regular Astrolabe issues, and then I’ll follow up two days later with the interview posted in full. It’s a great way for readers to get a tight look at the topic, and also a deeper dive into my conversation with whomever I’m speaking with.

The first Transmission Received featured Chris DeMakes, the vocalist and guitarist from legendary Gainesville, Florida ska band Less Than Jake. I caught up with DeMakes to chat about creative momentum during troubling times, why you shouldn’t even think about your t-shirts before you’ve written a single song, and his advice for creative people struggling to get their project off the ground.

Why did you decide to start your site or zine?

From 2007 – 2015, I ran a popular SFF blog called A Dribble of Ink. I closed it down for a variety of reasons (changing tides in blogging, a growing family of kidlets, a desire to do more paid freelance work, etc.), but I always missed having a platform and an audience eager to dig into the nerdy stuff I love to talk about. So, as my routines changed and I found the space to think about editing my own platform again, I decided I wanted to bring my love of SFF and gaming together in a new format. One thing I discovered over several years of dedicated freelance writing is that there’s a TON of cross-over between fandoms, and I wanted to create a place that felt like a home for fans across a spectrum of geek culture.

What format do you use for your site or zine (blog, e-mail newsletter, PDF zine, paper zine) and why did you choose this format?

A newsletter seemed like a natural choice for a bunch of reasons: a) they’re popular, b) they don’t require the constant, daily output of blogs, and, c) you only have to convince someone you’re worth it one time. Even back in 2015, I was finding the constant necessity to promote blog content exhausting. Each new article felt like a fight for attention, and with the way social media algorithms are evolving, even reaching your dedicated and most engaged readers was becoming more difficult. With a newsletter, I just need to fight to reach someone one time, and once they’ve signed up, they see ALL my content when I want them to see it. Even though newsletters are a one-way form of communication, I feel a lot closer to my base of readers—like we’re a little family of geek friends who all love the same things.

The fanzine category at the Hugos is one of the oldest, but also the category which consistently gets the lowest number of votes and nominations. So why do you think fanzines and sites are important?

Oh, gosh. Where do I start?

It’s no secret to anyone who’s followed me over the past decade that the fan categories are immensely important to me personally, and that I feel like they get short shrift from a lot of nominating WorldCon members. For a convention that’s hugely fan-driven, the ambivalence toward fan projects/creators vs. professional projects/creators belies the concept a bit.

I think people are drawn toward huge, popular projects like moths to a flame—it’s good to feel involved in a zeitgeist, it’s fun to go to a bookstore and see something YOU personally voted for with a big HUGO WINNER sticker on its cover at the front of the store. Fan projects don’t have the same wide reach as professional projects for a lot of reasons, but I think they’re the heart and soul of the Hugos because they represent the passion of the fan community. They’re the collective effort of the fans out there busting their butts day-after-day creating brilliant non-fiction, art, YouTube videos, music, podcast, fanfic, blogs, magazines, and everything else that forms the emotional core of SFF fandom.

As fans, we commit a huge part of our lives to our fandom and expect nothing in return—we put hours and hours and hours into posting online, writing fanfic, posting Goodreads reviews, etc. because it means something to contribute to the larger conversation. It makes us FEEL good to spend time doing something simply because we love it so much.

The fan creators recognized on the Hugo ballots represent the highest echelon of fan creators—those who put out such good work (for free!) that it rivals professional work. Fan creators are the glue that holds fandom together, and, most importantly, they’re the ones of the cutting edge of discussion, opening doors for new fans, and, hopefully, a more inclusive fandom, because they’re not beholden to marketing budgets, quarterly profits, and ad revenue.

In the past twenty years, fanzines have increasingly moved online. What do you think the future of fanzines looks like?

I think we’re already seeing a fast and beautiful evolution of the fanzine community toward a broader range of multimedia platforms. For a long time we had just paper zines, then we had PDF zines, then blogs came around. It was sort of one thing leading into another, but over the past several years, the field has become so diversified that we have all of those things that came before, but also newsletters, BookTube, podcasts, and I’d even lump some streamers into the mix. I consider a fanzine—as far as stuff like the Hugos are concerned—to be basically anything from a fan creator that covers SFF with a non-fiction angle, and I want to continue to see a broader and broader range of creators recognized for their work.

The four fan categories of the Hugos (best fanzine, fan writer, fan artist and fancast) tend to get less attention than the fiction and dramatic presentation categories. Are there any awesome fanzines, fancasts, fan writers and fan artists you’d like to recommend?

Are there ever! It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Nerds of a Feather, Lady Business, and Book Smugglers, all three of which have been recognized to varying (well deserved) degrees at the Hugos. Over the past year, I’ve really paid a lot of attention to SFF newsletters, and I hope more people subscribe to places like Andrew Liptak’s Transfer Orbit, Amal El-Mohtar’s Amal Content, Sarah Gailey’s Stone Soup, Isabel Yap’s hot yuzu tea, Charlie Jane Anders’ Happy Dancing, Matthew Claxton’s Unsettling Futures, and Alasdair Stuart’s The Full Lid. I’ve also really enjoyed Hilary Bisenieks’ Tales from the Trunk; it’s a podcast that sits down with writers to dissect one of their trunked stories, and it’s an absolute treasure trove of writing advice and insight into the SFF community.

As for “Best Fan Writer,” everyone mentioned above is brilliant, but I think this is the year Jason Sanford wins for his work on Genre Grapevine. His coverage of SFF fandom and publishing is unparalleled. He’s an absolute treasure.

Where can people find you?

Besides Astrolabe, I’m also very active on Twitter and have a website that rounds up all of my various writings for different outlets. I stream Astrolabe content to Twitch, and archive it all on YouTube. I’m… all over the place. In addition to Astrolabe being eligible for “Best Fanzine,” I’m also personally eligible for “Best Fan Writer,” and “Timeless: A History of Chrono Trigger” is eligible for “Best Related Work.”

You can find a big round-up of my best work from 2020 by visiting my official eligibility post.

Thank you, Aidan, for stopping by and answering my questions.

Subscribe to Astrolabe, cause it’s a great newsletter.

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Do you have a Hugo eligible fanzine/-site or fancast and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.

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