Fanzine Spotlight: Ansible

I initially started the Fanzine/Fancast Spotlight project to highlight Hugo-eligible fanzines, fansites and podcasts. 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.

The Hugo finalists for 2021 have long since been announced, but I want to keep the project going, because after the Hugo nominations is before the Hugo nominations. And besides, there are still a lot of great fanzines, blogs and podcasts out there that I haven’t covered.

Today’s featured fanzine is a true classic. Ansible is a six-time Hugo winner in itself, while editor/writer David Langford has won a staggering twenty-one Hugo Awards for Best Fan Writer.

Therefore, I’m pleased to welcome David Langford to my blog:

Ansible Logo

Tell us about your site or zine.

My fanzine is the newsletter or newszine Ansible, which tries, maybe not always successfully, to cover highlights of the SF and fan scene from a British viewpoint while struggling to retain a sense of humour. Once upon a time Ansible appeared only in printed form — mimeographed in the early years from 1979, just as in The Enchanted Duplicator. There was a gap in the continuity after the 1987 UK Worldcon where Ansible won its first Hugo, but I started afresh in 1991 and have kept to a monthly schedule ever since. Charles Stross first posted the electronic text (sent to him on floppy disks) to Usenet, for several months in 1993 before I caught up with his cutting-edge technology; email and website distribution soon followed.

Who are the people behind your site or zine?

In theory it’s just me. In practice I couldn’t keep going without all the correspondents who send obituaries, interesting news snippets, more obituaries, convention news, too many obituaries, and contributions to such regular departments as As Others See Us and Thog’s Masterclass. The first collects notably patronizing or ignorant comments on the SF genre from the mainstream media, with special attention to authors who write science fiction but prefer to pretend they don’t (Margaret Atwood once explained that SF was “talking squids in outer space” and since she didn’t write that she had to be innocent of SF contamination). Thog’s Masterclass is for embarrassingly or comically bad sentences in published fiction, not always SF — as well as the usual genre suspects, the Masterclass has showcased such luminaries as Agatha Christie, Vladimir Nabokov and Sean Penn.

Why did you decide to start your site or zine?

My unconvincing story is that it’s all the fault of Peter Roberts, the long-time UK fan who throughout the 1970s published what was then our national SF/fan newsletter, Checkpoint. By 1979 he’d grown weary of it and looked around for some gullible young lad to take over the subscription list, though not (he insisted) the title. That lad was myself, and the first issue of Ansible appeared at the 1979 UK Worldcon. Peter’s words in Checkpoint #97 — “Checkpoint will be folding with the 100th issue, that being more than enough for any sane fan editor” — have regularly returned to haunt me, most recently when I published Ansible #400.

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?

All of the above. I always do the printed Ansible first, which since 1991 has been a single sheet of A4. The mailing envelopes are traditionally stuffed during a pub lunch, replaced since March 2020 by a simulated pub lunch at home. Each issue then hits the website as a two-page PDF identical to the print version, and as an HTML page with a few extras at the end. Next comes a plain-text version for the email list, the other email list for people who are paranoid about Google Groups, Usenet and so on. There are a couple of blogs that don’t actually host Ansible but announce and link to new issues, which I also do on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Thus, by madly embracing every format I can cope with, I can evade difficult questions like “why did you choose this format?”

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?

Force of habit. After all, I’ve been reading fanzines for very nearly fifty years (gulp), writing for them since 1975 and publishing them since 1976. My wife says helpfully supportive things like, “Isn’t it time to retire?”

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

Like today but more so? I privately regret the increasing move to podcasts and other audiovisual channels, because I love the printed word and also have serious long-standing hearing problems. Hence the tasteful UK fan catchphrase of the 1970s: “that deaf twit Langford”.

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?

Having grown up in primitive fannish times when it was considered rather ostentatious to type in a straight line or pay attention to page margins, I’ve been impressed by some of today’s high-class printed fanzines such as the recent memorial double issue of the late Bill Bowers’s Outworlds, William Breiding’s Portable Storage, Michael Dobson’s Random Jottings and Bruce Gillespie’s long-running (since 1969!) but still amazing SF Commentary. Outside the realm of impressive production values, Fred Lerner’s quietly literate and erudite Lofgeornost is also much appreciated here. I suppose I’m out of touch with the fannish Zeitgeist, since none of the above is a current Hugo finalist. All of them helped goad me to produce my own POD fanwriting collections Beachcombings and Don’t Try This at Home, if only for something to send in trade.

As already indicated, I don’t have anything to say about fancasts… but must gratefully mention the fan artists who brighten up Ansible, currently Brad W. Foster, Sue Mason and Ulrika O’Brien in rotation. With occasional guest appearances by the late Arthur “Atom” Thomson, just for the nostalgia value.

Where can people find you?

The main Ansible site, which archives all the back issues and supplements, plus Ansible’s predecessor Checkpoint:

Thog’s own site, explaining the origins of this barbarian critic and including the infamous Thog-o-Matic Random Selector with its “I Feel Unlucky” button:

Social media:

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6 Responses to Fanzine Spotlight: Ansible

  1. Pingback: Pixel Scroll 6/9/21 Self: Deaf Ents | File 770

  2. Jerry Kaufman says:

    Dave is up to his usual standards of gentle and self-deprecating humor. I do hope you’ll continue this series by interviewing some of the editors and artists he mentions.

  3. Now I’m kicking myself about the senior moment in which I failed to mention Banana Wings (from Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer), one of the few print fanzines whose arrival here is a cue to drop everything else and read it from cover to cover.

    • Cora says:

      Luckily, Chris Garcia recommended Banana Wings, when I interviewed him earlier this year. Though a great zine like that deserves more than one recommendation.

  4. Lurkertype says:

    Banana Wings has been a finalist in recent years (or at least recent-ish).

    I’m exceedingly proud of the 2 paper issues of Ansible I got in the late 2010’s as compensation for finding additions to Thog’s Masterclass.

    • Cora says:

      The last time Banana Wings was a Hugo finalist was in 2013, the year before I started voting.

      And hurray for print editions of Ansible and helping out with Thog’s Masterclass.

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